There’s been a debate that the ‘hot hand’ doesn’t really exist in basketball. That once a player has made a three pointer, he is actually more likely to miss the next one. Some players are labeled as streaky shooters; others clutch shooters. While the veracity of streaky shooters on anecdotal/qualitative evidence can be called into question, clutch is something which we think can be measured well on anecdotes. Players are usually labelled clutch based on water cooler talk, until the stat geeks come out of the woods and shatter the illusions.
Take a look at the following players and rank them in order of how clutch they are (how well they perform under pressure when the game is on the line):
It’s probable that we rank those players in the order mentioned when we talk of clutch. The actual definition of clutch would be more expansive and include more than just the performance of a player in the final minute, but the stat I’m looking at here is clutch in a do or die situation. When the game is on the line and a shot can directly make the difference between a win and a loss.
Here’s a look at those four players and the field goal percentage of them in the following situation:- 24 seconds left in the game- game tying shot or go ahead shot
- Kevin Durant 28.8%
- Carmelo Anthony 47.7%
- Kobe Bryant 29.4%
- LeBron James 34%
Kobe and Durant are the least clutch of them all. In fact, back in 2010, here’s how the NBA coaches voted on whom they would like to have the ball in their hands with the game on the line:
- Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers 78.6%
- Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City 7.1%
Turns out that the player among those four who is seen as the lower one on the rung is actually the most clutch player of them all. People say that Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league. LeBron James is the best all-round player in the league. Kobe Bryant is the fiercest competitor, and taking his rings into account, is a proven winner. Carmelo Anthony is a scorer who isn’t as good on defense as the other three, isn’t faster than James or a better shooter than Durant or a more formidable presence than Kobe.
Where Carmelo Anthony beats those players is in clutch time. Especially since he became a Knick, his performance has improved a lot in that department. Granted that Kevin Durant makes a lot of free throws, for his career he’s made 3,034 of 3,442 free throws, and in clutch time he excels at getting to the line. And Kobe Bryant is seen as the ‘ultimate closer’, but the numbers don’t lie. When the game is on the line, you want the ball in Carmelo Anthony’s hands.
While we are on the subject of game tying or go ahead shots with 24 seconds left, lets create a separation between three of the greatest players to play the game: Jordan, James and Bryant. An indication of clutch in the playoffs is one way to separate Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Here’s a look at potential game tying or go ahead shots in the final 24 seconds in a post season game by those three:
- Michael Jordan:50%, shot 9 of 18.
- LeBron James: 41.7%, shot 5 of 12.
- Kobe Bryant: 25.9%, shot 7 of 27.
Worth noting, since 2007, Kobe has shot 0 of 7 with 10 seconds remaining. This season he’s developed an increasing propensity to trust his team-mates and move the ball around. Hopefully it’s a sign of change, as his own performance in the clutch will improve as the defenses are forced to sag off of him and cover his team-mates too. Usually when he has the ball in a pressure situation, everyone on the floor stares at him because they all know a pass isn’t coming. The poll by the coaches showed, which player they want to ‘have the ball in his hands’, not necessarily take the last shot.
One inescapable conclusion can be drawn from this. Carmelo Anthony is by far the most clutch player in the NBA.