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Is Paul Pierce Clutch?

Zach Lowe does his usual bang up job looking at the statistical angle of basketball.  In this post, he extrapolates on an argument about Kobe Bryant's debatable "clutchness" to apply the same logic to Paul Pierce's career.

The Point Forward " Posts Pierce’s ‘clutch’ label needs to be challenged

Put those numbers together, and Pierce, to that point in his career, was 13-of-57 (23 percent) on such shots - worse than the league average of about 29 percent.

For full context, read the link, but the idea is that Kobe and Pierce are at or below "average" in shooting in the clutch.  My issue with this line of thinking is that it really isn't fair to compare Pierce or Kobe to "the field."  I don't think an average player would shoot an average percentage in clutch situations.  It just happens that lots of players had a few chances at clutch shots and some did well and some did not, for an average of 29 percent.   Just because Eddie House gets a bailout pass from LeBron and sinks a three pointer doesn't mean that he could deliver in the clutch as the go-to guy time after time after time (as Kobe and Pierce have).

To be fair, Lowe does elaborate and look to other sources of data.

This is not to paint Pierce as a bad clutch player; I've argued the opposite in detail before, and Pierce's "clutch" numbers at fluctuate unpredictably from season to season. (Note: Those numbers focus on stats accumulated within the last five minutes of close games, defined as games when the score is within five points either way.) Go through the year-by-year clutch stats at, and you'll see seasons in which Pierce shot poorly (25 percent in 2007-08, the same year in which he was named MVP of the Finals); pretty darn well (45 percent in 2008-09); and around average for a guy who takes a lot of big shots (37.5 percent in 2009-10). You'll also see that Pierce has typically piled up both free throws and assists in the clutch - very valuable things, and numbers that show he can function well as a playmaker down the stretch.

All in all it is just one of those fun stats vs. gut feel arguments that can be debated for long periods of time in days when there's nothing else to talk about.

Not enough stats talk for you?  Check out this interview with the Bucks Assistant GM on analytics.  Yay nerds!  (I was told there would be no math)

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