Mired in one of the worst slumps I can remember a star player having, Derrick Rose came up big down the stretch against the Nuggets on Thursday night. Rose scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, going 5-of-11 from the field to salvage what had been a horrid shooting night in the first three quarters.
Rose has come up big in the clutch several times in the past few weeks. In addition to closing out the Nuggets, he effectively shut the door back-to-back against the Raptors and Wizards. The late-game run against Washington was especially great, as Rose answered a spurt by John Wall and showed off some swagger after he nailed a huge jumper. That same swagger was on display when he stared down the Nuggets' bench after his dagger last night.
Because of some of these high-profile performances, it certainly feels like Rose has been a boss in the clutch this season. But a look at some of the numbers tells a somewhat muddled story, and part of me wonders whether Jimmy Butler should be the go-to guy in in the clutch. Here's a look at the overall fourth-quarter numbers (stats via NBA.com):
And here's the "clutch" numbers, which also includes overtimes (via NBA.com):
Rose's overall fourth-quarter shooting numbers are quite stellar (three-point shooting aside, because duh), but his actual shooting in crunch time takes a bit of a dip. (Except for mid-range shots, where he's 5-of-8.) He also doesn't get to the foul line all that much in those situations. However, the 13 clutch assists are tied for fourth-most in the league.
As for Butler, his numbers remain relatively steady between the two tables. His shooting percentages are down from his overall shooting percentage of about 48 percent, but that's not a surprise given his minutes load. What's truly impressive is the amount of free throws, his percentage on those free throws and his ability to take care of the ball. Not throwing away possessions in the clutch is important, and Butler doesn't throw away possessions.
So what does this mean?
I think Butler should be getting a few more looks in crunch time, because of both his overall improvement and the fact that he's generally harder to stop against focused defenses due to his size and strength. But I also think Rose's efficiency in winning time will improve as he gets more comfortable attacking the basket against those defenses. We know Rose can be a killer, and now he just needs to get more consistent doing it again. We've already seen that consistency at the end of games start to come back.
This is a great problem to have considering the Bulls have been searching for that secondary wing star to pair with Rose for years. Both can take pressure off the other in terms of ball handling duties, and we've seen the 1-2 pick-and-roll become a deadly weapon.
It should also be noted that Pau Gasol has been excellent in crunch time this season. Gasol is shooting 13-of-21 in clutch situations, in addition to being 12-of-13 from the free throw line. Tom Thibodeau certainly has his options late in games, and having all these great choices is why the Bulls are sixth in the NBA in clutch offensive rating, per NBA.com.
Chicago's 115.2 offensive rating in the clutch stands to get even better if Rose improves, and having that ability to score down the stretch will be crucial in tight playoff games. We've seen a few ugly droughts in the last few games, but I think it's safe to say those were outliers. This is a damn good offensive team with multiple players capable of closing out games, and it feels great to be able to say that.