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The first-ever Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year will be honored this season. The argument over clutch players has become a staple of sports shout-talk television, so it was probably only a matter of time before the NBA instituted an official award for heads to shout about. We didn’t mean to do that, but it’s there and the NBA requires a winner to be named.
Critics of the clutch narrative have argued that “every shot counts,” but there’s a reason baseball clubs employ steel closers and that the NFL trains ice kickers in the dwindling seconds of close bouts. The clutch time is its own time zone. It’s like balancing on the edge of a knife and getting acquainted with hardwood combat at this abyss. The clock ticks slower the closer you get to clocking out, and NBA players feel it too, but for a different reason. Hoopers who can’t mentally punch through the dwindling seconds feel their muscles tighten, their hearts beat faster, and their hands grow clammy.
Clutch playmaking has an imprecise definition, but it resembles a former slang term used by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart – you’ll know it when you see it. But we can do better than just use the eye test to see which stars are doing best under mounting pressure. With mountains 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 the leading contenders for the NBA Clutch Player of the Season title.
Coming into the first trimester of the NBA season*, here are the stars campaigning hardest for Clutch Player of the Year. There are a few surprising early stage frontrunners and the usual suspects posting impressive numbers.
*Statistics as of December 20, 2022.