For those who have been following us since our The IrrelAVant Blog days, you know that we have been big fans of Damian Lillard. Not just a fan of him on the court, but in the studio as well. Dame Dolla got his own #MusicMondays article, found here
The amount of confidence he brings to each and every game is admirable to say the least. And that confidence stays strong, all the way until the final buzzer. But does his latest series-ending buzzer beater shot make him the most clutch player in the NBA?
5. Kyrie Irving
The game comes much easier when you think that the world is flat. Shooting a round ball into a round hoop just wouldn't work if the world was round too.
Moment of Arrival:
With 30 seconds left against the Michigan Wolverines, Kyrie hit a running bank shot that put the Duke Blue Devils up three. This shot sent Duke to the Sweet 16, and let the world know that he was the guy who needed the ball in his hands when the pressure was on.
Defining Clutch Moment:
Kyrie Irving nailed one of the most iconic shots in NBA history. A side-step three point shot against arguably the greatest team of all-time in the Golden State Warriors. Game 7, on the road, tie game. The pressure level has never been any higher for a single shot in NBA Finals history.
Most Clutch Shot:
His clutchest shot was the same moment. There's a short list of shots made in the final minutes that transcended the landscape of the NBA. If Kyrie doesn't hit that shot, the Warriors may have won the championship and most likely would have never signed Kevin Durant.
4. Damian Lillard
Being born and raised in Oakland, California was probably a little bit rougher than a basketball game. Lillard's upbringing made the game seem easy.
Moment of Arrival:
In just his second year in the NBA, he hit the biggest shot in Portland Trail Blazers history. Down by two, he hit a fadeaway three to not only win the game, but win the series over the Houston Rockets. This shot separated him from the rest of his team, and they ultimately started the roster from scratch and built the team around him.
Defining Clutch Moment:
He has hit multiple game winners since that shot. So much so, that he started his own celebration because of his clutch play when the pressure is on. He simply points to his wrist and looks at the crowd and says "Dame Time."
Most Clutch Shot:
The whole reason why we're writing this article is because of this shot. Down by two with 40 seconds left, Dame tied the game up. His team got a stop and had a chance for the final shot, and everyone in the basketball world knew he was going to have the ball in his hands.
As the time ticked down, him and Paul George stood toe to toe. He was about 37 feet away from the basket, and with time expiring he took two steps to his right to create space and elevated. He once again hit a series-ending three pointer in front of his home fans, and sent the basketball world into a frenzy.
3. Kawhi Leonard
The Klaw is a weird dude. But he is one hell of a basketball player, and is more composed than anyone when the pressure is on.
Moment of Arrival:
With a chance to go to the Sweet 16, Kawhi led his team to victory in a tightly contested, double overtime battle. With less than 30 seconds left, he stole the ball and got the game-sealing dunk. Proving that he can be clutch on both ends of the floor.
Defining Clutch Moment:
His moment was an entire series. Going up against the Miami Heat and their Big 3, Kawhi was the best player for his team in a dominant 4-1 Finals victory. His Finals MVP performance proved why he needed to be considered one of the best players in the world.
Most Clutch Shot:
Kawhi has been appreciated through his entire career because of his ability to make plays on both ends of the court. So his sequence against against the Houston Rockets in 2017 was a microcosm of what he brings to every big moment.
Down by one with 30 seconds left, he rises over James Harden and splashes a three to give his team a two point lead. Then he runs back on defense, gets a huge block on Harden, grabs the rebound, and sinks the free throws to end the game.
2. Lebron James
Yes, Lebron will go down as one of the greatest players to ever play the game as well as one of the most clutch. However, this list is created with where we currently stand.
Moment of Arrival:
For much of his young career, he wasn't considered a clutch player. One who would come up small in the biggest moments. But with the series tied 2-2 against a deep Detroit Pistons team, Lebron had to do it all on his own.
With little to no help coming from his teammates in the fourth quarter, he decided to put the game on his shoulders. He scored the final 25 points for his team which led to the double overtime victory. This still stands as one of the most incredible individual feats in playoff history.
