Is the Jordan Crawford Transformation Real for Boston Celtics?

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Is the Jordan Crawford Transformation Real for Boston Celtics?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

By almost every statistical measure, Boston Celtics point guard Jordan Crawford has played the best basketball of his career this season.

Heading into Tuesday night's contest against the Houston Rockets, his Player Efficiency Rating  (PER), True Shooting percentage and assist rate were all noticeably higher than his career average, and Boston's offense was 10.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor

Making matters even better for Boston, Crawford has increased his role without swelling his turnover rate, and the percentage of his team's overall shot attempts is the lowest it's ever been.

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Crawford's showing has been viewed as a revelation, specifically related to his sudden penchant for making smart, unselfish plays on a semi-regular basis. That's partly true. When Crawford sits, Boston’s assist-to-turnover ratio falls to 0.88, which is last in the league behind Utah

But Crawford is a devil that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is forced to dance with this season. Stevens has no other players on his roster who can create off the dribble and manufacture offense on their own like Crawford. Jeff Green comes close, but he's by far most effective in semi-transition and has yet to show that he can run a pick-and-roll or make the right pass to beat a rotating defense.

Until Rajon Rondo returns, it's Crawford, and then everybody else.  

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Given the bad habits Crawford still deploys on a possession-to-possession basis—shooting early in the shot clock, leading multiple possessions where no pass is made, having little awareness and less energy on the defensive end—it's probable that Crawford eventually makes a total reversion back to his previous form.

The sample size we have to work with is only about 15 percent of the season, so while Crawford has created more goodwill than expected, words like "transformation" regarding his development are extremely premature.

Here's an example from a recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

With the shot clock nearly full, Crawford gets a high screen from Brandon Bass and begins his drive towards the basket. Blazers center Robin Lopez—not the most nimble of foot—is sagging back at the free-throw line, ready to thwart Crawford's movement.

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Crawford's intent is to score, and that's okay, but he doesn't correctly read the coverage. Portland and Lopez want nothing more than for Crawford to shoot an off-balance mid-range jump shot. Before Kelly Olynyk and Green can get anything going on the weak side, or any other form of offense can take shape, that's exactly what Crawford does.

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Another option for Crawford would have been to drive past Lopez, either in an attempt to get off a more efficient shot or draw an early foul on Portland's starting center. These are smarter options that defy who Crawford has been for his entire career. The fact that Crawford has rarely chosen those smarter options is why he has never been asked to run an offense before. 

Here's another example. After Crawford receives a high screen from Jared Sullinger, he meets Lopez early in the shot clock and still attempts the shot. It's an uncomplicated offensive strategy—exactly what Portland is hoping he'll do. 

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Crawford's poor shot selection doesn't just affect Boston's offense. It also flings the Celtics' entire flow on the court into turbulence, disrupting what should be a smooth transition to defense.

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The Celtics are attacking here, but it's clearly not the right play. Five Trail Blazer defenders are back and in position to defend only four Celtics. Crawford sees that equation and ignores it completely, instead choosing to attack the basket, as well as Portland's 6'11" LaMarcus Aldridge and 7'0" Lopez.

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After missing his wild attempt, Crawford crashes out of bounds, leaving Sullinger, Gerald Wallace and Green to defend four offensive players in transition, including Mo Williams—Crawford's man.

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Williams reads the defense and pulls up for what he thinks is a straightaway three-pointer with his toes crossing the line. The shot goes in and Boston loses out on a four-point swing that could easily have been avoided. 

Statistics aren't able to measure how damaging this type of play truly is, and Crawford's one of the league's most egregious offenders. The Celtics want to attack in transition, but there are better ways than having one player go coast to coast without even considering a pass.

Another area where Crawford's effort and ability are both inconsistent, to say the least, is defense. On the ball, he moves his feet well and is quick enough to stay in front of most opposing point guards. But being that they have Avery Bradley, the Celtics often put Crawford on less-dangerous shooting guards.

The results here have been poor. He's often caught watching the ball and has shown no willingness to chase his man through screens all over the court for more than a few possessions. Here's a screen shot of one such play where Crawford simply gives up pursuing Williams. 

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Right now, Crawford is making plays for others, running screen-and-rolls—accounting for 44 percent of his offense, according to mySynergySports (subscription required)—and scoring on an efficient 44.4/40.0/91.3 shooting split.

But just because he's flashed the willingness to involve others doesn't mean that's who he is. Crawford's "lightning in a bottle" talent is what makes him valuable, but it also keeps him predictably unpredictable. 

Despite moments of brilliance in his first 12 games of the 2013-14 season, what we've seen from Crawford just isn't sustainable for the long haul, and the various mistakes he makes on a regular basis prove it.

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