If you watch any of the talking head shows on ESPN or Fox, you hear a lot of discussion about whether certain players are ‘clutch’. Not too long ago, Lebron James was the subject of these conversations. More recently, it’s anyone on the Toronto Raptors. I’m not going to get into any of the esoteric discussions today, I’m just going to focus on the stats side of things.
Clutch Stats are defined by anything occurring in the last five minutes of a game that has a margin of five points or less. You can see the NBA stats for these situations here.
Now we all know there are some games that are only a five-point margin at the five minute mark but because of free throws or a flurry of three-pointers, the final margin ends up being much wider. That’s important to keep in mind – a ‘clutch’ situation doesn’t end in a last second shot. Also, good or bad, if that’s how your team responds to those situations, it’s worth looking at.
Sample size becomes a huge factor here. The UConn women don’t play many close games over the course of the season so any study of their clutch stats would likely be very misleading. Same in the NBA where the Golden State Warriors had a league low 29 clutch situations out of 82 regular season games. We also know as coaches, the foul situation and injuries play a huge role in how these situations play out.
But looking at the best records in the NBA this past year in clutch situations, 15 of the 16 teams in the league were playoff teams. The Sacramento Kings being the surprising entry at #14 and the Washington Wizards being the playoff team coming in at #22. The good teams at every level either have a player (and sometimes more than one) or a coach who can come through with a big play late to win these games.
If you’re interested in how your team did this year, our Lineup software can track those stats for you but also you can look at your play by play outputs and see what the margin was at the 5 minutes mark and go from there. A tedious exercise by hand but now that graduation is over and campus is empty, it may be a worthwhile exercise.