After Tyler Ennis’s amazing shot to preserve Syracuse’s perfect record, there seems to be quite a bit chatter about him being clutch:

It was a swell play, but there was obviously a bit of luck involved.  So I decided to look at a variety splits to explore the Ennis clutch narrative.

First, I’d like to clarify what I mean by “clutch,” which is better in high leverage situations (i.e. late and close, vs. quality competition, or both).  Regardless of your feelings regarding the impact of pressure on the performance of athletes, there is a clutch skill set in basketball as some players translate better to late game scenarios than others.  For instance, Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks often overperform their expected record based on margin of victory.  During his prime from 2004-2005 to 2010-2011, Dallas won 19 more games than their point differential would suggest.  Also Dirk has a higher playoff PER (24.7) than regular season (23.5) in spite of the increased quality of defense.  It makes sense, as he is so tall and so elite at shooting and once he catches the ball there’s little that the defense can do to stop him.  They just have to hope he misses.  Dirk is living proof that clutch exists in basketball.

The fact that Syracuse is undefeated is a good start for Ennis.  ESPN posted that his stats in the last 5 minutes of 1 possession games are 8/9 FG 6/6 FT 6 assist 0 turnovers, and last night he committed his first turnover in the final 5 minutes of any game this season. Those are both awfully impressive, and it is easy to buy the narrative that he has an awesome half-court skill set with his combination of handling, shooting, and basketball IQ.  And a half-court skill set equates to a clutch skill set, since high leverage situations are normally against a set defense when transition opportunities wane.  This is supported by his splits, as he has a 42.3% eFG in transition and a 48.2% eFG in the half-court as per hoop-math.com.

Earlier I posted about how Julius Randle posts much better statistics against doormat teams than actual competition, so let’s see how Tyler Ennis fares with this test.  I split out the 10 worst defenses Syracuse faced and the 14 best, which were all top 90 as per kenpom.com:

Pts eFG% TS 2P% 3P% Ast TOV
top 90 D 14.9 50.4% 57.8% 50.0% 34.8% 6.5 1.7
not top 12.2 42.8% 47.7% 34.9% 40.7% 6.5 1.6

That is an incredible split, as he actually performs better vs. good defense.  And it’s not like this is hugely altered with the line drawn elsewhere- he fared decently against #97 and #98 defenses Minnesota and Wake Forest.  His worst games were at home vs Cornell (#349), Binghamton (#260), and St. Francis (#122).  Among the good defenses, his worst performance was against #23 defense Eastern Michigan who has the #263 offense and lost to Syracuse by 23.  Perhaps the narrative is that he coasts against weaker teams, so let’s check out his splits sorted into games in which they were 10+ point Vegas faves vs expected close matchups:

spread Pts eFG% TS% 2P% 3P% Ast TOV
< 10 pts 16.4 50.6% 58.8% 48.7% 37.9% 5.9 1.6
10+ pts 9.2 45.0% 42.1% 34.0% 38.1% 7.5 1.9

OK, now we’re just getting ridiculous.  In fairness, the close games are boosted by a much better FTA:FGA ratio (.81 vs .26 hitting 83% vs 48%) that likely is in part due to end game fouling, but that does not change the fact that his splits are amazing.  This bodes incredibly well for his odds of translating to the NBA, and emphatically confirms the narrative that he is clutch.  Ennis may not have the size, speed, or athleticism to overwhelm weaker competition with sheer physicality, but he does have the skills and intelligence to dominate whoever he chooses with sheer basketball playing ability.

The only downside with Ennis is that he has questionable tools and projects to be a defensive liability.  Although he has a good steal rate, it cannot be trusted as it has come in Syracuse’s zone, and he only got 10 steals in 9 FIBA games playing for Canada.  But with his half-court skill set and elevated performance in high leverage situations, who cares?  Ennis’s upside knows little bounds offenisvely, he should be assigned a small but non-trivial probability of becoming the next Steve Nash or John Stockton.  At this point he has cemented himself as a top 10 draft value, and should merit serious consideration in the top 5 if he continues to dominate high leverage situations.