The Whiteboard: Ja Morant’s postseason clutch stats are absolutely historic

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

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Clutch statistics, both for teams and players, are notoriously unreliable as predictors of future outcomes. They come with the requisite noise of small sample size, the context and style of close games are often played differently and studies have shown there is very little correlation between clutch stats from year to year — outliers tend to be about randomness and will regress towards the mean over time.

But as a record of what’s actually happened, they are ironclad. Ja Morant has scored 42 points in the clutch this postseason. That number does rank in the top 30 for a single postseason (going back to 1996-97) despite the fact that Morant is still just two games into the second round. Per 36 minutes, Morant is averaging 54.0 points, 12.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists in the clutch this postseason.

All that is to say, even if Morant’s postseason doesn’t extend beyond this series against the Warriors, he’s already put himself in historic company. If he were somehow able to extend his postseason and keep up anything close to this pace, we’d be looking at perhaps the most remarkable clutch postseason of all time.

As I said, Morant’s 42 total clutch points in this postseason rank 26th going back to 1996-97, the first season for which clutch statistics are available. But he’s done it in just 28 minutes. Since 1996-97, we have 748 samples of a player playing at least 20 minutes of clutch time in a single postseason. Of that group, Morant’s 54.0 points per 36 rank third, trailing only Donovan Mitchell in 2019-20 and Stephen Curry in 2015-16.

And it’s not like his efficiency is suffering from all that volume scoring. Morant’s true shooting percentage (61.7) lags behind Curry and Mitchell’s but is still an elite number and well above the vast majority of volume clutch scorers in past postseasons.

Ja Morant has been producing in the clutch at a historic rate

And then there is the matter of everything else he’s doing. Morant is averaging a combined 19.3 rebounds and assists per 36 minutes in the clutch this postseason. Going back into that sample of 743 individual postseasons, Morant’s total ranks 15th.

Again, we’re still talking about just 28 minutes. Even a rough four- or five-minute clutch stretch over the rest of this series with the Warriors could seriously depress these numbers. And the Grizzlies’ record in clutch games this postseason (4-3) isn’t going to break any records. But even if these numbers aren’t a meaningful indicator of what to come, they represent a historic high-leverage run from a 22-year-old who has made himself arguably the most exciting player in the entire NBA.

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