When a key deadline trade goes down between a playoff team needing help and a non-playoff team needing to rebuild, most feel bad for the veteran going to the losing situation — Sasha Vujacic, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Mike Bibby, Maurice “Mo” Evans come to mind from this season. The secondary consideration, partially because he’s going to that losing team, is the young player who would gladly trade riding the bench during a playoff run for a chance to suit up for a team going nowhere. Jordan Crawford got that and more when he went from Atlanta to Washington. He got off to a hot start with a new team that he wouldn’t give up on, even when hindered by a back injury. He got that treasured green light, which is rare, even for a lottery team. But what happens when that green light ends?
Crawford arrived in Washington at February’s trade deadline along with the 18th pick of the 2011 draft and a good veteran influence in Evans. In exchange, the Wizards gave up Kirk Hinrich (owed $8 million next season) and Hilton Armstrong. They also got the unexpected bonus of a money-saving buyout of Mike Bibby, who also came with Crawford and Evans from Atlanta. Because of a knee injury to Nick Young, he suddenly found himself going from the 12th or 13th man on the bench to full-time starter by his seventh game with the Wizards. He ended up starting his final 17 games in Washington, out of 26 total games with the team. The carefree Wizards bunch went a respectable 7-10 in those last 17 games, during which Crawford averaged 20 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists (to 3.1 turnovers), and 1.3 steals. Pretty impressive for the 27th pick of the 2010 draft.
But what’s a constant green light scenario without some wrecks and gridlock? Specifically speaking, Crawford’s intriguingly erratic and promise-filled offense comes with the caveat of him shooting .394 from the field on 19.5 attempts per game in 40.7 minutes per contest. Volume shooting like that can get you beat. He also shot .280 from three (1.2 makes per game), and .877 from the free-throw line (3.8 attempts per game).
But with his emergence through clutch shots and big performances, Wizards fans have wondered if the duo of Crawford and John Wall will make the past combo of Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes fondly irrelevant. Or if it will at least make Young expendable. Like Wizards guards of the past, hopefully Crawford’s beginnings under a system of offensive freedom doesn’t ultimately get in the way.
When they visited Washington on April 9, not one of Crawford’s former Atlanta Hawks teammates would express surprise that the rookie dropped 39 points on the Miami Heat, or that he tallied a triple double against the Cleveland Cavaliers, amongst Crawford’s other post-trade inflated numbers.
“I’m not surprised at all,” says Hawks center and former Wizard Etan Thomas, who keeps up with Crawford through text message. “I saw what he did at practice, how hard he worked. I told him just to be patient and his time was going to come … Everybody in this room knows how much talent he has, and he’s getting a chance to show it.”
All-Star Joe Johnson exclaimed that Crawford is like a little brother to him, and that it all started in training camp. “He stepped on the court going at everybody, it wasn’t just me. I respected him more for that.”
“He’s just very confident about his game, mentally very strong. And those are aspects that you can’t teach,” said Al Horford, also an All-Star for the Hawks this season. “I didn’t know that he was going to emerge this fast, but that’s what I liked about him when he played with our team, even though he really didn’t get a chance to show much.”
The rave reviews from old teammates continued…
“When you’re talented and can score the way that he can, you know obviously you can live with some of the mistakes that he might make, but I think he’ll learn that as he keeps playing every game. I know he can pass the ball. When we practice and play together you could tell that not only can he score, but he can pass it as well.” -Al Horford
“He’s not only a scorer, but he’s a play-maker as well. He’s one of those players who you can really put him anywhere out there — either at the one or the two. You put him at the one, want him to run the team, he can do that and make plays.” -Joe Johnson
“He’s just talented. He has a knack for scoring. You know what I mean? He has so much upside, so much potential. He works hard and he has a good attitude. You put it all together and that’s what you want.” -Etan Thomas
“He can make any shot, and he’s comfortable shooting any shot. You just hope that he misses. He’ll put it up from anywhere, he doesn’t have a conscious.” -Jeff Teague
Crawford’s first NBA coach, Larry Drew, didn’t paint as rosy of a picture, however. “You put a guy that can score the basketball, give him a green light, he can score. Jordan Crawford is not the first scorer I’ve seen go into a situation like this. It’s every scorer’s dream just to go out there and get the green light and just let it go.”
