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Random Stat: Clutch Free Throw Shooting

Q: Although sporting an atrocious freethrow percentage otherwise, Shaq has always said that he, "makes them when they count." I'd like to see the stats of, not only Shaq, but other NBA players free throw percentage differences in the clutch versus during the other minutes of the game. Thanks.
-- Brett Garofalo

A: This has been another popular suggestion, and is a nice complement to the Game Winning Shots random stat look. Once again though, the key becomes how do you want to define clutch. For our normal updated daily player stat pages we use "last five minutes, neither team ahead by more than five" but we'll make it a little more stringent here:

Clutch Free Throw = under two minutes left in the game, neither team is ahead by more than three points.

Why use this definition?

  1. With only two minutes you are reaching the "tight" stage of the game
  2. With a maximum margin of three points, it's a one possession game
Now there are times when a player might elect to intentionally miss a free throw in the very last seconds, but these are quite rare occasions, and we have no tracking on whether a miss is deemed "intentional" or not, so we'll have to live with this slight introduction of noise.

Data sample
2003-04 Regular Season games
2003-04 Playoff games
2004-05 Regular Season games
2004-05 Playoff games
2005-06 Regular Season games (to April 5th)

Leading "Clutch Free Throw Shooting" Players
(Minimum: 30 Clutch FTA)
Player
Non-Clutch
FT%
Clutch
FTM
Clutch
FTA
Clutch
FT%
FT% Diff.
 League Wide
.751
4099 5440
.753
+.003
 Sam Cassell
.863
42 44
.955
+.092
 Steve Francis
.794
66 76
.868
+.074
 Cuttino Mobley
.818
31 35
.886
+.068
 Corey Maggette
.848
53 58
.914
+.066
 Desmond Mason
.765
33 40
.825
+.060
 Zydrunas Ilgauskas
.791
26 31
.839
+.048
 Ricky Davis
.777
37 45
.822
+.045
 Vince Carter
.803
53 63
.841
+.038
 Carlos Boozer
.726
29 38
.763
+.037
 Larry Hughes
.784
32 39
.821
+.037
 Michael Redd
.864
54 60
.900
+.036
 Shaquille O'Neal
.468
20 40
.500
+.032
 Tim Duncan
.639
30 45
.667
+.028
 Chris Webber
.751
34 44
.773
+.022
 James Posey
.831
29 34
.853
+.022
 Richard Hamilton
.851
27 31
.871
+.020
 Mike Bibby
.815
30 36
.833
+.018
 Carmelo Anthony
.795
34 42
.810
+.015
 Al Harrington
.688
26 37
.703
+.015
 Steve Nash
.910
48 52
.923
+.013
 Allen Iverson
.804
39 48
.813
+.009
 Kevin Garnett
.801
38 47
.809
+.008
 Rashard Lewis
.794
27 34
.794
+.000
 Peja Stojakovic
.921
33 36
.917
-.004
 Dwyane Wade
.771
48 63
.762
-.009
 Dirk Nowitzki
.877
58 67
.866
-.011
 Andre Miller
.799
26 33
.788
-.011
 Gilbert Arenas
.805
45 57
.789
-.016
 Pau Gasol
.718
30 43
.698
-.020
 Chauncey Billups
.894
68 78
.872
-.022
 Jason Richardson
.683
32 49
.653
-.030
 Manu Ginobili
.796
47 62
.758
-.038
 Kobe Bryant
.839
60 75
.800
-.039
 David Wesley
.802
25 33
.758
-.044
 Tracy McGrady
.778
30 41
.732
-.046
 Mike James
.805
25 33
.758
-.047
 Zach Randolph
.764
34 48
.708
-.056
 Brad Miller
.799
25 34
.735
-.064
 Gary Payton
.752
22 32
.688
-.064
 Jason Kidd
.796
40 55
.727
-.069
 Jalen Rose
.820
24 32
.750
-.070
 Stephon Marbury
.809
42 57
.737
-.072
 LeBron James
.750
42 63
.667
-.083
 Ray Allen
.898
26 32
.813
-.085
 Eddie Jones
.811
31 43
.721
-.090
 Andrei Kirilenko
.754
27 41
.659
-.095
 Richard Jefferson
.792
24 35
.686
-.106
 Michael Finley
.848
23 31
.742
-.106
 Jamal Crawford
.841
30 41
.732
-.109
 Bobby Simmons
.843
22 30
.733
-.110
 Kirk Hinrich
.810
27 39
.692
-.118
 Paul Pierce
.813
89 129
.690
-.123
 Tyronn Lue
.833
21 30
.700
-.133
 Yao Ming
.812
31 46
.674
-.138
 Jason Terry
.836
30 43
.698
-.138
 Lamar Odom
.717
20 35
.571
-.146
 Jermaine O'Neal
.743
18 33
.545
-.198



On the surface it would appear that the league as a whole shoots better in the clutch, but there's a catch! The better shooters take more free throws in the last two minutes as teams keep the ball out of the hands of their charity stripe brick layers...

By comparing the attempts for each player to their non-clutch FT percentage, we can calculate how many clutch free throws they should have made, and by this measure the league should have shot .776 instead of the .753 so in actuality players shoot -2.3% worse in clutch circumstances.

Of course that's the league average, and Sam Cassell stands out as a shining example of a player who has been absolute "money" in these moments from the line, with a sensational .955

As for Shaq, the good news is yes he does shoot better in the clutch, the bad news is not by much and he has only raised his accuracy to .500 -- make them when it counts indeed!

Ironically Chris Webber who is remembered for some perceived "choking" in that crucial series of Kings-Lakers shows up as improving under pressure, but of course we're only looking at 03-04 on so omitting some important prior history! This of course speaks to the fact that even with the more liberal two minute filter, sample size is very much an issue.

The worst shooter under pressure in terms of a drop-off from regular non-clutch shooting is Jermaine O'Neal. Maybe the 05-06 post-season will be a different story.

Indeed, clutch playoff shooting shows some extra drama -- doing the same exercise of calculating how many clutch FT's each player should have made based on their non-clutch playoff shooting, it turns out the league should have shot .776 but hit only .642!! That's a huge -13.6% change under pressure!

Gut checks in the playoffs are real. Another random look we should do is the home/away Clutch FT shooting to see if "extra measures" taken by the fans to rattle visitors are paying off!

Now of course, using a 'delta' (difference between non-clutch and clutch shooting) means players who shoot extremely well in the regular parts of games have little chance to improve in the super meaningful moments, and if you prefer a straight FT% then your leaderboard looks like this (relaxed to 20 Clutch FTA minimum) --

.955 Cassell
.955 Okur
.952 P.J. Brown
.923 Nash
.917 Stojakovic
.914 Maggette
.900 Redd
.886 Mobley
.880 Fisher
.872 Billups
...
...
.571 Odom
.571 Sprewell
.545 Jermaine O'Neal
.522 Ben Wallace
.500 Shaquille O'Neal


Do you have an idea for a cool "random stat" you would like to see? If so, drop us a line

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Who gets their shot blocked the most? (2/03)
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