Should the Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan win the NBA’s Clutch Player of the Year?

Few games have encapsulated DeMar DeRozan’s ability to close a game like Wednesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers.

In a span of 5 minutes, 3 seconds, DeRozan did everything possible to put the Chicago Bulls in a winning position — purposefully missing a free throw, hitting a turnaround jumper to send the game into overtime, opening the extra period with eight consecutive points to force the Pacers defense to commit, then dumping off every ensuing pass to give his teammates the best chance to score. He finished the game with 46 points, 18 of which were scored in the fourth quarter or overtime.

After the win, DeRozan couldn’t help but joke about his own fourth-quarter prowess.

“I told JC (Jevon Carter) at the start of overtime — what I told you at the start of overtime?” DeRozan said in the locker room, craning his neck to catch Carter’s attention.

The guard leaned around a reporter to reply: “He said he’s gonna go crazy.”

Both players laughed as Carter ducked away from the media scrum.

“That’s right,” DeRozan laughed. “Before we walked on the court, I told him I’m gonna get to it.”

It’s hard to talk about DeRozan’s presence in the fourth quarter without sounding contrived. At this point in his 15-year career, it’s almost unnecessary to state the obvious: DeRozan’s hands are the most surefire place for the ball to land when a game is on the line.

For DeRozan, whether it’s a high-stakes game in the playoffs or a regular season tilt like Wednesday, those moments still haven’t lost their magic.

“It’s like a survival mode that kicks in — in a fun way,” DeRozan said. “I’m not scared to fail. I’m not scared to try and make something happen. I want those moments more than anything. It reminds me of my childhood, being a kid, doing the little fake countdown, jumping on the bed. As a competitor, those moments are always something I try to relish.”

As DeRozan tallies another year of standout clutch performances, he’s also levying a second campaign for Clutch Player of the Year.

The award debuted last year, and DeRozan was a leading candidate, finishing behind Jimmy Butler and winner De’Aaron Fox. The award is named for Jerry West, who was nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” for his ability to close out games for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Steph Curry is the player to beat in this category, commanding the Golden State Warriors in close games despite other issues the veteran team has faced in the Western Conference. But DeRozan could edge out Curry in several key categories depending on how the final 15 games of the regular season shake out.

Entering the Bulls’ 127-98 rout of the Wizards on Saturday night at the United Center, DeRozan played 166.5 clutch minutes across 35 games this season, the second-most in the league behind teammate Coby White (and directly ahead of teammates Nikola Vučević and Alex Caruso). Curry played 122.5 clutch minutes across 34 games.

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DeRozan is second in average clutch points (4.6) trailing only Curry (4.9). Despite his higher volume of clutch minutes, DeRozan also slightly trails in total points (161) behind Curry (165). Neither has hit a game-winning shot this season, although both have hit buzzer-beaters (or close to it, such as DeRozan’s tying shot Wednesday) to send games into overtime.

Is that enough to edge out Curry? The stats on the page alone might not be, but DeRozan’s ability to actually close games – rather than individually perform well in tight games – will likely be the deciding factor.

The Bulls lead the league in clutch minutes (179) while going 23-15 in games that end with these slim margins. They are 21-14 in the clutch games DeRozan has played in. In comparison, the Warriors are 18-20 in clutch games and 18-16 in the clutch with Curry on the court.

The Warriors have been significantly less effective in overtime, going 1-4 in overtime with Curry on the court while DeRozan has been 6-3 in overtime finishes with the Bulls. Both teams are clearly better with their stars, but DeRozan has racked up more wins and lost fewer games.

With 53.7% of their games finishing in the clutch this season, the Bulls will likely give DeRozan a handful more opportunities to prove himself. It will be up to DeRozan to defend his moniker of “King of the Fourth” when these make-or-break moments appear.