Defining Clutch Moment:
The Boston Celtics were the one team he could never get passed. His Miami Heat were down 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston, and the chances of the Heat advancing looked bleak. But with a stone cold look on his face, Lebron came out and delivered a dominant performance.
He shot 73% from the field, dropped 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. In the face of elimination, Lebron ended all questions on whether or not he was clutch or not.
Most Clutch Shot:
In his 16 year career, Lebron has an extensive highlight reel of game winners. But some were a bit more difficult than others. With the time winding down in a two point game, Lebron went for the win instead of the tie.
On the road against an up and coming Golden State Warriors team, and with Andre Iguodala in his face, Lebron drilled a fadeaway three pointer to give the Miami Heat the win. The crowd was stunned and Lebron broke out a new celebration that would go on to be duplicated by kids across the world.
1. Steph Curry
Baby Faced Assassin. Chef Curry. The Human Torch. Threezus. And possibly by the end of the career, The GOAT.
Moment of Arrival:
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Steph Curry led the 10 seeded underdog Davidson Wildcats over Gonzaga. He scored 40 points, including 30 points in the second half. He was already known as a prolific scorer, but this proved that he could do it against anyone.
Defining Clutch Moment:
In the first season under Steve Kerr, the Warriors had big expectations. They were down by 20 in the fourth quarter to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Warriors stormed all the way back and had a chance to tie with less than ten seconds left. Curry got to the corner, he was double teamed, he faded away and got landed on by two players.
The ball was in the air for what felt like an eternity, and then *Splash.* His big shot tied the game and stole all the momentum from the Pelicans. He dropped 40 points when his team needed him most, and led his team to a 54-30 run in the 4th quarter and overtime. That's when he showed the world he was here to stay.
Most Clutch Shot:
The Warriors dominant era can be defined in one play. Russel Westbrook goes up for a layup in a tie game and he lays a brick. Warriors get the rebound and immediately get the ball to Curry. Everyone knows whats coming. The crowd, the Warriors, the Thunder, they all know Curry is going to pull up for the win.
The thing nobody realized was that he was going to pull up from nearly half court. He lets it fly, and then all you see is the Thunder fans with their hands on their head in disbelief. The Thunder players looking over at Curry as he is running across the court pumping his fist and doing The Bernie. In this moment, everyone knew he was the most clutch player in the NBA, and perhaps ever.
The NBA season is unfortunately over. All the drama, incredible plays, and long grind is over. Everything is OVER!
But it's actually not, because that means the playoffs are here. Before we get there, let's reflect on this historic season. It's time for some awards.
Most Improved Player
Throughout this NBA season, we may have had some hot takes over here. But giving this award to Spicy P isn't a hot take at all. No player made a bigger leap from last season than Pascal Siakam. His play not only elevated the Toronto Raptors ceiling, but it showed how much work he put in during the offseason.
An increase in minutes not allowed for Siakam to get into a better flow with his teammates, but he was able to show his new coach what he could bring to the table. Nick Nurse told him before the season that he needed to trust his jump shot a lot more than he did in year two. He took twice as many shots while still increasing his shooting percentage.
The addition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green increased the spacing on the floor for this stretch-four. But his ability to rise to the level of his new teammates gave him the opportunity to improve drastically from last year to this year.
Defensive Player of the Year
Defensive Rebounds: 732
Defensive Box Plus/Minus: +5
It was a long and emotional season for Rudy Gobert. Upon being given the information that he was not going to be on the All-Star team, he broke down and had to leave his press conference. This is a guy who loves the game of basketball, and wears his heart on his sleeve. A trait found in most defensive minded players.
Picking between him and Myles Turner was like splitting hairs. In just about every defensive category they were both top five, alternating being first and second. But there were two statistics that stuck out; Defensive Rebounds, and Defensive Box Plus/Minus.
