Sometimes it seems there are as many ways to define "clutch" as there are basketball fans. In fact, it's probably a term that was never meant to be quantified -- instead serving as a great catchall for all of the intangibles people like to use when the numbers contradict their feelings. But that doesn't mean we can't at least try to mathematically measure which players have stepped up based on the importance of the game.
My method of calculating "clutchness" in the playoffs involves using the championship leverage index. In a nutshell, championship leverage puts a number on the importance of each playoff game in terms of how much it swung each team's probability of winning the NBA title. By definition, the average game in any playoff year has a championship leverage of 1.00, but games can run the gamut from practically meaningless (Game 4 of a series in which one team is leading 3-0, such as this year's first-round Spurs-Lakers series, which had a leverage of 0.12) to earth-shatteringly important (Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals had a leverage of 9.24, or 77 times as important as the aforementioned final game of a first-round sweep).
By putting a number on the importance of each game, we can quantify which players save their best performances for the most crucial matchups. In this exercise, we'll look at all of the players currently active in the playoffs who have at least 500 career playoff minutes and 200 minutes played in the 2013 postseason thus far (through Friday's games).
A player's "clutch" score is the difference between his career postseason player efficiency rating (PER) if we weigh each minute played by the importance of the game in question, and his overall career PER if we weigh all playoff games equally, thus capturing players who do better when the games become more important.
Here's a look at the best -- and worst -- active NBA players when it comes to performing in important playoff games.
Best in the clutch
1. Tyson Chandler
Career playoff PER: 13.57 | Leverage-weighted PER: 15.48 | Clutch score: plus-1.91
Chandler ranks high here in part because of his solid play with the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Heat, a series in which he averaged 9.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor (good for a series-wide PER of 16.6). Chandler also boasts performances like his 21.1 PER in Game 7 of the 2008 Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio, which carried a leverage index of 2.67, and a pair of 21-plus PER outings in Games 2 and 3 of the 2011 Western Conference finals (games that averaged a leverage of 1.84). All told, Chandler seems to play his best in games that have the biggest potential impact on his team's odds of winning the championship.