Saints of Circumstance

Posted by Ian Levy on February 4, 2011 under Commentary | 11 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-02-04 at 11.41.03 AM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and as of today, he’ll also be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here to The Two Man Game for a weekly feature.

Through Tuesday the Mavericks have posted an offensive rating (ORtg) of 108.0 and a defensive rating (DRtg) of 105.0. A team with those numbers would project to go 28-19 through 47 games, a Win% of 0.596. The Mavericks however, are 32-15 through 47 games, a Win% of 0.681.

They Mavs have been winning more games than their offensive and defensive performance would indicate, largely because of the way they have excelled in close games. This season Dallas is 12-6 in games decided by five points or less. They’ve been able to steal such close games because of the terrific clutch performance of several players. defines clutch situations as being in the fourth quarter or overtime with less than five minutes left and neither team ahead by more than five points. Not every player in the league is included in this sortable database; it may be due to a minimum minute restriction, but there must be some other qualifier. Regardless, four Dallas players appear on this list: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd. Each of those players has been impressive in clutch situations in their own way. The table below shows their statistics in under these circumstances.

Mavs in the Clutch

Dirk Nowitzki6650.525.660.0%2.233.3%21.289%33%
Jason Terry7241.424.058.3%8.058.3%8.7100%66%
Tyson Chandler6413.64.566.7%0.00.0%11.366%100%
Jason Kidd718.76.044.4%5.437.5%1.3100%100%
Dirk Nowitzki13.
Jason Terry4.
Tyson Chandler12.
Jason Kidd7.

Nowitzki’s clutch performance has been impeccable as usual. He’s the second leading scorer in these situations trailing only Kobe Bryant. However, Nowitzki reaches that impressive scoring mark on 9.1 fewer FGA/48 than Kobe, with a FG% of 60.0% compared to Kobe’s 38.5%. Jason Terry has the 10th highest clutch scoring average in the database and does it on a FG% of 58.3%, with an equally absurd 58.3% percentage on three pointers.

While Terry and Nowitzki handle most of the late-game scoring, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler are contributing in other ways. Kidd is 9th in assists, while Chandler provides solid defense at the rim in the form of rebounds and blocks.

One of the things I find interesting about clutch performance is the idea of rising to the challenge and being at your best in the toughest situations. I wrote a post earlier this week at Hickory-High looking at how different players’ production changes under these circumstances. Let’s take a look at those numbers for Nowtizki, Terry, Kidd and Chandler. The table below shows the difference between their statistics in clutch situations and their statistics overall on the season.

Mavs Clutch Improvement

Dirk Nowitzki+18.2+3.0+7.8%-1.4-5.3%+12.8+1%-32%
Jason Terry+18.3+3.0+14.6%+1.7+24.8%+5.5+16%+9%
Tyson Chandler-2.3-3.6-0.1%0.00.0%+4.6-10%+23%
Jason Kidd-2.8-5.8+9.8%-1.6+4.0%+0.1+11%+37%
Dirk Nowitzki+4.0+1.7+4.4-0.3+0.6
Jason Terry+1.2-2.3+0.3-0.2+0.8
Tyson Chandler-3.5+0.1-1.1+0.9-0.1
Jason Kidd+0.7-3.30.0-0.4-1.8

These four obviously don’t represent the only players on the floor for the Mavericks during clutch situations. They are however on the floor for a significant percentage of the Mavericks clutch minutes, 90% for Nowitzki, 67% for Terry, 88% for Chandler and 69% for Kidd. The changes in their production from normal situations to clutch circumstances certainly appear to be related.

Nowitzki and Terry, the two more efficient and versatile scorers, take more shots at the expense of shots for Kidd and Chandler. It’s also extremely impressive that Kidd, Terry and Nowitzki all raise their FG% by a significant amount with the game on the line. Terry’s 3PT% in these situations is terrific. His Ast% also goes up which tells us that he is comfortable filling the role of spot-up shooter at the end of games as opposed to trying to create all his offense for himself.

Nowitzki reduces the number of three pointers he takes and drastically increases the number of times he goes to the free throw line. Terry also takes more trips to the line and increases his FT% by 16 percentage points in late game situations.

I simply can’t say enough about Nowitzki’s performance in the clutch. Setting aside all the impressive scoring efficiency numbers he also produces an extra 1.7 Ast/48 minutes in clutch situations. Other than Kobe Bryant you’d have to go all the way to the 24th ranked crunch time scorer, Paul Pierce, to find a player who increases their assists by as much as Nowitzki does in these situations. I also looked at this in terms of Ast/FGA ratio in a follow-up post last night. Nowitzki increases his Ast/FGA ratio by more than any other of the top 20 clutch scorers.

Just to summarize, when it comes to clutch situations Nowitzki shoulders a bigger load, scores more, scores more efficiently, draws more fouls, is a more willing passer and creates more opportunities for his teammates. He has a huge hand in making the Mavericks what they are and when it comes to those clutch circumstances he and Jason Terry are stepping up and making the Mavericks even more than they are.

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  • Phil

    Nice piece of work, Rob! It was a good read and an interesting excursion in analytics II :) !

    • Rob Mahoney

      It is a good read, Phil, but unfortunately this one's not mine. This piece was written by Ian Levy, who will be contributing here from time to time.

  • sportsdoc

    Beating Boston last night was more about what Boston did not do rather than what Dallas did. Boston settled for jump shots instead of driving to the basket. Doc Rivers must have been mad as hell, but what could he say to his veteran stars. They should have known better, but got caught up in their own prideful arrogance.

    • David Krause

      Not really sportsdoc. It's about the Mavs ability to shut other teams down at the end of games. So far, they've beaten Miami (2x), Orlando, Boston (2x), Lakers, Spurs, Jazz, Hornets, Thunder, etc. by following this pattern. That's not a fluke, as you imply.

  • JeffAtDeepEllum

    Remember Game 6 against the Spurs when Carlisle went with JET for most of the the fourth in a close game, rather than going back to hot-but-exhausted Roddy? These stats show why. JET and Dirk have a proven track record of clutch two-man-game, as good or better than any other tandem in the NBA in those situations. Easy to second guess after the game and make coach the scapegoat, but the decision to go with proven clutch players in that situation was solid.

  • Dr. Clarkus

    Excellent article Ian. I am looking forward to more of your work.

    • Ian

      Thanks! I'm excited to be a part of the community here. Think of me as the Brian Cardinal of The Two Man Game. I don't have a very pretty game (or physique) but I'm good for some filler posts. I'll show up occasionally, draw a charge, grab a rebound, drop some knowledge and knock down an open jumper. Also the contract I negotiated with Rob is modeled on the free agent contract Cardinal signed with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2004, 6 years – 35 million.

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