Through the first nine games of the 2012-13 NBA regular season, Los Angeles Clippers combo guard Jamal Crawford averaged 20.7 points on 52.2 percent shooting from the floor. Over the past five games, however, Crawford is averaging 13.2 points on 35.5 percent shooting.
The question is, how are opposing teams shutting Crawford down?
As a former Sixth Man of the Year, Crawford has grown acquainted with elevated levels of defensive pressure. This time around, however, Crawford's supremely talented teammates appear to lack the necessary consistency to alleviate such pressure.
Which is just one of the issues at hand.
Crawford has proven to be prone to strings of offensive inefficiency. For proof of such a truth, acknowledge the fact that his career field goal percentage sits at 40.9 percent.
A direct result of his isolation style offensive approach which had been abandoned through nine games.
Even still, a drop of 16.7 percent in terms of his shooting percentages is not one of justifiable means, nor should it be considered a reflection on how Crawford is capable of performing.
This is exactly why we must break down how opposing defenses are slowing Crawford down.
When a defense plays an elite pick-and-roll team such as the Clippers, the key is to trap just before a ball-handler comes off a screen. What the Clippers' opponents have begun to do, however, is trap before the play is under way, thus preventing their greatest strength.
What this has done is neutralize the bigs and force Crawford to enter isolation sets. As we've come to learn, all an isolation will produce is lackluster execution and inconsistent results. Crawford provided his insight on the situation (via Arash Markazi of ESPN).
It started against Chicago, honestly. They started trapping as soon as I got the ball. It’s weird because usually when we’re in pick-and-roll, that’s when teams decide to trap. But they’re leaving their man. They’re trying to deny a lot more. They’re tilting. They’re adjusting their whole defense. It’s almost like a receiver in football. There’s no more single coverage; it’s a zone.
It’s a copycat league: If a team does something that works, more than likely that’s what other teams are going to do. Sometimes you see it later, toward the playoffs or in the middle of the season. It’s a little early, but as teams are doing it, we have to adjust as well.
In order to avoid trap defense, Coach Del Negro must trust Eric Bledsoe to facilitate Crawford's scoring opportunities. Crawford is shooting the lights out for the season, which has come by virtue of his being forced into isolation scoring designs.
Remove him from the iso and place him into motion. In turn, the traps will be that much more difficult to instate.
Supporting Cast Struggles
On paper, the Los Angeles Clippers have quite the powerful second unit. With the likes of Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf, there is a reason Coach Del Negro feels so confident in turning to his reserves.
The return of Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups will only strengthen this group.
Unfortunately, the talent on the roster has not lived up to their billing over the past four games. Although Crawford remains the Clippers' leading scorer, opponents' ability to trap Crawford has come by virtue of their forcing his teammates to make their shots, which they haven't been able to do.
Bledsoe is averaging a solid 9.3 points per game on 56.0 percent shooting over the past four games. Unfortunately, Odom is putting up just 1.4 points per game for the season, and Barnes has scored 19 of his 32 points over the past four outings against Oklahoma City.
Per usual, Turiaf is no threat offensively.
So how do the Clippers solve these woes? Head Coach Del Negro appears to have an idea.
We have to do a better job of moving the ball and getting into our sets and getting everybody involved. As the games got more physical, we got more stagnant. It wasn’t for a selfish reason, but guys thought they could do it on their own and you can’t. You have to use your teammates, and our spacing was poor at times. They need to create other opportunities for their teammates.
VDN hit the nail on the head here. Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to acknowledge the issue than it is to fix it.
Until the second unit can get their shots to fall, Crawford will face this elevated level of defense. Teams will shift double-teams onto Crawford and risk the extra pass finding a player such as Odom or Bledsoe.
In order to neutralize this threat, Del Negro must shift his rotations and complement Crawford with an interior scorer that forces a defense to collapse. If he does not, Crawford will continue to struggle.
Slow Beginnings from the Starters
With all due respect to the elite-level talent in the Los Angeles Clippers' starting lineup, they have performed at a disturbingly poor level. Blake Griffin's four points on 1-of-9 shooting against New Orleans is just the latest example of such.
With such consistently slow starts, the pressure builds for Crawford to carry the load. Although he does lead the team in scoring, that is a burden that should not be placed upon Crawford's shoulders.
It's especially true when Chris Paul, Griffin, Caron Butler, Willie Green and DeAndre Jordan are all failing to light up the scoreboard.
The main reason that there has been such a weak output offensively is the team's tendency to go with isolation. Although a player such as CP3 thrives in that play type, an individual approach to a team game has proven to have the same result time and time again—a neutralization of team chemistry, which Coach Del Negro is fully aware of, and he discusses it.
[DeAndre Jordan] wasn’t involved. It wasn’t just DJ, it was all of our bigs. They weren’t active. They weren’t physical. They didn’t set the tone for us from the start. It’s not just one guy, it’s everybody.
The starters have a responsibility to get us off to a good start. Other guys have to play well, too. It’s not just about one guy. Other guys have to get [Crawford] open and he has to do a good job of doing that. If they’re going to double-team Jamal on a pick-and-roll or Chris, the other guys have to know where to be on the court.
If the starting lineup does not start producing at a quality rate, the burden will continue to grow on Crawford's scoring abilities. Although Bledsoe will help to alleviate the pressure, we've already touched upon how inconsistent the second unit has been.
It is up to the stars on this roster to allow J-Crossover to thrive. If they don't, opponents will continue to slow Crawford down, thus leading to the continuation of L.A's four-game losing streak.