It was a tie game in Orlando on Nov. 5. De’Aaron Fox got the ball with about five seconds left, took four dribbles and let a shot fly from just inside of midcourt as time expired.
A clutch moment — one of many for the Sacramento guard this season. Fox was announced Tuesday night as the inaugural winner of the NBA’s clutch player of the year award, as selected by a panel of 100 writers and broadcasters who cover the league.
Miami’s Jimmy Butler was second, and Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan was third.
“You can’t be afraid to fail,” Fox said on the TNT broadcast of the announcement. “Obviously, you’re not going to make every shot, but my teammates, my coaches, they put me in position to succeed. So the least I can do is have confidence in myself to take good shots.”
Fox became Sacramento’s first individual winner of a major award since Tyreke Evans held off Stephen Curry for rookie of the year in 2010. The Kings almost certainly won’t be waiting 13 years for their next award — it’ll be more like 24 hours, probably, with Mike Brown expected to be announced as the coach of the year when the NBA reveals those results on Wednesday.
The voting was a runaway; Fox, who led the league with 194 clutch points, got 91 of the possible 100 first-place votes and 460 of a possible 500 points. Butler got one first-place vote and 104 points, while DeRozan finished with 80 points — just three ahead of fourth-place finisher Jalen Brunson of New York.
DeRozan was second in the NBA with 159 clutch points scored this season, and Butler was third with 151.
Fox led the league in clutch-game scoring this season with 194 points in 39 such games; clutch games are defined as those where the margin between teams is five points or less at any point in the final 5:00. He actually shot better from the field in those moments (53%) than he did at all other times (51%).
He becomes the first recipient of the Jerry West Trophy; it was named for the player who earned the moniker of “Mr. Clutch” during his career. The NBA announced in December that it was adding the clutch award; like most other awards, it is voted on by the media panel, but unlike other awards the field of candidates is first narrowed down by polling of NBA coaches.
Fox was one of many major contributors to a resurgence in Sacramento this season.
The Kings — who currently lead defending champion Golden State 2-0 in a Western Conference first-round series — reached the postseason for the first time in 17 years. Fox is averaging a team-best 31 points in those two playoff games so far. And at 48-34, this was Sacramento’s best regular season since going 50-32 in 2004-05.
“My teammates and my team put me in position to succeed,” Fox said.
The award was the second major individual one to be announced by the league this season.
Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. was announced Monday as the defensive player of the year. Coach of the year (Brown, Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault or Boston’s Joe Mazzulla) will be announced Wednesday and Sixth Man of the Year (Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis Jr. or New York’s Immanuel Quickley) will be revealed Thursday.
The rest of the schedule for announcing other league awards, including MVP, most improved player and rookie of the year, has not yet been disclosed.