NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award: Can a Player on a Mediocre Team Win?

NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award: Can a Player on a Mediocre Team Win? article feature image

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Pictured: Stephen Curry

On December 7th, Jim Turvey and I discussed the NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award, and he ended up writing an excellent piece on the state of the award at that time, which you can check out here.

The NBA defines "clutch" time as time within the final five minutes of the game when the score is within five points, so I'll use the same criteria. Before the season, I dove into the NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award to see what led to De'Aaron Fox's win last season. At the end of the day, I looked at four factors as driving success:

  • Total points in the clutch
  • Points per game in the clutch
  • Team wins in the clutch
  • Field goal percentage in the clutch

When I went through the rankings last year, using those four factors, I came out with the following top five (their actual finish is in parenthesis):

  1. De'Aaron Fox (1)
  2. Jimmy Butler (2)
  3. Jalen Brunson (4)
  4. Joel Embiid (5)
  5. DeMar DeRozan (3)

I thought this was fine, but it bothered me that DeRozan came in fifth, yet finished with almost twice as many points as Embiid. I went back and — based off a suggestion from Turvey — added in one other factor: Shots to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes.

When I added that in, DeRozan jumped up third, and my rankings were a little bit better.

So, let's look ahead to this season's NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award. Is it possible for a player on a mediocre team to win the award?

Last season, Butler and DeRozan finished second and third, despite finishing with 44 and 40 wins, respectively. This season, the two favorites in the odds (Damian Lillard and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) play for very good teams, but the next four players in the odds (Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Tyrese Haliburton) aren't playing on juggernauts. The Warriors and the Lakers, in particular, are both under .500 and underdogs to make the playoffs.

If I were to guess, I'd think making the playoffs is the minimum bar for a player to be considered clutch, but I think record in the clutch is more important than end of season record. But, this theory may be tested more than ever this season.

At this point, it seems to me that there is a clear top nine in terms of clutch play. So, let's break it all down.

Phone With the Action App Open
The must-have app for NBA bettors
The best NBA betting scoreboard
Free picks from proven pros
Live win probabilities for your bets

Paolo Banchero (9th) +10000 BetRivers

Banchero, with eight, is tied for the league lead in shots to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes. He's further down this list because he's only shooting 43.6% from the field in the clutch and is only averaging 3.4 ppg. Banchero and the Magic have played in 22 games in the clutch and are 13-9 in those games, trailing only Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Golden State amongst teams with candidates.

Trae Young and Jimmy Butler were at similar spots at this point last year, both hitting a fair amount of shots in the final two minutes, but with mediocre team records in the clutch. Butler upped his scoring over the final half of the season, while Young's remained the same and he finished eighth. Banchero is more like Young. I think he's someone to watch going forward and he might be a great bet at long odds next season, but the poor shooting has likely done him in this season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (8th) +250 DraftKings

Gilgeous-Alexander has the second-best odds to win and is the co-favorite, along with Damian Lillard. So why is he so low on my list?

The Thunder are 14-8 with Gilgeous-Alexander in the clutch and he has the third-best FG%. But, somehow, he is only playing 2.8 mpg in the clutch — by far the lowest of the top eight — and is averaging the fewest points.

If Gilgeous-Alexander wins without his scoring going up, I'll need to reevaluate my formula.

DeMar DeRozan (7th) +12000 FanDuel

DeRozan was my favorite pick before the season at 60:1.

As usual, he's near the top of the league in field goals to take the lead or tie the game in the final two minutes, with six. Over the past three seasons, he has the most makes like that in the NBA. The Bulls consistently go to him in the clutch and are 12-9 in the clutch, but it seems unlikely they'll finish over .500. DeRozan's shooting isn't at the incredibly rate it was two years ago, and even though he will probably in the top five again, his chances to win are dwindling. If you haven't bet him, I don't hate it at these long odds, but I'm holding off for now.

Tyrese Haliburton (6th) +4000 FanDuel
LeBron James (5th) +1000 BetRivers

These opponents have nearly identical resumes up to this point.

Haliburton is shooting the best of any player in the clutch (64.5% from the field, 60% from 3), but has only played 15 clutch games, and with injuries, this is probably the peak of where he will finish.

