Thursday, January 20, 2022

76ers’ Joel Embiid, Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan lead NBA in clutch scoring this season

In the NBA, the word “clutch” is thrown around a lot, and understandably so. On any given night, various players from across the league’s landscape make game-altering plays down the stretch for their respective squads. However, some players are more consistently clutch than others, and this season a handful of players have separated themselves as the league’s elite when it comes to clutch-time scoring. 

As a quick reminder, the NBA defines clutch time as any game time when the score is within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or any overtime period. With that said, here’s a look at the NBA’s leaders in clutch scoring this season*, all of who happen to play in the Eastern Conference. 

*Stats accurate as of Jan. 4

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers — 96 clutch points 

Sixers center Joel Embiid has been the NBA’s most productive player in clutch time this season, and it isn’t particularly close. Through Jan. 4, Embiid scored 96 clutch points — 24 points more than the second player on the list, Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan. Embiid doesn’t just lead the league in total clutch points either. He also leads in clutch points per performance with six. 

Embiid has spent a considerable amount of time around the perimeter on the offensive end this season, but when it’s winning time he has made it a point to get to the low post, and that has made it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to limit his production in the closing minutes of games. Defenses don’t want to leave Sixers shooters open with the game hanging in the balance, which often results in one-on-one opportunities for Embiid — situations that he can exploit easily, as he did against Enes Freedom and the Celtics late last month: 

Embiid’s ability to draw fouls and knock down the resulting free throws has also helped him jump to the top of the league’s clutch scorers list. Embiid has attempted 37 clutch free throws this season and made 28 of them. Both of those numbers lead the league. 

2. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls — 72 clutch points 

While Embiid has been doing his damage in the clutch largely from post position, Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan has been doing his work from the perimeter. In just his first season in Chicago, DeRozan has quickly established himself as the Bulls’ go-to guy down the stretch of games, and it’s a role that he appears to be extremely comfortable in. Earlier this week, DeRozan made NBA history by becoming the first player ever to hit game-winning buzzer-beaters on consecutive days. 

First, he ended 2021 with this epic finisher in Indiana: 

Then, the first next night, DeRozan kicked off 2022 by sinking the Wizards with this contested corner 3-pointer: 

It’s not just 3-pointers either. DeRozan also has a knack for getting to the line late in games. He’s knocked down 28 clutch free throws so far this season, which ties him with Embiid for the most in the league. Clutch play is nothing new for DeRozan, who finished third in the league in total clutch scoring as a member of the Spurs last season, he’s just getting a bit more exposure on a contending Bulls team this season. 

T-3. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets — 66 clutch points 

When the Nets are in a close game, their offensive game plan often resembles something along the line of “give the ball to Durant and get out of his way,” and it has worked out pretty well. Durant is third in the NBA in total clutch scoring this season. He’s also second in clutch points per game (4.4 — tied with Grizzles guard Ja Morant) and his play has helped to mitigate the fact that the Nets have been without Kyrie Irving all season. 

Durant established himself as an elite clutch scorer during his days in Oklahoma City, but he didn’t need to score much in the clutch in Golden State given how good the team was as a whole. Now in Brooklyn, he’s re-establishing himself as one of the league’s premier go-to guys. From NBA.com

Durant ranked in the top five in clutch scoring six times during his time in Oklahoma City, leading the league in both 2013-14 (his MVP season) and 2011-12. He is on pace for his highest clutch ranking in six seasons, mostly due to lack of clutch minutes during his three seasons in Golden State as the Warriors played a league-low 348 clutch minutes over that stretch.

If the Nets are going to reach their lofty potential this season, they’ll continue to need Durant to produce points when the pressure is on. 

T-3. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls — 66 clutch points 

DeMar DeRozan isn’t the only Bulls player that has been extremely productive in crunch time this season. Zach LaVine is tied with Durant for third in the league in total clutch points, and he has provided the Bulls with a secondary late-game scorer. 

LaVine is shooting an extremely impressive  50-40-90 in clutch situations this season  — 51.3 percent from the floor (20-39), 41.7 percent from long range (5-12), and 95.5 percent from the foul line (21-22). He’s also the only player in the NBA to score more than 30 clutch points while shooting 50-40-90. Together, he and DeRozan have formed the most clutch duo in the league, and their ability to generate late game production is an enormous part of the reason that the Bulls are having a resurgent season. 

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5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics — 59 clutch points 

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum rounds out the list of the five most productive clutch scorers so far this season. Tatum hasn’t shot well at all from the floor in clutch situations (34 percent, only 11 percent from long range), but he has been automatic from the foul line (21-for-21). Obviously, the efficiency needs to improve, but Tatum clearly isn’t afraid of the moment, and that’s a plus for Boston.

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