Whether fair or unfair, it’s safe to say that today’s athletes are judged foremostly upon their ability to shine when the stakes are the highest.
It’s the same in every sport: playoff greatness is simply far more significant than regular season success. Likewise, performances late in games are consistently put under heavy scrutiny, while a tendency to produce in the early stages of competition is often deemed irrelevant if one is unable to reach that same level when the outcome is on the line.
And, though every sport has its share of thrilling moments, possessing that very coveted clutch gene is most crucial in the game of basketball. That’s because, throughout the regular season and the NBA Playoffs, game after game after game seemingly comes down to the final seconds and even the final possession, making it so vitally important to have someone who can knock down the biggest of big shots.
That’s what brings me to this list, one that is composed of the top 25 players in the history of the NBA that I would want taking the last shot.
Since this list regards nothing more than being able to make that final shot in a game, it will be comprised solely of players who could or still can hit jump shots — essentially no power forwards and no centers, with the exception of one or two.
Without any further ado, let’s get things started at the 25th ranked player, one of the most controversial and highly-talented players that basketball has ever seen.
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25. ALLEN IVERSON
As one of the most prolific scorers to ever play in the NBA, Allen Iverson was also able to put the ball through the hoop when it counted.
With the Philadelphia 76ers, The Answer had an abundance of big shots and game-winners, including 13 of the latter from 2003 through 2008, which ranked him fifth in the NBA during that time span.
He made the NBA Finals just one time (in 2001), but he certainly left his mark when given the opportunity.
In Game 1 of that series, the Sixers trailed by one, 99-98, with just over a minute on the clock. From there, Iverson went off, hitting a three to give them a two-point lead and another corner jumper to extend the lead to four and clinch the Game 1 win, the only one that Philadelphia would earn during the Finals.
Had A.I. had a little bit more help around him during his prime and thus been able to reach the NBA Finals on multiple occasions, this ranking would likely be a much higher one. The clutch gene was just in him.
24. BRANDON ROY
His career might have been cut much too short due to injuries, but when Roy was healthy, he was one of the best at making tough shots at the end of games.
He had several game-winners as a member of the Trail Blazers, including one against the Wizards in March of 2010, one against the Rockets in December of that same reason, and another against the Rockets that came in 2008.
However, of all his great moments, number one came during the 2011 NBA Playoffs, more specifically in Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round series between Portland and Dallas.
He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, and his final two points came on a bank shot that was also the game-winner, bringing the Blazers into a 2-2 series tie.
It’s unfortunate that Roy’s career couldn’t have lasted longer than it did, but the 2007 Rookie of the Year will always be remembered for his ability to be at his best when needed the most
23. KEVIN DURANT
Although Kevin Durant has only been in the NBA for six seasons, he has already become the league’s best scorer and one of the most efficient shooters of all time.
For a guy who shoots mostly jumpers and creates his own shots, his field goal percentage of 51 percent is off-the-charts good, and his 42 percent from beyond the arc isn’t bad either.
So, just based on his pure shooting abilities, I would already consider Durant a strong candidate for a list like this, even before considering his clutch statistics.
Fortunately for Kevin, he has also had his share of game-tying and go-ahead shots late in games, both in the regular season and the playoffs.
Most recently, the 6-9 forward hit a game-winner against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the last game that Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder would win in 2013.
And in 2012, when he led the Thunder to the NBA Finals, Durant was 3-of-4 on go-ahead and game-tying shots with 24 seconds or less on the clock in the fourth quarter or overtime. The rest of the players in the league during that time were just 1-of-31, according to ESPN.
Durant doesn’t have quite the number of game-winning shots during the regular season as most on this list, but much of that has to do with the fact that the Thunder simply don’t need him to do so very often. And, when he has received those rare opportunities, he’s capitalized — most recently, Durant hit a game-winner against the Mavericks in January of this past season.
Luckily for Kevin, at just 24 years of age he likely still has both his best seasons and his most defining moments ahead of him, making it almost certain that he will move up these rankings in the near future.