James is shooting an astonishing 62% in the clutch, second only to Haliburton, but has only played 16 games in the clutch. James' odds are the only other odds I think are close to fair at this point.

Damian Lillard (4th) +175 BetRivers

Lillard is the heavy favorite as the Bucks have played 23 games in the clutch and are 18-5 in those games. Lillard also has the second-most points in the clutch and the fourth-most points per game.

However …

Lillard is shooting 46% from the field and 34.6% from 3 in the clutch. He goes to the free-throw line a decent amount, but only has three shots in the final two minutes to tie or take the lead.

I have two real concerns about Lillard's overall candidacy:

First, the Bucks acquired Lillard partially for his prowess in the clutch in the playoffs. But during the regular season, the Bucks were already a great clutch team. They finished with the best winning percentage in the clutch in the NBA last season and are on track to do so again this year. From a voting perspective, Lillard may be getting credit for something he isn’t as responsible for. It's unclear if this will come up, but its relevant, and diminishes his perceived clutch value.

Second, the Bucks team were a mess under Adrian Griffin. Doc Rivers is a flawed playoff coach, but a very good regular season coach, and some immediate changes could hurt Lillard's odds. Rivers will implement an actual defensive strategy, which will cause Milwaukee's defense to be better. With a better defense, the Bucks may not get into as many clutch situations as they will actually be able to close out opponents.

Narrative may drive Lillard to win, especially as the Bucks have greatly outperformed their record, but I don't think he is the frontrunner he is made out to me. Now is the best time to pivot and bet someone else, while there is still value.

Nikola Jokic (3rd) +4000 FanDuel

Jokic is the best player in the NBA and is also probably the best clutch player in the league. He doesn't have a ton of shots to tie or take the lead in the clutch, but he is fifth in wins, total points and field-goal percentage in the clutch. However, Jokic will never be acknowledged for this, and if he's going to win an award, it will probably be MVP. Even at such long odds, it's hard to justify betting him.

Mikal Bridges (2nd) +12000 FanDuel

Bridges has eight shots (tied for first) to win or take the lead and is tied for first in points per game with 4.4 ppg in the clutch. He is also shooting 52% from the field.

But, the Nets (8-13) are the worst team of any serious contender in the clutch. If they are somehow able to turn it around, and win a bunch of clutch games, he would probably be first, or close to it. Bridges' odds really shouldn't be this long, but the Nets have such an uphill climb to even get back into the play-in mix. If this team turns it around, or its clutch record gets better, then Bridges would be a must bet. But that just seems so unlikely that I can't bet it.

Stephen Curry (1st) +1000 BetRivers

I started working on this article last week, before Saturday night's Lakers vs. Warriors game, when Curry's odds moved from +1200.

Curry has played an astonishing 27 games in the clutch, most of any contender in the league, and the Warriors are 15-12 in those games. Curry is tied for the most shots to tie or take the lead, is second in points per clutch, third in wins and first in total points in the clutch. His biggest demerit? He is ninth in field goal percentage in the clutch, but if you look at effective field goal percentage (which accounts for 3s), he is third. I'm not sure voters will look at that, but I actually think the gap between Curry and the rest of the field is large at this point.

It's unclear exactly how the season will finish out, and the Warriors not being in the playoffs right now is concerning. But if they turn it around, the moment someone digs into Curry's clutch stats, he'll jump to being the favorite.

I'm betting Curry at +1000 for 1 full unit  and would bet it down to +600. I think Curry has at least a 25% chance to win, which would mean +300 is fair value, and make these odds way too long.

Curry and Bridges will give us a great data point on the impact of overall record for this award in the future, but with the information we have now, I'm happy to add Curry to my portfolio.

How would you rate this article?

This site contains commercial content. We may be compensated for the links provided on this page. The content on this page is for informational purposes only. Action Network makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information given or the outcome of any game or event.

Sportsbook Promos
See All
Legal Online Sports Betting

Caesars Sportsbook Promo Code ACTION41000: Grab $1K Insurance Bet or 10 Profit Boosts for Any Sport All Week

Nick Sterling
Apr 23, 2024 UTC