Damian Lillard’s 0.9 shot in 2014 was one of the most important and impactful clutch plays of this Trail Blazers’ era. However, that shot was a long time ago and things have changed since then. Lillard has an entirely different team around him and is the main focus for defenses now.
Under all this pressure is Lillard still the best Blazer in the clutch? How about CJ McCollum? He has shown that he can create his own shot, but can he do it in close games?
Let’s take a look at how the Trail Blazers have done in clutch (and “super-clutch”) situations to see what story the numbers tell.
What is clutch?
The default definition of clutch on stats.nba.com is when a game is within five points with five minutes or less. Every season that Damian Lillard has been on the team, more than half of their games have met this criteria.
The team had 45 clutch games in the 2017-18 season and 31 games that were within three points with one minute to go (“super-clutch”).
Last season the team with best winning percentage (71.4%) in clutch games was the Houston Rockets who were 25-10 over 35 games. The team with the worst winning percentage in these games was the Dallas Mavericks who were 12-38 over 50 clutch games. Portland was above average in this category, going 25-20 over 45 games for a 55.6% winning percentage.
CJ McCollum was tied for 8th among players who found themselves in the clutch most often last season with 45 such games. Others with 45 games include LeBron James, Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic. He had the lowest True Shooting percentage (TS%) of the four but the second highest volume of shots (behind James) in that situation. *I like to look at True Shooting in clutch situations because this factors in free throws and getting to the line is critical at the end of games.
Five points in five minutes is a good place to start to suss out which teams and players are good in close games. But who do you want to have the ball in his hands when time is running out?
In order to figure out who has the most ice in their veins, I zeroed in a little closer on a metric I’m calling “super-clutch” which is when the game is within three points with one minute to go. This is where the game is really on the line.
Houston (80%) and Dallas (18.2%) once again hold the top and bottom spots in winning percentage in super-clutch situations, with the Blazers firmly in the middle of the pack at 51.6%.
McCollum led the Blazers in the number of games played (31) that were within three with one minute to go. Among all NBA players he was tied with Bojan Bogdonvic and Goran Dragic for 7th most frequent.
How were the Blazers in the clutch?
Here is a look at how last year’s starting five and backup Evan Turner did in clutch situations. These were the players who played the most games that were within five points with five minutes to go.
Portland player totals when game is within five points with five minutes or less
McCollum played more games than Lillard so it’s not a great surprise that he played in more clutch situations. Despite playing more games and more minutes, Lillard still edges out McCollum in total made field goals, made three pointers and made free throws. Lillard’s ability to draw fouls combined with his accuracy at the line give him a decided advantage in true shooting over his backcourt mate.
Jusuf Nurkic played the third most clutch minutes with significantly fewer field goal attempts. However, he got to the line nearly as often as McCollum. That’s a bright spot since adding points with the clock stopped is especially important in a close game. Maurice Harkless has the highest true shooting percentage in a small sample size.
Departing players Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier played in as many or more clutch games than Harkless (23 and 21, respectively) although their minutes were significantly less (Connaughton only played 16 total minutes and Napier played 43). Ed Davis was the only other Blazer who played double-digit clutch games (17).
How are the Blazers in “super-clutch” situations?
Here is a look at how the individual players fared in games that were within three points with one minute left. There were a total of 31 games that fell into this category and again, McCollum played in each one. I was surprised to see that most players’ true shooting percentage actually increased in these super-clutch situations.
Portland player totals when game is within three points with one minute or less
Lillard’s super-clutch FG% of 50% was significantly higher than his regular season average, 43.9%, plus he converted seven of eight free throw attempts. The only player whose true shooting percentage regressed was McCollum. He missed all three of his three-point attempts and shot only 54.5% from the free throw line.
While McCollum’s super-clutch TS% (44%) lagged behind his regular season production (53.6%), he was useful in other ways. He tied with Evan Turner for the most total rebounds in these super-clutch final minutes. Both of them corralled eight total rebounds. Throughout the regular season, McCollum grabbed an average of 6% of available rebounds. That number climbed to 9.9% in super-clutch situations.
Jusuf Nurkic’s TS% remained almost the same in the final minute of these tight games. Six of the seven shots that he attempted were layups. He only dunked once in super-clutch time and that was when the team was behind by three points as the clock wound down. Denver’s players allowed him to roam alone beneath the basket while they guarded the perimeter to prevent anyone from hitting a three.
Maurice Harkless’ very high TS% is once again due to a small sample size. He hit his only shot and was 2-of-3 from the line. He also had seven rebounds and he was one of only three players who had any assists (one) during super-clutch time (Lillard had two, Aminu had one). Harkless lacked opportunity last season, but with a small yet efficient sample size, the team would do well to look to get him involved in these situations.
Who will be the most clutch next season?
Unless something unexpected happens, I think it is safe to say that Damian Lillard will continue to impress with Dame/Lillard time. McCollum will get shots, but will he get to the line more, or find other ways to get involved like rebounding?
Will any of the other players step up during clutch time, whether that’s Harkless getting more opportunity or Nurkic becoming a super-clutch super-dunker (sigh, one can dream)?
Let us know in the comments who you think will be big in the clutch this season.