There are many ways NBA players can make a name for themselves, but few are as effective as being able to consitently hit big shots. Remember career seven points per game scorer Robert Horry? What is your lasting memory of Big Shot Bob/Rob? Or this shot by Kyrie Irving, the only thing that prevented Warriors from trying to become the second team in NBA history to win four consecutive titles?
Clutch performance matters, and those who can consistently make them will always be relevant. Most NBA stats websites let you see how players and teams are doing in clutch. Traditional definition of NBA clutch is "last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, game score within five points". That's quite good, but if you're trying to identify best clutch shooter it could be improved.
First thing, unless you're Charles Smith, hitting a clutch layup or dunk is not as difficult as hitting a clutch three. So, for purpose of this analysis, clutch shooting means clutch three point shooting.
Now that we got rid of DeAndre Jordan's "clutch shots", let's have a look at what we have left. Following chart shows a summary of all clutch three pointers taken since 2000/01 season (Basketball Reference Shot Finder tool only goes back that far). Shots are grouped by number of seconds left in the game and each bubble represents all shots taken with that much time on game clock. Size of each bubble is proportional to number of shots taken. Overlaying blue line (fitted LOWESS curve) highlights three point percentage trend.
Total three point percentage for every season between 2000/01 and 2016/17 falls between 34.7% and 36.7% which is pretty close to three point percentage for clutch shots taken with anywhere between five and two minutes left to play. If a shot is as difficult to make, or very close, as a regular shot, it's hard to call it a clutch shot. You can see the trend line starts dropping around 120 second mark, and then drops sharply after 60 second mark. So one more time, for purpose of this analysis, we're looking at clutch shots taken in the last two minutes - superclutch shots.
To recap, we're trying to identify the best clutch shooter based on three point shots taken in the last two minutes of fourth quarter or overtime, with the score within five points. Since the data goes back to 2000/01 only players who started their career that year or later qualify. And to eliminate small samples messing up the data, only players who took at least 50 superclutch threes over the course of their career qualify.
Let's see who they are.
Only 92 players who joined the NBA in 2000/01 or later have taken 50 or more superclutch (last two minutes of the game, score within 5 points) three pointers.
Superclutch three is one of the most difficult shots in the NBA, out of 92 qualified players only 4 have improved their three point percentage in superclutch, compared to regular game situations.
Even sharpshooters like Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson and (especially) Stephen Curry struggle shooting superclutch threes.
And apparently they don't do superclutch drills in Banana Boat school of shooting. LeBron James is slightly worse, but Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul are terrible, high-volume superclutch long range shooters.
So which future first-ballot hall of famer is the best superclutch shooter of his generation?
Yep, Chris Bosh is the best superclutch shooter of the 21st century. You can explore the rest of the chart now, but let me spoil it for you, the really bad one at the bottom, that's former NBA champ and reality TV star Eddie House.
Chris Bosh is the best superclutch shooter of his generation. His 43.1% (28/65) is head and shoulders above all other qualified players. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that Bosh is only 33.6% (331/985) for three in the rest of the game, a 28.2% shooting percentage spike. As you saw in the chart, only four players shot better in superclutch, but no one comes close to what Bosh did.
That's not where this curious case of Christopher Bosh ends. Superclutch three pointer definitely is one of the most difficult shots, but there's a difference between threes taken when your team is trailing and the defence expects a long range shot and the ones when your team is ahead or the score is tied. Trailing superclutch three point shooting percentage is 26.6% (two percentage points worse than Josh Smith's career three point rate, so pretty bad), while it goes up to 30.6% for non-trailing (ahead or tied) superclutch threes.
Make that another superclutch rule that doesn't apply to Bosh. He actually shot way, way better with his teams trailing - 46.8%, compared to 28.6% when his teams were ahead or tied.
There you have it, however you order the players - by superclutch three point percentage, or by how much their three point percentage increases in superclutch Chris Bosh is your #1. Taking the shot when his teams are trailing only helps his case. Quite ironic he'll be remembered as the guy who made the pass that led to one of the biggest superclutch makes in history.