Do clutch athletes exist?
April 15, 2010 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Sports filter: Clutch vs Choker. What was Larry Bird's % of hitting game deciding shots compared to other basketball greats?

I got into a discussion of the concept of "clutch" versus "choker" players on a football forum. Basically the discussion is whether or not this actually exists. We all agreed that football is not a good sport to compare data on since a QB's success is totally dependent on the successful action of 10 other players (doesn't matter how "clutch" your QB is if the O-line protection breaks down before the WR can finish his route).

I brought up basketball as a sport where you might be able to get a clearer picture of this because so many games in basketball are decided by a designed play to get the ball to your best shooter with a few seconds left (we realize that there are 4 other players on your team, but is there really such a thing as a "clutch" pick?). I also brought up Larry Bird as an example of a player well known for making a game winning shots. Golf is probably a better sport for this discussion, but golf is boring (sorry golfers).

A Google search indicates that:

1) The most highly regarded "clutch" shooters are Bird, Jordan and Jerry West.
2) Bird hit something like 30-35 game winning shots in 13 seasons, compared to 25-27 in Jordan's 20 seasons. I don't see anywhere that lists attempts.

So here's my question. Is there any data out there that would illuminate this discussion? And as a side note, is there data that illuminates the idea that some athletes are more "clutch" than others? Baseball would be another good sport but the data seems marred by PEDs, unfortunately.
posted by nathancaswell to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A side note is the concept of "momentum", which was also brought up. Just from watching a ton of football it seems to me that getting the first 1st down of a drive is more difficult than getting a 1st down in the middle of a drive. But I can't find data on this either. I firmly believe in momentum in sports. I don't think you can explain crazy 2nd half comebacks just with halftime adjustments and the Prevent defense. And I don't know much about basketball but it seems like a game entirely decided by sustaining momentum (going on scoring runs). Anyway, fuel for the fire.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:47 PM on April 15, 2010

Bill James writes about things like this, here's a bit
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 8:53 PM on April 15, 2010

Henry Abbot at Truehoop has taken looks at clutch, inviting several different experts to take stabs at it. He's really fascinated by the statistical analysis that's coming to the forefront these days, and has had a lot of guest columnists talking about clutch, momentum, and even players being 'on fire.' Definitely a good blog to check out if you like the league.

In terms of modern clutch players, there's a good amount of debate over who is more clutch, Kobe Bryant or Lebron James. The most difficult thing about clutch is how few chances there are to exhibit it. A player might hit only three or four 'game winning' shots all season, but still be considered clutch for those three or four shots.

By the way, Jordan only played 14 seasons (and change). He took a couple years off in the middle. And there are some who choose to believe that he played his entire career as a Bull, never suiting up for another team. Certainly no team with a silly name like the Wizards. Pshaw, I say.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:05 PM on April 15, 2010

Whoops, that's what I get for calculating his number of seasons based on Wikipedia without thinking about the minor league Cubs detour... Football is my strong suit, not basketball.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:23 PM on April 15, 2010

Fuck, White Sox. See?
posted by nathancaswell at 10:25 PM on April 15, 2010

Radio Lab did a show a while ago discussing the existence [or not] of the hot hand in basketball and scoring runs in general.
posted by chazlarson at 5:54 AM on April 16, 2010

I would argue that Robert Horry should be added to the list of clutch players. Probably at the top.
posted by sanka at 7:55 AM on April 16, 2010

Sorry, I meant to link to this
posted by sanka at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2010

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