We’re taking a look at the top performers in various crunch-time scenarios to determine who has been the NBA clutch player of the year.

No timeout necessary.

Atlanta Hawks coach Quinn Snyder said just go and Dejounte Murray made him look like a genius on a January night against the Orlando Magic.

The 6-foot-4 guard maneuvered left and pulled up from 18 feet, knocking down a once-in-a-season shot as time expired for a 106-104 victory.

But just two days later, Murray did it again.

Trailing by two points with time winding down, he sank a straight-away 3-pointer from 27 feet out with 2 seconds left to give the Hawks a 109-108 road victory over the Miami Heat.

Murray was the only player with two game-winning field goals that met our “buzzer-beater” criteria for the fourth quarter or overtime during the 2023-24 NBA regular season. We consider buzzer-beaters to be shots in the last 2 seconds of a quarter with no event taking place afterward (except for an “and-1” free throw).

Were those the only two games in which Murray came up big for the Hawks? In a word, no.  

In fact, only one player had more go-ahead field goals than Murray in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. And it’s a two-time MVP who is no stranger to hitting big shots.  

Stephen Curry, who has won four NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors, had seven such field goals, while 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic matched Murray with six (in 12 attempts).

In 2022-23, the NBA officially introduced the Clutch Player of the Year Award, with its recipient receiving The Jerry West Trophy. West earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch” over the course of his great career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

So did Murray earn enough to earn our endorsement for the award? Let’s examine the candidates by taking a look at the top performers in different clutch situations to determine who has been the best in the league in those spots this season.

The question of which NBA players are the most clutch has long been a subjective one throughout the league’s history.

We remember Michael Jordan making several buzzer-beaters throughout his career, LeBron James’ 3 to beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals of the 2009 NBA playoffs, Kawhi Leonard’s game-winner for the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals and many others.

They leave us with the feeling that those players are “clutch.” However, we can help confirm or rebuke some of that subjectivity by digging into the data in various critical situations like the ones outlined above.

Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks, Damian Lillard of the Milwaukee Bucks, DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls, De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics and Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns. All clutch players, right?

For the most part, yes (more on this later). Fox actually won the NBA’s 2022-23 Clutch Player of the Year Award. But they did not fare as well inside of 1 minute left to play, ranking among those with the lowest field-goal percentage on potential go-ahead shots in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Poor Cade Cunningham sits at the top – or bottom, depending how you look at it – of this list. Not only did the Detroit Pistons finish at the bottom of the standings with a franchise-worst 68 losses, but Cunningham missed all six of his attempts in these scenarios.

Worst FG% Potential Go-Ahead FGA in Last 1:00 of 4th/OT (Min. 5 Att.)

  •   Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons (0/6)
  •   Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (0/5)
  •   Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers (0/5)
  •   Collin Sexton, Utah Jazz (0/5)
  •   Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (1/7)
  •   Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks (1/6)
  •   Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (1/6)
  •   Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs (1/6)
  •   Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks (2/10)
  •   Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (2/9)
  •   DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (4/16)
  •   De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings (2/8)
  •   Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat (2/7)
  •   Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns (2/7)             

But after marveling over Murray’s efforts in very specific, end-of-game spots, let’s widen our view and rank those who scored the most points per game in what we deem “clutch” situations. Those take place within the last 4 minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the game is within six points.

We intimated that Brunson, Lillard, DeRozan, Fox, Tatum and Durant should still be considered clutch despite their poor showing in the final minute of close games. This is Exhibit A.  

Four of those guys ranked in the top 10 among players with at least 40 field-goal attempts in clutch games and all of them ended up in the league’s top 26.

Murray’s teammate Trae Young also finished in the top 10 in clutch time for the Hawks, who open the NBA play-in tournament on Wednesday. Hey, there’s a reason why he’s known as “Ice Trae.”

Young also went 4 for 9 to match DeRozan, Mikal Bridges of the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis for third in the league with four field goals on go-ahead attempts in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

And over the past 20 years, only Kyrie Irving (3.9) and Joel Embiid (3.9) have averaged more clutch points across seasons than Young among those with at least 500 field-goal attempts.

To further back Durant, Lillard, Curry and Fox, those four all appear on this list of the best clutch players since 2003-04.

PPG in clutch situations

There’s no doubt it takes some guts to perform in the clutch, but it takes even more ice in the veins to come through in “late-and-close” situations. That’s because those scenarios take place in the last 2 minutes of the final quarter when the game is within four points.

Here’s a look at that final top 10:

What can we take from DeRozan’s uneven numbers late in games? He was pretty darn good this season in clutch scenarios (second in scoring average on 48.0% shooting) and late-and-close spots (No. 1 in the league on 51.0% shooting), but he was just 4 of 16 (25.0%) on potential go-ahead shots in the final minute of fourth quarter and overtime.

It leads one to ponder how much his 37.8 minutes per game – the highest average in the NBA and second most of his 15-year career – at age 34 caught up with him down the stretch.  

We’ve left you with the biggest nail-biting, nerve-wracking situations of them all — shots with the “game on the line.” We define “game on the line” as the last 24 seconds of the final quarter when the game is within three points.

And a close look at the top 10 confirms how good DeRozan is at pump faking to get defenders in the air. His 28 free-throw attempts when the game is on the line is by far the most in the league. (Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards is second with 15.)

But while DeRozan, who leads Chicago into the play-in tournament on Wednesday, performed well in most crunch-time situations, it was Curry’s remarkable consistency in every critical occasion that has earned him our 2023-24 clutch player of the year.

Curry had a league-best seven makes in 17 attempts (41.1%) while DeRozan was 4 of 16 in potential go-ahead attempts in the final minute of the fourth and overtime. Over the past 20 years, only four-time All-NBA First Team selection Chris Paul has made more of those shot attempts in a single season with eight in 2011-12 when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers.

With the game on the line, Curry shot 54.5% (12 of 22) from the field and 5 of 9 from 3-point range. His five makes from beyond the arc tied Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the most 3s made in “game on the line” situations in a season over the past 20 years. Russ, however, was just 5 of 16 that season.

In late-and-close occasions, Curry sank 13 of 28 (46.4%) from 3 and made 18 of 20 from the foul line. And in clutch situations, the 10-time All-Star shot 44.9% (35 of 78) from beyond the arc and hit 45 of 47 (95.7%) from the free-throw line.

Those are all great numbers, but when you compare them to Curry’s overall 2023-24 averages (40.8% from 3 and 92.3% from the line), what you start to see is a superstar who upped his game in the biggest moments.

And that should hardly come as a surprise.  

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