Forcing turnovers is huge when it comes to winning tightly contested games, and a defensive rebound is no different then a turnover. Gaining that possession and getting your team back on offense is huge, and Gobert did it exponentially better than Turner. Both of these guys had great seasons and both helped their team get the fifth seed in their conference. The voting may be closer than any other award.
Sixth Man of the Year
Minutes Per Game: 26.6
Points Per Game: 20
Assists Per Game: 5.4
Free Throw Percentage: 88%
This award isn't really even fair at this point. Lou Williams has been in the league for 13 years and he is still putting up big numbers. The only difference is that he is doing it in less minutes on the floor with every year he's played. The already two-time winner of the award will most likely make it three.
He averaged playing just over half of each game and still managed to be the Los Angeles Clippers leading scorer. Talk about efficiency. As Lou went, the Clippers went. In their 47 wins, he contributed to an Offensive Rating of 117. In their 28 losses, that number was all the way down to 104.
Lou not only contributed to his team off the bench, but his play determined most nights whether they won or lost. And with the Clippers making the playoffs, it makes the burden he carried look that much more impressive.
Rookie of the Year
Points Per Game: 21.2
Assists Per Game: 6
Rebounds Per Game: 7.8
First of all, let's give it up for Trae Young. He got off to a very slow start to the season, but still played in more games and scored more points than Luka, and was second in the NBA in assists. However, this award takes into account the entire season. And Luka Doncic controlled the race for a majority of the season.
Doncic just flat out impacted the game in more ways than Trae did. He was a more efficient shooter, was a great rebounder, and logged 8 triple-doubles. Early on in the season, it seemed as if this would've been a unanimous choice. But Trae's clutch plays and incredible scoring feats will make it a tight race among the voters.
It's all about perspective and narrative when it comes to this stuff. If the voters are swayed by emotion then they may vote for Trae. If they are more analytical in their decisions then they will go with Luka. Either way, we'll be sitting on the right side of history with our vote.
Most Valuable Player
In just about every scoring category, you're going to see James Harden at the top. No player has averaged more points per game than James Harden in a single season besides Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. But this is an award for the most Valuable player to his team, not the most Outstanding player in the league. And we don't do Co-MVP's, that doesn't even make sense.
The Milwaukee Bucks, with new head coach Mike Budenholzer, ended the season with the best record in the NBA of 60-22. And the best player on the best team was Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was number one in the league in terms of Player Efficiency Rating (a measure of per-minute production) with 30.9. To put that into perspective, the league average is 15, and Harden (who touched the ball more than anyone else in the league) carried a 30.8.
Giannis averaged a double-double with 27.7 points per game and 12.5 rebounds. He shot an incredible 58% from the field. He scored more points than he ever has while playing the least amount of minutes since his 2014 season. His play led to the most double digit wins in the NBA, and the most since the 73 win Golden State Warriors.
His play was not only great, but it was dominant. No disrespect to All-Star reserve Khris Middleton, but this was his second best player all season on a 60 win team. And take into account the fact that the Bucks won every season series against every Eastern Conference opponent, the dominance can not be denied.
Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the 2018-2019 Most Valuable Player.
Sometimes, sports can be very underwhelming. People seem to root for the underdog more than they root for the teams and athletes that are actually better.
There's something about an underdog that captivates those that are unexceptional.
That may sound a little bit rude, but in a way its true. Just look at March Madness. Everyone always roots for the underdog story because it represents the little guy taking down the juggernauts. And while that's all awesome in it's own right, it ends up taking away from the better teams displaying a better brand of basketball for the world.
With a handful of better teams sitting behind the Orlando Magic, none of it matters now as they have clinched a playoff spot. Thus wasting a position in the playoffs that a better team or a team with better athletes could have had.
First of all, "congratulations" to the Orlando Magic on clinching their first playoff berth since 2012. Their fans are ecstatic and finally have a chance to enjoy some playoff basketball again.
But honestly, besides their fans, absolutely nobody wants to watch them in the playoffs. Whoever they end up matching up against will surely destroy them in four games. Best case scenario for the Magic is that they pull out a miracle in a game at home just to lose in five.
