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Who is NBA’s Clutch Player of the Year so far? Why Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be top candidate for Jerry West Trophy

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The NBA announced on Tuesday that it would be naming some of the league’s most iconic trophies after all-time greats.

The Most Valuable Player will win the Michael Jordan Trophy. The Defensive Player of the Year will win the Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy. And there will be the introduction of a new award: the Jerry West Trophy for the Clutch Player of the Year.

West was nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” for his history of making big plays, including a 60-foot buzzer-beater to tie Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals. There are plenty of players this season deserving of that honor. But how should we choose?


Using a model to choose the Clutch Player of the Year

Mike Beuoy has already created a clutch metric over at his site, Inpredictable. His Clutch Win Probability Added (clWPA) metric measures how many more wins a player has added to his team because of his play in clutch situations.

By this metric, DeMar DeRozan lapped the field last year. That passes the sniff test, as DeRozan hit multiple insane buzzer-beaters and earned the nickname “King of the Fourth” for leading the league in points scored in the final frame.

Here are the leaders in Beuoy’s clWPA so far this season:

  1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2.09)
  2. Jerami Grant (1.63)
  3. Anfernee Simons (1.44)
  4. DeMar DeRozan (1.44)
  5. Kevin Durant (1.42)
  6. Zion Williamson (1.38)
  7. Stephen Curry (1.36)
  8. Giannis Antetokounmpo (1.19)
  9. Bam Adebayo (1.18)
  10. Kelly Olynyk (1.16)

Gilgeous-Alexander has a healthy lead, and that makes sense. He’s hit some huge shots this season, including a clutch 3-pointer to beat the Wizards.

Using the NBA’s clutch stats to choose the Clutch Player of the Year

The NBA has a clutch filter available on its stats page. According to the league, clutch time occurs when the scoring margin is within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Here are the best scorers in the clutch based on the NBA’s definition of that time period:

Player Points FG% 3PT% FT%
DeMar DeRozan 61 44.2% 0.0% 92.0%
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 60 41.0% 33.3% 92.6%
Luka Doncic 57 45.8% 15.8% 71.4%
Donovan Mitchell 55 44.2% 29.4% 92.3%
Jimmy Butler 55 58.3% 0.0% 76.5%

DeRozan is another great option for this award and would have won it running away if it existed last year. He recently should have won a game for the Bulls against the Hawks at the free throw line if not for an absurd shot by AJ Griffin (more on Griffin later).

MORE: Doncic heaps praise on Gilgeous-Alexander after Mavericks’ win

Using game-winners to choose the Clutch Player of the Year

The NBA’s clutch stats filter goes a little bit too wide for my taste. A more conventional definition of clutch is baskets made in a one-possession game with the shot clock off.

Grant is a great contender. He’s hit two game-winning buckets in the closing seconds.

Butler also deserves consideration. He’s hit game-sealing shots against the Celtics and Warriors this season. But no clutch play was more fun to watch than his defense on Devin Booker in the Heat’s Nov. 14 win over the Suns.

As far as pure flashiness and excitement goes, nobody can top Griffin’s two game-winners.

Ultimately, my vote would go to Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s second in clutch points scored, he’s been the second-most clutch free throw shooter behind Simons and he leads Inpredictable’s model by a wide margin.

It’s admittedly tough to call Gilgeous-Alexander the most clutch player in the league when the Thunder are only 11-16 this season, but they’d be the worst team in the league without his heroics. He’s had an incredible season and gotten even better in winning time.

And the award’s namesake did end up on the losing side in eight of his nine Finals series. Sometimes a clutch player can only do so much.


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