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LeBron James and Kevin Durant are clutch. John Wall, not so much.

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunders’ Kevin Durant is clutch. No player in the playoffs has scored more points per game than Durant (5.1) in the last five minutes with the point differential five or less. His True Shooting Percentage — a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, three-point field goals and free throws — is also through the roof at 63.5 percent in these situations (league average is 44.8 percent).

Source: NBA Stats

Michael Beuoy uses his Win Probability Added metric to define clutch play a little differently, calling it “a time of heightened sensitivity, where good plays are rewarded more, and mistakes punished more severely.”

My current definition of clutch play is rather broad, including all plays whose impact exceeds the median value (e.g. a three pointer typically adds 4% in win probability, so a three pointer with a win probability added of 4.5% would be considered clutch). For this post, I will use a more restrictive definition of clutch situations, one that hopefully is more in line with general understanding. Instead of taking all plays above the typical value, I will only count plays that are above the 75th percentile.

He illustrates this using Ray Allen’s game tying three-pointer from Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.

A three-pointer in that moment was worth plus-35 percent in win probability added, a metric that measures a player’s contribution to a win based on each each specific play. According to Beuoy, three-point shots are worth plus-4.6 percent (on average) in WPA. So Allen’s WPA for that shot is 5 percent based on what you would expect and another 30 percent because of “clutch.”

So far this postseason, LeBron James is at the top of Beuoy’s list.

During “clutch” situations, Lebron has an effective field goal percentage of 72.6 on 42 attempts. James also has the largest positive gap between clutch and non-clutch — he shoots 13 percent higher (eFG%) in the clutch.

At the bottom of the list: Washington Wizards guard John Wall.

Wall had an effective field goal percentage of 32.6 in “clutch” situations — the worst among players in terms of field goal attempts in clutch situations in the playoffs. Game 2 against Indiana was a particularity poor performance: 0 for 6 in clutch situations, no doubt contributing to the Wizards losing by four.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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