Maybe that's all they want. Just an opportunity to be respected and seen as a "playoff" team. Playoff sits in quotations because those bottom three seeds in the Eastern Conference shouldn't really be respected as such. As the current standings look with less than a week to go in the season, it's highly possible that all three of those teams will get into the playoffs without a winning record.
We can't blame them for this, the way the conferences are split up allows for a few teams who have no business in the playoffs get in. Teams with better records and better teams such as the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Los Angeles Lakers would have easily made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
But it is what it is, as they say, and it can't be changed. So what can we look forward too with this Magic team?
Their head coach Steve Clifford deserves a lot of respect for this season. He has had a very underwhelming group of players come together and play well towards the end of the season. Big wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics allowed them to play their way into the playoffs.
They have an All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, who is averaging a double-double on the season with 20.8 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 79% from the free throw line. He has been paired with fellow big man in Jonathan Isaac, who has made great strides in the defensive end as the season has progressed.
Their starting point guard is DJ Augustin, who finds himself in the playoffs for the fourth time in his career. He leads the team in assists with 5.2 per game, and just so y'all know thats not great. Evan Fournier is his counterpart in the backcourt. There's not much to say about this guy, but don't look up his last name on Google pictures.
If you're bored by now, you are not to be blamed. This team has little to nothing to offer. One cool thing about them is that they have one of the best dunkers in the NBA in Aaron Gordon. He should be good for a highlight or two in their four games in the playoffs.
Terrance Ross has been their "Clutch Guy" who seemingly comes in and hits big shots whenever they've needed them. But the best thing that has come from their roster this season is drafting Mo Bamba and having Sheck Wes make a major banger in his honor.
Listen, these guys stand no chance in the playoffs against any opponent. They are the worst team in the playoffs hands down, unless somehow the Charlotte Hornets sneak in.
Usually, we're pretty optimistic here at Under The Irrelevance and we usually can find the good in just about any situation. But these guys don't deserve to be a playoff team, and that's all there is to it.
But hey Orlando, you guys made the playoffs. Good job or whatever on your mediocre season that will result in a four game sweep in the playoffs. You'll never be better than this if you continue to root for an underdog squad, so more power to you.
Magicians are mostly phony, and so are the Orlando Magic.
In the past, unless a guy was one of the top players in the draft, he would usually suck in his first year. That is if he even got the opportunity to play. But over the past few years, it seems like guys are coming into the league and making an impact right away.
Not necessarily the kind of impact that raises the level of the team's play exponentially, but enough to get themselves talked about on a night to night basis. Outside of Luka Doncic, it took a while before anyone from this years rookie class made a name for themselves.
But as the season progressed, we saw a handful of these young guys grow into role players and even leaders for their teams. The All-Rookie team could shape up to be a group of future All-Stars if they continue to play the way they did this season.
*All statistics are ranked amongst the rookie class*
Shooting Guard - Dallas Mavericks - 3rd Overall Pick
Points per game - 21.1 (1st)
Rebounds per game - 7.6 (2nd)
Assists per game - 5.9 (2nd)
Let's start with the most obvious choice. This guy should be one of the two unanimous choices for First team All-Rookie. Luka Doncic has played above and beyond just about everyone's expectations. Even for people who had high expectations, nobody could have predicted he would have the season that he did.
He instantly became the best player on the Dallas Mavericks, and had them in the playoff race for about half of the season. He posted 7 triple-doubles, which put him in a tie with Magic Johnson for third most all-time in a rookie season.
But the thing that caught the eye of everyone who watched him play this season was how fast he was able to add the Harden-like step-back three point shot that is seemingly unguardable. His ability to add a signature go-to move made him a fan favorite pretty quickly, and made his rookie season one that will be remembered for a long time as one of the best in recent memory.
