Since joining the Los Angeles Clippers, Jamal Crawford has been a vital piece to the team’s success. Last season, Crawford averaged 16.5 points per game and finished second in voting for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award. His scoring prowess and ability to create his own shot was a major reason why the Clippers won their first Pacific Division championship.
This season has been much of the same, as Crawford is scoring 16 points per game and shooting at nearly an identical percentage from the floor. However, the Clippers' successful bench from last season has been diminished, losing Eric Bledsoe and Lamar Odom.
To make matters worse, the Clippers have seen a slew of injuries decimate their perimeter rotation. J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock are all injured, which has vaulted Crawford into an even more demanding role.
Crawford has now been named the starting shooting guard by Doc Rivers and offered some perspective about his new role, per the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner:
You can be a lot more patient when you're a starter, because you know you're going to be out there some. When you come off the bench, you kind of have to make a positive impact immediately, whether it's scoring or assisting. But as a starter, you can pick your spots a lot.
Since Redick’s injury, Crawford has logged an additional 4.4 minutes per game, according to NBA.com's stats page (26.8 to 31.2). While his shooting percentages have dropped with his additional workload, his defensive intensity has picked up and he has cut his turnover ratio from 11.6 to 8.7.
Rivers is demanding more effort on the defensive end from all his players, but especially Crawford. He has fit into his new role seamlessly. Crawford now has the comfort of DeAndre Jordan protecting the rim behind him, while operating off of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul on offense. This is leading to him assisting on more baskets and contributing more evenly is all areas while on the floor.
While his role has changed slightly, his importance has never been as prevalent. The reason why Crawford was inserted into the starting lineup is because he can help balance the floor. Willie Green filled in admirably, but he is not much of an offensive threat. Crawford is not only a threat to catch and shoot, but can attack off the dribble on ball reversals, much like Redick has done.
While Crawford has excelled off the bench, he is far more potent playing next to Chris Paul, which is part of the reason why he is on the floor to close out games. The Paul-Crawford combination scores 109.8 points per 100 possessions. The Darren Collison-Crawford combination scores only 98.7.
For further analysis, Paul and Redick combine for 113.7. Clearly, Paul’s ability to penetrate and find Crawford open on the perimeter increases Crawford’s value. Perhaps Doc Rivers is on to something.
Unfortunately, even if Crawford is active and playing hard on the defensive side of the ball, he and Paul give up a pedestrian 104.4 points per 100 possessions. While no one will mistake a Paul and J.J. Redick backcourt for a dynamic defensive tandem, they give up a much more respectable 99.8 points per 100 possessions. Crawford’s lack of defense has to irk Rivers, but his offensive ability has bailed out the Clippers’ bench the last 14 months and is now doing much of the same for the starting lineup.
So how important is Crawford’s role to the Clippers and what is his value? Considering the lack of depth and the poor play of the bench, Crawford might be one of the most important players on the team. Don’t even attempt to envision the team’s second unit without Crawford’s shot-making ability.
Like Crawford said, as a starter he can afford to let the game come to him. Even more so, he can afford to sacrifice his isolation possessions for more spot-up opportunities playing alongside Paul. While the starting role is unlikely to last once Redick is healthy, his stint in the starting lineup has to build some cache with Doc Rivers.
It is always fun to discuss potential trades and how they might improve or hinder teams, but thinking about the Clippers moving Crawford for players who might fit into Rivers’ system more eloquently is alarming. Crawford meshing with the starting unit and showing he is capable of being an average defender for short spurts seemingly makes it difficult for Rivers to trade his lethal scoring ability.
Regardless, Crawford’s ability to spark a dwindling offense is quite valuable, especially late in games. Furthermore, his versatility and willingness to give up portions of his possessions in order to play next to Paul has to be intriguing to Rivers. Where the team would be without Crawford is a fascinating thought.
Nevertheless, Clipper fans can sleep well at night knowing JCrossover will be there when his team desperately needs him.