The first-ever Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year will be awarded this season. Arguing over clutch players has become a staple of sports shout-talk TV, so it was probably only a matter of time until the NBA introduced an official award hoop heads could scream about. This wasn’t a thing we wanted, but it’s here and the NBA demands a winner be named.
Critics of the clutch narrative have argued that “every shot matters,” but there’s a reason baseball clubs deploy steely closers and that NFL coaches ice kickers in the waning seconds of close contests. Clutch time is its own time zone. It’s akin to balancing on a knife’s edge and becoming comfortable with hardwood combat from that precipice. The clock ticks slower the closer you get to clocking out and NBA players feel that too, but for a different reason. Hoopers who can’t mentally box out the dwindling seconds feel their muscles tighten up, their hearts beat faster and their hands start getting clammier.
Clutch playmaking has an imprecise definition, but it’s similar to an erstwhile colloquial phrase used by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart —you know it when you see it. However, we can do better than just using the eye test to determine which stars perform best under mounting pressure. Utilizing mounds of data from NBA.com and Mike Beuoy’s clutch shooting report over at Inpredictable, it’s a good time to determine which stars are currently leading candidates to be the NBA’s most clutch player of the season.
Through the first trimester of the NBA season*, here are the stars who are making the strongest case for Clutch Player of the Year. There are a few surprising frontrunners in the early going and the usual suspects putting up impressive numbers.
*Stats through Dec. 20, 2022.