Point Guard - Atlanta Hawks - 5th Overall Pick
Points per game - 18.9 (2nd)
Assists per game - 8 (1st)
Field Goals Made - 494 (2nd)
When the Atlanta Hawks decided to trade down to get Trae Young and pass on Luka Doncic, everyone assumed it was going to become to horrible trade. And maybe 10-15 years from now, it's possible that it could be true. But for this season, both teams look like winners.
Young got off to a slow start in the season, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that the Hawks are a very young team and were without one of their young up and coming players in John Collins. Once he got a little bit of confidence, his game became a lot more natural.
He ended up with six games consisting of 30+ points and 10+ assists, second most all-time in a rookie season. His best moment of his season was a five game stretch where he averaged 34.8 points and 10.4 assists, including a season high of 49 points. His play over the last two months of the season not only solidified his spot on the All-Rookie team, but has even given some a reason for argument for Rookie of the Year.
Center - Phoenix Suns - 1st Overall Pick
Points per game - 16.5 (4th)
Rebounds per game - 10.3 (1st)
Field Goal Percentage - 58.5% (1st among rookies with 1500+ minutes)
On June 21st, Deandre Ayton became just the third player ever from the Bahamas to get drafted into the NBA. The other two were two-time NBA champion Mychal Thompson (Klay's dad) and current sharpshooter Buddy Hield. With the clearest water in the world, it's no wonder why not too many kids in the Bahamas choose to play basketball.
Ayton's rookie season could be summed up in one word, "Good." His numbers didn't jump off the stat sheet, and he never had any stretch or single game that wowed anybody. But he was consistently a good player.
On the Phoenix Suns, he was able to get a lot of playing time. This aided him in his development and may have ballooned his rebounding numbers. But regardless, any rookie who averages a double-double for their first season has to make the All-Rookie team.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Power Forward - Memphis Grizzlies - 4th Overall Pick
Points per game - 13.8 (6th)
Total Blocks - 82 (2nd)
Field Goal Percentage - 50.6% (2nd among rookies with 1500+ minutes)
With the success that Jaren Jackson Jr. had this season, it's surprising that he still doesn't have a nickname yet. His Instagram handle is simply "Jaren," so maybe a nickname is not needed. Although "Triple J" is pretty catchy.
After the impact Jackson made off of the bench in the first two games of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies had no choice but to start him the rest of the way. His shooting efficiency forced their hand because of the fact that outside of Mike Conley, they had no offensive weapons. And trading away Marc Gasol gave Jackson the opportunity to shine as the team's best big man.
His defensive presence alone could've got him on this list. With 82 blocks in 56 games this season, he made opposing players think twice about coming into the paint. His two-way ability from the power forward position should have Memphis feeling like they've got a main piece for their future.
Power Forward - Sacramento Kings - 2nd Overall Pick
Points per game - 14.7 (5th)
Rebound per game - 7.4 (3rd)
Total Blocks - 56 (6th)
Considering the fact that Marvin Bagley was the second overall pick, his season didn't quite live up to the high standards that many had put up for him. Many people thought the Phoenix Suns had made a mistake taking Ayton over Bagley, but for a majority of the season they were wrong.
The biggest issue Bagley had throughout the first half of the season was finding his place on a Sacramento Kings squad that was in the playoff race all the way up until about a month left in the season. His immediate impact wasn't needed, which made it harder for him to make a name for himself.
But as the season went on, Bagley got healthy and began playing with a higher intensity which ultimately made him more comfortable. He came off the bench for all but three games this season, which makes his numbers all that much more incredible. He played less minutes and was more efficient than most rookies at the power forward position. If it wasn't for his injuries he sustained this season, the Kings may have found themselves still fighting for that 8th spot in the playoffs.
Just like with every other list that has ever been created, there is going to be snubs. Mitchell Robinson had 147 blocks in 60 games which was more than Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley combined. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started nearly every game for a Los Angeles Clippers team that is in the playoffs. Collin Sexton started every game and was 3rd in points per game.
But taking into account all-around game is important when looking at awards like this. And the top five players in the draft all lived up to expectations as the top five guys in their rookie seasons.