So the dream could actually be a mirage, as obviously alluded by Drew, a rookie head coach himself and a former Wizards assistant who guided the Hawks to a 44-38 record in the regular season.
“You hope that a guy like that can get into a situation where he learns what a good shot is and what a bad shot is. When he learns within the confines of what a team is trying to do, can he incorporate what he does well with what the team does well, particularly when the situation is totally different?,” Drew rhetorically questioned.
“If Washington comes back next season and they get a whole fresh start, will they play that same way where they just kind of let guys … you know, first man gets the ball, looks to break you down, create and make a shot? Or will they play within a system, and can he be successful in a system?,” the coach wondered. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens after they finish this season out and then they come back and get a while new fresh start, and Flip implements his system.”
All the talk of an offensive system, you’d think Drew’s Hawks would actually run one more often, but not to disgress.
For a relatively irrelevant perspective through historical comparison, using Crawford’s averages in his last 17 starts as baselines for a search using the Basketball-Reference.com statistical database yields some interesting returns. The entered requirements, looking for players who averaged:
- 19 field-goal attempts or more per game;
- 23 points or less per game;
- 4.5 assists or more per game;
- 3.5 rebounds or more per game;
- Primary position: guard;
- 24 years-old or younger (Crawford turned 22 last October)
Boston Celtics great Jo Jo White in his second season at age 24 (1970-71) and Ron Harper as a 23-year old rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers (1986-87) are two of the results, but they shot .464 and .455 from the field respectively in those seasons. The two other results: Bob Cousy and Baron Davis; like Crawford, they both shot below the 40-percent mark.
In his second NBA season at age 23 (1951-52), Cousy averaged 21.7 points, 6.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds on .369 from the field. Of course, that NBA had no three-point line and was mostly un-athletic white guys. Cousy is a legit Hall-of-Famer and all, but give me a break if you think he’s anything more than Luke Ridnour or less in today’s NBA. In his fifth NBA season at age 24 (2003-04), Davis averaged 20.9 points, 7.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds on .395 from the field. Davis also shot .673 from the free-throw line and is more of a physical guard chucker, as opposed to Crawford being more of a low branch on the Antawn Jamison/Manu Ginobili-type scoring tree.
What does it all mean? Not much. Crawford is himself, not like Cousy or Davis, clearly. And at 22, he’s an older rookie (but not as old as Trevor Booker). He has no fear in scoring, which can be good or bad in jibing with decision-making, but he also puts up other stats like assists and rebounds. Don’t be ready to anoint Crawford as the guy to pair with John Wall for the next several years. Don’t be ready to call it quits with Nick Young.
What makes Crawford potentially more valuable than Young is that he has a knack for scoring to go with a play-making ability. When Nick is displaying his scoring talents, movement amongst his teammates often becomes slow and plodding, which almost makes Nick a perfect fit for the Atlanta Hawks (again, a digression).
Crawford’s 20 points on 19.5 attempts per game are far from ideal … too many empty possessions. Young’s 17.4 points on 14.6 FGAs per game this year was a career-best in scoring efficiency for him. Nick has also just completed his fourth season and will turn 26 in June. He’s obviously had more time to mature his game, but doesn’t seem to be that much more advanced than Crawford when it comes to offensive intelligence.
Why Young is worth the Wizards trying to retain, at an affordable rate to-be-determined by the market and CBA, is because of the promising improvement he’s shown under Flip Saunders and his staff. And if Young can learn to be a more effective scorer, Crawford could flourish from Saunders’ ability to work with guards even more.
But to do so, Crawford must add intelligence to his defensive hustle. He must practice the patience preached to him by the likes of Hawks assistant coach Nick Van Exel, and now Wizards assistant Sam Cassell. He must control the light, not just let it get stuck on green, especially when Saunders tries to pull back the reigns on his team in the pursuit of wins. The best part: Crawford showed more than enough to get Wizards fans excited about watching his young career unfold when the green light sometimes has to turn yellow. The difficult part: they don’t know when that might be.
Let’s hear Crawford talk about a range of topics during his time with the Wizards (including the 2009 summertime dunk on LeBron James):