Most Clutch NBA Players of All Time
Clutch may be the most misunderstood word in pro basketball. Other than Antetokounmpo, of course. Many are convinced that it exists. Some insist there is no such thing. Others say the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Most can agree on this much — some athletes are calmer, cooler and more confident than others when the stakes are highest. Hence, they are more likely to succeed in those situations. But are there NBA clutch stats?
Based on a combination of factors that include clutch field-goal percentage, postseason metrics and career achievements, certain players were at the front of the clutch gene line. Meet the most clutch NBA players in history.
25. Robert Horry, Forward
Career: 1992-2008 (17 seasons)
Teams: Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs
NBA championships: 7 (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007)
Bottom Line: Robert Horry
Has any part-time starter made more of a name for himself than "Big Shot Rob" in the postseason? When Robert Horry averaged at least 24 minutes per game in the playoffs, his teams won six league titles in 11 seasons.
In nine Game 7s, he shot 50 percent or better from the field eight times. His team's record in those games: 7-2. Horry may not have made the most clutch shots in NBA history, but he made some of the biggest.
It's not a coincidence he owns seven rings.
24. Ray Allen, Shooting Guard
Career: 1996-2014 (18 seasons)
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat
NBA championships: 2 (2008, 2013)
Bottom Line: Ray Allen
"Ray can be 0-for-99 in a game, and if he gets an open look late in the game, it's going down," Allen's Miami Heat teammate LeBron James once said.
That was a slight exaggeration, of course, but you get the point. Ray Allen's cold-blooded 3 that tied the score with nine ticks left in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals was the stuff of legends.
23. John Havlicek, Small Forward/Shooting Guard
Career: 1962-78 (16 seasons)
Teams: Boston Celtics
NBA championships: 8 (1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976)
Bottom Line: John Havlicek
The 1974 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player made the cut on four words alone — Havlicek stole the ball (Game 7, 1965 Eastern Division finals).
The fact that "Hondo" was a go-to guy with eight league champions didn’t hurt, either.
22. Stephen Curry, Point Guard
Career: 2009-present (12 seasons)
Teams: Golden State Warriors
NBA championships: 3 (2015, 2017, 2018)
Bottom Line: Stephen Curry
"St. Stephen of Arc" is one of 40 players (minimum: 25 games played) to connect on at least 40 percent of his 3-pointers in the postseason. And nobody has drained more.
His handle, range and shooter mindset make him the ideal option in the 3-ball era.
Only the lack of an NBA Finals MVP award prevents a higher rank here.
21. Shaquille O’Neal, Center
Career: 1992-2011 (19 seasons)
Teams: Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics
NBA championships: 4 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006)
Bottom Line: Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq was a beast among children in the Lakers’ postseason three-peat, as evidenced by his 29.9/14.5/3.0/2.4 slash line.
He’s one of five players with as many as three NBA Finals MVP awards. The others: Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James.
So why doesn’t "The Diesel" rank higher in the order? An unsightly .473 free-throw percentage in 13 close-out playoff losses.
20. James Worthy, Power Forward
Career: 1982-94 (12 seasons)
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
NBA championships: 3 (1985, 1987, 1988)
Bottom Line: James Worthy
"Big Game James" got his name in the 1988 playoffs, when he put up crazy slash lines of 23/6/2/4, 28/7/7/1 and 36/16/10/2 in consecutive seventh games.
Truth is, he had been clutch long before then. For years, his number was the one that coach Pat Riley called most on plays after timeouts, especially in crucial moments.
Bonus point: Worthy was one of the few stars who rocked in protective goggles.
19. Rick Barry, Small Forward
Career: 1965-67, 1972-80 (10 seasons)
Teams: San Francisco/Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets
NBA championship: 1 (1975)
Bottom Line: Rick Barry
The greater the odds and higher the stakes, the better he was. In the 1967 NBA Finals, "Super Soph" put up an epic 40.8/8.8/3.3 slash line versus the mighty Philadelphia 76ers. On a bum knee, no less.
Eight years later, he was the MVP of the greatest NBA Finals upset ever. If he hadn’t spent much of his athletic prime in the rival ABA, he would be further up the list.
18. Dolph Schayes, Forward-Center
Career: 1949-64 (15 seasons)
Teams: Syracuse Nationals
NBA championships: 1 (1955)
Bottom Line: Dolph Schayes
For 12 seasons, the Nationals went as far in the playoffs as the future Hall of Famer could take them.
He outplayed George Mikan and Bill Russell in two memorable Game 7 performances on the road, only to have his underdog team fall short both times.
The would-be 1955 NBA Finals MVP ranks 17th in career win shares per 48 minutes in the postseason.
