Clutch Player Ladder: De'Aaron Fox, Luka Doncic debut NBA Top 5

The early frontrunners for the new Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year Award are broken down here. 

A lot of people who play this game for a living say they want to be in the middle of the action, feel the urgency, get the ball, and be "The Man." Yes, it's easy to say that in the NBA, but it's much harder to do, and to be honest, not everyone wants or is ready for all the smoke.

Clutch Player Ladder: De'Aaron Fox, Luka Doncic debut NBA Top 5

So, the Clutch Player of the Year Award is needed to find out the truth, find the Hero Ball hero, and find out who can really be counted on when the game is on the line. 

This is the first year for the award, which is named for Jerry West, a Los Angeles Lakers legend and Hall of Famer who was known for taking over close games. It's one of the highest honours a player can get to be called a winner and be recognised for not sweating when the temperature goes up. 

So... what does clutch mean? Well, of course, making shots that win games ranks very high. So does game-tying baskets. But that doesn't cover everything. There is much more: What else can a player do to help his team win the game? Is he effective at this time? Grab important rebounds? Make the defensive stops that are needed? A key shot blocked? Limit mistakes? Find teammates to help you score? 

Top five NBA clutch players 

Some players were made for these big games. People like them because they don't have to worry about being the goat (the other definition of the word). All that matters is making plays when the difference between the teams' scores is five points or less and there are less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter.


Here is the first Clutch Ladder, with the top five players so far, based on how much they've done and how steady they've been in, well, you know. 

1. The Sacramento Kings' De'Aaron Fox 

Fox is making a strong case for this award during a season that has been a big step forwards for both him and the team he plays for. Yes, the first half of the season isn't over yet, and a Kia MVP candidate is out there somewhere.

But at this point, everyone is after the point guard, who is 25 years old. When the game is on the line, the Kings trust him, and most of the time, he lives up to that trust.

He has scored 40 clutch baskets and shot an amazing 61.5% during that time, making him by far the most effective heavy-lifter in the league in the clutch. On Nov. 5, he beat Orlando with a game-winning shot from almost half court. On Jan. 3, against the Jazz, he scored the game-winning basket with :00.4 seconds left.

These were his most important shots so far (and had 22 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter). Fox's speed and control of the ball, along with his confidence and willingness to be the hero, are what keep him going in these high-pressure situations. 

2. The Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic 

You can be sure that Doncic will have the ball in the fourth quarter of every Mavericks game. Because of how much he plays and how determined he is, Doncic often finds himself in crucial situations. He lives for these moments, which is clear from the way he moves towards them.


Who could forget his amazing finish in a win against the Knicks last month, when he purposely let a free throw bounce off the rim in the last few seconds, grabbed the loose ball, and made the basket that forced overtime? It was the perfect ending to a 60-point masterpiece.

Because of how important he is to the Mavericks and how much he plays in the fourth quarter, Doncic is likely to be in the running for this award the whole season. He's sixth among "clutch" players in terms of total field goals made (30), but what's more important is that Doncic is first in clutch assists (23) and fifth in clutch rebounds (30). Remember that the point of Clutch isn't always to score.

3. The Chicago Bulls' DeMar DeRozan 

If the award had been given out last season, DeRozan would have run away with it. If you remember, he scored at the buzzer in back-to-back games in 2021 and 2022, and he was the Fourth Quarter King in terms of how much he did.

This season shows a decrease that makes sense, but not by much. The Bulls still want his experience and guts when things are tight, so the ball will eventually get to DeRozan. He has the most clutch points of any player (109), and only Fox has more clutch baskets. He is also in the top 20 in clutch rebounds and clutch assists.

Most impressive is how DeRozan gets to the free throw line in these situations. He leads the NBA with 43 clutch free throw attempts and shoots 93% from the line in the clutch. Both show that he can make his own opportunities and get in touch with people. The master of the mid-range will try to score any way he can.

4. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers 

Mitchell showed how clutch he was in his 71-point game, which was a lot like Luka's 60-point game because he made several big plays in the last few seconds of regulation and overtime.

Mitchell's role with the Cavs since he joined this season was kind of like that. When he gets the ball, it feels natural in his hands, and the defence shakes. Mitchell is making 88.2% of his free throws when the game is close, giving the Cavs a main option when they need a steady hand. 

5. New York Knicks' Jalen Brunson 

He has been exactly what the Knicks needed: a steady player who makes smart decisions and takes charge in the fourth quarter. Brunson is tied with Fox for second place in clutch points with 99, and he stands out from the rest because he knows how to handle the ball.

He has only turned the ball over three times in these situations, which is a very good number considering how much he plays. Most of the time, Brunson relies on himself in a tight spot. He doesn't pass the ball very often, which could be seen as a flaw if it weren't for the fact that he shoots 52.4% overall and 50% from deep when the game is on the line. The Knicks will take that rate of success any day.

What's next Clutch Player Ladder?

  1. The Oklahoma City Thunder's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 
  2. Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler.
  3. Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz.
  4. Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton.
  5. The Miami Heat's Tyler Herro.

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