The Golden State Warriors traded for Jordan Crawford with the presumed intention of making him the backup point guard. The thought was that the addition would alleviate the pressure on Stephen Curry, while introducing another primary ball-handler to lead the team’s bench mob (or as Warriors fans have come to call it, "the stench mob"). With just a few games under his belt in Golden State, Crawford is slowly settling into a role.
Being traded midseason can be hard for a player. Unless you’re a superstar, your role inevitably changes, as do your surroundings and teammates. You have to adjust to unfamiliar players around you, not the other way around. You have to pick up offensive and defensive schemes on the fly, all while enduring the rigorous regular-season schedule. While you’re trying to adapt and accommodate the demands of a new coaching staff, your impact is immediately scrutinized.
We can only speculate how Crawford will adjust to his new role moving forward. However, over the small sample size, head coach Mark Jackson has already left subtle clues as to how he intends to use his new guard.
Many basketball pundits have been infuriated with Jackson’s inclination to rest all five of his starters and run lineups comprised solely of bench players. With that in mind, it felt safe to assume that Crawford would take minutes away from Kent Bazemore while also absorbing the playing time of the departed Toney Douglas and running the offense for the bench-exclusive lineups. Somewhat surprisingly, this has not entirely been the case.
Rather than cutting down on Curry's minutes and allowing Crawford to run the offense, Jackson has opted to play the two guards together. Two of the three most played Golden State lineups with Crawford in them (minimum 2 games) also feature Curry (via NBA.com/stats). Crawford and Harrison Barnes now seem to be the first two guys off the bench in the rotation, replacing Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, while sharing the floor with Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Curry.
When Crawford is on the floor together with Curry, he mostly plays off the ball as a 2-guard, rather than running the point. He still gets quite a lot of touches, but he is not the focal point of a pick-and-roll heavy offense anymore; he is instead more of a spot-up shooter with Curry being the primary ball-handler.
The third-most played lineup featuring Crawford is nearly a bench-exclusive unit, with Thompson being the only starter. That is the lineup in which Crawford usually gets to run the point and gets more freedom to be the creative mind behind the offense. So far he seems to have been a little more cautious and controlled than usual, giving the ball up to the likes of Marreese Speights, who has had a tendency to stop the ball and jack up mid-range jumpers in isolation lately.
As mentioned, it remains to be seen how Jackson decides to use Crawford, but as of right now he seems to be moving away from the bench-only lineups and is using Crawford more off the ball.
Since arriving in Golden State, Crawford is shooting a ridiculous 57.1 percent from beyond the arc. It’s obviously not a sustainable number, especially for a guy who is shooting just over 30 percent from three over his career. Still, the notion of him knocking down shots at a more efficient rate makes sense—when you play with a superstar who demands as much attention as Curry and alongside big men who are willing passers, you’re bound to end up with more open looks. Look no further than Iguodala, who is shooting over 40 percent from three-point range for the first time in his career this season, for a living example of this.
Let’s dig into the film and take a look at the video below, which features all three-pointers that Crawford has taken as a Warrior.
The first clip is a great example of how Crawford can get open looks by just standing in the corner. The Warriors run a double-screen for Curry and Eric Gordon has to leave Crawford to cover up for the cutting Draymond Green. Curry is a much-improved passer this year and finding guys in the opposite corner is second nature to him. The strong-side action draws enough attention and look how open Crawford is after this well-executed play:
In the second clip, Crawford takes his mandatory isolation jumper. No one else touches the ball during the possession, and it’s not in the flow of the offense. These shots look good when they go in, but they are not quality looks and will drag down Crawford’s three-point percentage over a larger sample size.
Four out of his seven three-point attempts so far have been in spot-up situations and Crawford often ends up open when Curry, in one way or another, compromises the opposition’s defense. In one of the clips, Curry and Lee run a couple of high pick-and-rolls, and after the Oklahoma City Thunder double Curry at the perimeter, he gives the ball to Lee. Instead of taking the open jumper, Lee drives and forces Crawford’s man to rotate. Look how open he is as a result:
Crawford has also taken an open three-pointer out of the pick-and-roll, and although it missed, that's a good shot for him. Even though Crawford is a below-average three-point shooter, he is shooting a respectable 37.9 percent from beyond the arc as the pick-and-roll ball-handler this season (via Synergy). Crawford could create a very dynamic pick-and-roll threat together with Barnes and Green, but he has not had many opportunities to collaborate with the two just yet.
Getting to his sweet spots
Crawford is not very efficient, but he has a couple of sweet spots on the floor where he knocks down shots with great consistency. Take a look at his shot chart this season:
He is a below-average finisher in the restricted area but gets more efficient further out in the paint. He creates those looks himself, either through isolation plays or pick-and-rolls. He has some crafty moves to shake defenders and can finish in that area in a variety of ways, including floaters, turnaround jumpers and fadeaways.
He has already had a chance to get to that sweet spot a couple of times, as you can see in the video below:
The Warriors didn’t bring in Crawford to be a defensive stopper, but to improve the worst bench in the league scoring-wise. There’s not much on which to judge him right now, but he is a minus defender, and the Celtics' defensive rating dropped by five points (membership required for link) with Crawford on the floor this season.
He can usually stay with his man in isolation plays, but Crawford has so far struggled defending the pick-and-roll. Here is an example:
On this play, the New Orleans Pelicans get an open look from three after Crawford gets stuck behind a screen. He’s not been particularly good fighting over screens, and since the Warriors’ big men, in this case Speights, generally sag off rather than coming out to the perimeter to pressure the ball-handler, a good three-point shooter will often have that open look.
Crawford has also tried going over the screen before the pick is firmly set, which opens up the lane for ball-handlers to drive into the paint and make a decision from there. This is exactly what happens on this play, although Austin Rivers opts to float a shot over Speights rather than finding an open teammate:
The Warriors offense has generally fallen apart when Curry is off the floor this season, so it’s probably safe to assume that Jackson doesn’t have much of an intention to cut down his point guard’s minutes. Since Crawford’s arrival, Curry has played 39 minutes per game.
While Jackson might eventually find ways to make Crawford even more effective in the offense, it’s quite likely that he will play a similar role to what we have seen. Take a look at this chart of Crawford’s offensive possessions as a Warrior so far (via Synergy):
|Jordan Crawford's offensive plays with GSW|
|Amount||Type||% of offensive possesions|
With the Celtics, 41.4 percent of Crawford’s offensive possessions featured him as the pick-and-roll ball-handler. As he is playing more off the ball now, his looks on offense have so far been more evenly spread among different play types.
Generally, you wouldn’t want to have a below-average three-point shooter being a floor-spacer for you, especially when you have a player like Thompson on your roster. But if Crawford can continue taking advantage of the looks Curry creates for him and boosts his three-point percentage into the high-30s, he will be able to continue replacing Thompson and Iguodala in some early-game lineups. In this regard, he still has a lot to prove, as he shot just 28.4 percent from three-point range in spot-ups as a Celtic this season.
Crawford might not find himself playing in crunch time much, but if he can help to keep the offense afloat playing alongside Curry and running the point on his own, he could eventually see more minutes and allow Jackson to have his starters on fresher legs in late-game situations.
You can follow me on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis
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