17. Reggie Miller, Shooting Guard
Career: 1987-2005 (18 seasons)
Teams: Indiana Pacers
NBA championships: None
Bottom Line: Reggie Miller
Any game that was on the line was Miller time. As he once put it, "If you want to be a hero, you've got to take hero shots."
Against the New York Knicks, Mr. Eight Points In Nine Seconds was famously great in the clutch.
Against every other team, he was merely very good.
16. Walt Frazier, Point Guard
Career: 1967-80 (13 seasons)
Teams: New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers
NBA championships: 2 (1970, 1973)
Bottom Line: Walt Frazier
How could "Clyde" not win an NBA Finals MVP Award? A case could be made for him in the 1970 and 1973 championship rounds.
Heck, he could have been the 1970 MVP on his momentous 36-point, 19-assist, seven-rebound performance in Game 7 alone.
Only three guards own a higher career field-goal percentage (.511) in the playoffs.
15. Sam Jones, Guard
Career: 1957-69 (12 seasons)
Teams: Boston Celtics
NBA championships: 10 (1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969)
Bottom Line: Sam Jones
Contrary to widespread belief, this was the original "Mr. Clutch," not Jerry West, who would share the title a few years later.
Truth is, Bill Russell would have fewer NBA championship rings if not for the teammate who averaged 27.1 points in nine Game 7s, all of them victories.
The bank-shot artist might have been the NBA Finals MVP in three consecutive seasons (1963-65) if the award had existed (the first one was awarded in 1969).
14. Kawhi Leonard, Small Forward
Career: 2011-present (10 seasons)
Teams: San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers
NBA championships: 2 (2014, 2019)
Bottom Line: Kawhi Leonard
The two-time NBA Finals MVP took down LeBron James and the Miami Heat dynasty. Plus Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, too.
Can you think of a more dramatic buzz-bomb than his corner jumper in the 2019 Eastern Conference semis, the one that danced on the rim not once, not twice, not thrice but four times before it sent the Raptors to the next round?
Neither can we.
13. Larry Bird, Forward
Career: 1979-92 (13 seasons)
Teams: Boston Celtics
NBA championships: 3 (1981, 1984, 1986)
Bottom Line: Larry Bird
Clutch can happen at either end, you know. Take "Larry Legend," who’s remembered as much for his steals in Game 5 of the 1985 and 1987 Eastern Conference finals as much as any late shot.
He was pretty good in eight Game 7s as well — 27.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists.
His team won six of them.
12. Kobe Bryant, Shooting Guard
Career: 1996-2016 (20 seasons)
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
NBA championships: 5 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010)
Bottom Line: Kobe Bryant
No moment was bigger than "The Mamba," whose supreme confidence, outrageous athleticism and flair for the dramatic made him one of the all-time greatest closers.
True, the two-time NBA Finals MVP jacked up too many H-O-R-S-E shots over the years, many of them with multiple defenders in his grill. Yet no one drained more ridiculous money balls, either.
Really, who would you rather take those shots — Smush Parker? When the game is on the line, we want the rock in the hands of someone with big cojones. And nobody had bigger ones than this guy, Michael Jordan included.
11. Kevin Durant, Forward
Career: 2007-present (13 seasons)
Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets
NBA championships: 2 (2017, 2018)
Bottom Line: Kevin Durant
"Durantula" blew hot and cold in crunch time early in his career, but no sooner did he drop anchor in the Bay Area than he became a certified assassin.
The transformation was punctuated by the Death Stare, the stone-cold glare at LeBron James that followed his pull-up 3 and capped the first of his back-to-back NBA Finals MVP selections.
In Game 7s, the guy has been money — 33.3 points on 55 percent in the field.
10. Bob Pettit, Power Forward
Career: 1954-65 (11 seasons)
Teams: Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks
NBA championships: 1 (1958)
Bottom Line: Bob Pettit
His then-record 50-point, 19-rebound masterpiece in the Game 6 championship clincher versus the Boston Celtics may be the greatest postseason performance that time has forgotten.
He accounted for 18 of his team’s final 21 points.
Game 7s didn’t phase Big Blue, either, as he averaged 29.2 points and 16.2 rebounds in six of those.
9. Dirk Nowitzki, Power Forward
Career: 1998-2019 (21 seasons)
Teams: Dallas Mavericks
NBA championships: 1 (2011)
Bottom Line: Dirk Nowitzki
"Dirty" averaged 3.2 more points per game in the playoffs than the regular season (22.1), among the largest differentials for regulars in league history.
In 11 of his first 12 postseasons, the 2011 NBA Finals MVP averaged between 23.4 and 28.4 points per game in all except one of them.
Now check out that crazy good clutch shot percentage.
