There's no shortage of talent and skill in the modern NBA. Almost every other franchise has a player or two who can explode on the offensive end on any given night. But not many have what it takes to turn up when the game is on the line. It's even more difficult to showcase the clutch gene repeatedly, especially given how condensed the 2020-21 season has been.
Most clutch players in the NBA today
There are still a few players who've showcased the tenacity and energy for their respective teams regularly. And while the results may not have always gone their way, these NBA players have given it their all to force the issue down the stretch.
By technical definition, the term "clutch" means a situation where less than five minutes are left in the game and the two sides differ in score by five or fewer points. On that note, let's look at the five most clutch players from the 2020-21 NBA season.
(Note: All stats have been taken from NBA.com and are accurate as of 4 PM ET, April 22)
#5 Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns)
Chris Paul's presence has transformed the Phoenix Suns this season. They've gone from being a fringe playoff team to the second seed in the Western Conference. Paul acts as the glue that binds the team together and dictates the tempo of the game in clutch situations.
Despite Devin Booker being the team's leading scorer, it's Chris Paul who generally turns up down the stretch for the Phoenix Suns. Paul led the NBA in clutch points scored last season and he's ranked fifth this time with 102 points so far. He's also second among the most clutch minutes played this season with 126.
Paul's ability to get to his mid-range spot and drain quick buckets has helped him lead the Suns to 16 clutch wins. He's also ranked sixth in clutch assists with 18 dimes to his name.
#4 Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
The New York Knicks are the fourth seed in the East thanks to an eight-game winning run where Julius Randle has played a key part. Randle has been involved in almost every other play down the stretch for the Knicks. He'll either bulldoze the opposition in the low post or simply create looks for his teammates with his back to the basket.
Randle leads the NBA in clutch steals (10) and is second in clutch rebounds (38). He has an overall clutch plus-minus rating of 54, the third-highest in the league. The fact that Randle puts up these numbers despite being double-teamed by the opposition on most nights is even more commendable.
#3 Russell Westbrook (Washington Wizards)
Russell Westbrook has been on an absolute tear lately. He has recorded a triple-double in nine out of the last 10 games. The Washington Wizards are on a six-game winning run as a result and occupy the final play-in spot in the East.
Westbrook has completely taken over games for the Wizards in the clutch. He's contributed in every sense, be it scoring, playing, or rebounding. Brodie is among the top 10 in the league in clutch points scored (99), clutch rebounds (29), clutch assists (16) and clutch steals (5).
Westbrook has also been incredibly efficient in the clutch. He's shot the ball at 57.1% from the field in the clutch, which is the highest among all players who've taken 50 or more clutch shot attempts.
#2 Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
The odds-on favorite for MVP honors this year, Nikola Jokic has also proved his mettle in the clutch this season. Defense might not be Jokic's strongest suit, but the Serbian can do pretty much anything on offense. Jokic posting up and making plays has become a common sight for the Denver Nuggets this season.
The Joker is the true embodiment of an all-round player. He's among the top five in the NBA in almost every major statistical category in the clutch. He's first in clutch minutes played (128), second in clutch rebounds (42), fourth in clutch assists (20) and second in clutch steals (7) this season.
Jokic's efforts most recently helped the Nuggets beat the Trail Blazers by a solitary point and the Grizzlies by two points earlier this week.
#1 Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Damian Lillard has struggled lately due to injuries but it was his incredible run in the clutch at the start of the season that has allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to remain above the play-in seeds.
Lillard has been virtually unstoppable from the field in the clutch. He has scored 144 clutch points this season, the highest in the NBA. He has also made 18 threes down the stretch, again a league-high. He also has a cumulative plus-minus rating of +87 in the clutch, which is much higher than any other player this season.
There have been several occasions where Lillard went icy cold from the field in the second and third quarters but still found a way to torch the opponent in the dying embers of the game. Lillard's most memorable outing this season has to be the away game against the Chicago Bulls, where he made two treys in the final eight seconds of the game, including the eventual game-winner.