Kemba Walker Is Not as Clutch as You Think

Kemba Walker is known for hitting big shots, but a look at his late-game performance reveals he's not as clutch as we think.

There is nothing better in sports than a good narrative.

Kemba Walker's being clutch is one of the hottest narratives in basketball right now, but like many other stories, it’s not all it’s hyped up to be. In fact, Kemba is far from clutch, according to the numbers.

The Narrative

The narrative began when Kemba hit one of the greatest college buzzer beaters of all time. And I can’t blame the fans. That shot was incredible!

This season, Kemba has hit some equally impressive killer shots. Recently, he hit this game winner to kill the New Orleans Pelicans.

Last night, he continued hitting big shots by putting away the Toronto Raptors with a huge three-pointer with about 20 seconds left in the game.

With shots like that, it’s easy for the narrative to live on. But like many narratives, that’s not the whole truth. And the whole truth is that Kemba isn’t as clutch as everyone says.

The Numbers

Over his entire NBA career, Kemba has taken a lot of shots during clutch time, or otherwise defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the game is within five points. He’s made a lot of those shots, but he hasn’t shot a good percentage. My hypothesis is that we’re seeing a bit of a “Kobe” effect here.

Kemba takes a ton of late-game shots, and in turn makes a lot of them, many in spectacular fashion. We are a lot more likely to remember the spectacular buzzer beaters, especially since they fit the narrative, and we are not as likely to remember the missed shots. Lets look at his numbers below and see if that’s the case.


As you can see, Kemba has never had a season where he shot higher than 37.3% from the field during clutch time. Some might argue that defenses really key down on the best players during that stretch period of time and that lowers his percentages, but let’s look at the field goal percentage of other star players who also take a lot of late-game shots.

Kobe Bryant191.43.93627.84.3
Kemba Walker221332.327.82.8
Derrick Rose140.92.833.323.12.7
Monta Ellis181.52.85433.34.3
LeBron James121.42.851.5405.2
Carmelo Anthony171.12.741.342.93.2
Kyle Lowry1812.54003
James Harden161.32.55055.64.8
Mike Conley221.22.548.252.93.6
Brandon Knight210.92.435.327.33
Damian Lillard161.12.446.2403.5
LaMarcus Aldridge161.12.348.603.2
John Wall191.12.251.203
Dwyane Wade150.92.239.4502.7
Zach Randolph151.
Reggie Jackson180.7236.118.22.4
Tim Duncan230.8239.102.1
Joe Johnson180.61.928.616.72.2
Mo Williams130.81.94428.62.5
Dirk Nowitzki151.11.958.633.33.5

I looked at the top-20 players in terms of the number of clutch shots per game. As you can see, Kemba has the second-lowest shooting percentage of the bunch behind Joe Johnson even though he has taken second most clutch shots per game in the league this season. Even Kobe, who has been getting killed by the media for being inefficient, is shooting better in the last five minutes!

The advanced stats tell a similar story.

Kemba has an effective field goal percentage of just 36.2% to go along with an incredible 35.2% usage rate. Only Kobe, James Harden, Kyle Lowry, Monta Ellis, Dwyane Wade, John Wall, and Brandon Knight have a higher usage rate during clutch time, and every single one of them has a higher effective field goal percentage than Kemba does.

The team stats are even worse. The Hornets have a 90.0 offensive rating and 109.8 defensive rating with Kemba on the floor during clutch time, resulting in a -19.8 net rating. Only eight players have a worse net rating during clutch time, and two of them are Hornets. I’m not surprised at the low offensive rating, given the fact Kemba uses 35.2% of their possessions at a 36.2% effective field goal percentage (42.8% true shooting percentage).

For a larger sample size, I looked at the numbers from last year too. Among the top 20 players last year in clutch shots per game, only four shot worse than Kemba. And it seems the hypothesis was correct. Kemba shoots a lot of late-game shots but he isn’t actually making a high percentage of them.

The ones he makes are often spectacular and we remember them. We tweet them and we Vine them a lot more than other players’ clutch shots because of the narrative that started at the University of Connecticut.

But don’t be fooled: Kemba is not as clutch as you think.