8. Hakeem Olajuwon, Center
Career: 1984-2002 (18 seasons)
Teams: Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors
NBA championships: 2 (2004, 2005)
Bottom Line: Hakeem Olajuwon
There was "Akeem the Team," the young pup who carried the Rockets past the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in the 1986 Western Conference finals.
Then there was "Hakeem the Dream," the clutch in Clutch City who outplayed Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal as the NBA Finals MVP a decade later.
Olajuwon averaged 4.1 more points in the playoffs than the regular season (21.8).
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Center
Career: 1969-89 (20 seasons)
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers
NBA championships: 6 (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
Botttom Line: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Over 18 postseasons, how many times did the ball go to "Cap" in the low post late in a close game? And how many times did he deliver? The answer: a helluva lot more than anyone remembers.
He ranks 15th in win shares per 48 minutes in playoff history. Let’s also not forget the other end, where he was the postseason blocked shots leader no fewer than a half-dozen times, the last at 40 years of age.
6. Tim Duncan, Power Forward-Center
Career: 1997-2016 (19 seasons)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
NBA championships: 5 (1999, 2003, 2005 2007, 2014)
Bottom Line: Tim Duncan
Timmy liked to pick his spots in the 82-game taffy pull, but when the games really counted, he upped his game to a whole other level.
Among bigs, only Shaquille O’Neal owns as many NBA Finals MVP trophies (three) in the 3-ball era.
Tim Duncan's 2003 postseason belongs on the short list of best ever at any position — 24.7 points. 15.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 blocked shots per game.
5. Magic Johnson, Point Guard
Career: 1979-91, 1995-96 (13 seasons)
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
NBA championships: 5 (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
Bottom Line: Magic Johnson
While known primarily as a ball distributor, the "Showtime" orchestrator could take matters into his own right hand when necessary. Namely, his ballsy runner with two seconds left that gave the Lakers a 107-106 lead (and victory) over the Celtics in the crucial Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals at Boston Garden.
One year later, he put up a 22.0/13.7/7.7 slash line in three consecutive Game 7s en route to another league title.
He and Michael Jordan are the only guards with as many as three NBA Finals MVP selections on their resumes.
4. George Mikan, Center
Career: 1948-56 (7 seasons)
Teams: Minneapolis Lakers
NBA championships: 5 (1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954)
Bottom Line: George Mikan
Because "Mr. Basketball" played way back, back, back when, he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his complete and utter dominance in the pivot, especially in high-stakes games.
In a span of six seasons, five of which his Lakers won it all, he was the postseason leader in points five times and rebounds three times. In three of those, he had the most offense and defense win shares of any player in the field.
Get this: Only Michael Jordan (.255) had more win shares per 48 minutes in the playoffs. Barely.
3. LeBron James, Forward-Guard
Career: 2003-present (20 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers
NBA championships: 4 (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020)
Bottom Line: LeBron James
Remember when the critics considered "King James" to be the very definition of "unclutch"? Hey, we're talkin’ to you, Scottie Pippen!
Would you believe that Bron-Bron has hit eight shots to tie or win games in the final seven seconds, two more than Michael Jordan himself? And his five buzzer-beaters are the most in league history?
What’s more, his 35.3/9.1/7.3/1.6/0.9 slash line in 2009 may be the best ever in one postseason. If LBJ hadn’t arrived to the clutch party a tad late, he would be in the discussion for numero uno.
2. Jerry West, Guard
Career: 1960-1974 (14 seasons)
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
NBA championship: 1 (1972)
Bottom Line: Jerry West
Too bad so little data exists from the pre-3-point era. Because if we knew how many games that "Mr. Clutch" decided in the final seconds, minds would boggle.
By our unofficial count, there were more than two dozen of them — and that didn’t include his 63-foot jaw-dropper in the 1970 NBA Finals, a game that his team went on to lose.
"The Logo" fun fact: In the NBA's first 24 years of existence, his two buzzer-beaters were one more than the rest of the league had combined in its first 24 years of existence.
1. Michael Jordan, Shooting Guard
Career: 1984-93, 1994-98, 2001-03 (13 seasons)
Teams: Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards
NBA championships: 6 (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)
Bottom Line: Michael Jordan
Six NBA Finals trips, six NBA Finals MVP awards.
Need more? OK, try this: He owns two of the seven buzzer-beaters that clinched playoff series in league history. From "The Shot" (1989 Eastern Conference first round) to "The Push-off" (Game 6, 2007 NBA Finals), there was no more lethal late-game shot-maker in hoops history.
Of course, that doesn’t include all those fouls he drew and defensive stops he willed and teammates he made better with games on the line. This is the one guy who we gotta have against the martians with the future of civilization at stake.