The Whiteboard: Damian Lillard might be having the best clutch shooting season ever

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

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One of the strangest All-Star weekends in recent memory ended with an incredibly familiar sight — Damian Lillard hitting a contested and wildly clutch shot. The NBA All-Star Game is now using the Elam Ending, so Lillard wasn’t working against the clock. The first team to 170 would win the game and his pull-up from the logo were the final points Team LeBron needed.

Lillard has hit come iconic clutch shots in his career, including two walk-off, series-winning 3-pointers in the playoffs. And while the stakes are obviously much lower in the regular season or the exhibition shenanigans of the All-Star Game, he’s arguably never been hotter in the clutch than he is right now. In fact, he may be in the midst of the best clutch-shooting season in NBA history.

How good has Damian Lillard been in the clutch this season?

Lillard came into the All-Star break having played 71 clutch minutes for the Portland Trail Blazers. In those minutes, he’s scored an almost unbelievable 104 points. To put that in context, that rate of points scored per minute would work out to roughly 52.7 points per game if he was sustaining it across all the minutes he had played this season. But the efficiency is even more impressive than the volume.

In the clutch this season, Lillard is 31-of-49 from the field, 14-of-24 from beyond the arc and a perfect 28-of-28 from the free-throw line. That works out to a true shooting percentage over 84.8 percent. He’s on pace to become the first player since the NBA started collecting play-by-play stats to finish the season with at least 100 clutch true shooting attempts (shots plus trips to the free-throw line) and a true shooting percentage over 80. He’d also be the first to finished with a true shooting percentage over 70. The previous season-high is Mehmet Okur who finished the 2006-07 season in Utah with a 68.4 true shooting percentage on 110 true shooting attempts. The difference between Lillard’s mark and his (16.4 percentage points) is roughly the same as the difference between Okur and the 230th-best season — Ray Allen’s 52.1 true shooting percentage on 143 true shoot attempts with the 2002-03 Seattle SuperSonics.

The NBA’s play-by-play statistics only go back to the 1996-97 season so we’re only capturing a slice of NBA history. But the advantage of the 3-point line makes it even less likely we’d find a higher clutch true-shooting percentage was we move back through previous eras. And we’re getting the last two seasons of Michael Jordan’s second three-peat, and the entire careers of players like Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and LeBron James who are regarded as some of the greatest clutch performers ever. Over that span, for a single season, no one has been better than Damian Lillard. And even if he undergoes some serious regression to the mean over the rest of the season, there’s a good chance he’ll still be holding the top spot.

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