With sports' news outlets reporting real progress finally being made in this brutal stalemate between the owners and the players, I feel like now is a perfect time to start my Position Battles series. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will highlight the most intriguing depth chart battles around the league.
This first slideshow highlights arguably the most debated position battle among Wizards' fans: Jordan Crawford vs. Nick Young. Both are coming off exciting seasons where fans finally saw Young emerge into the pure scorer that everyone expected when he was drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft. Crawford came over as a rookie from the Atlanta Hawks, with little playing time under his belt and even less known about what he could do. With a strong second half surge, he shined on the biggest stage in basketball, with several high-scoring games and great play-making ability.
Ted Leonsis has made it clear that he wants to reward homegrown talent. While Nick Young is a free agent once the lockout is over, it seems that the Wizards will do their best to retain his services as long as his demands are not outrageous. Therefore, I’m writing this under the assumption that Nick Young will be brought back, and I will examine how both Young and Crawford fit into the team’s plans for the future.
When looking at the offensive capabilities of the two players, their styles are complete opposites. Nick Young is a low-turnover player and a relatively efficient jump shooter, who has carved his niche catching and shooting from long range. Crawford, on the other hand, likes to have the ball in his hands in isolation situations and push the issue, often resulting in either a brilliant play or a boneheaded turnover.
Crawford was a 20-year-old rookie playing his first meaningful minutes for the Wizards last season. While he committed a lot of turnovers and chucked up enough shots to make Monta Ellis look like Ray Allen (38% field goal percentage and 25% from 3-point), he showed off excellent play-making ability at times, with the ability to rotate between the guard positions on offense.
Nick Young, who is 25, has had four years to develop in the league, and may have reached his ceiling in terms of offensive potential. He is a streaky shooter who was a lot more efficient last year prior to his injury. However, someone who relies on jump shots as much as he did (90% of his field goals were jumpers) he is not going to be able to sustain that level of efficiency year after year. Other than his Kobe-like knack for making an array of tough shots, he has never averaged more than 1.2 assists per game in his entire career.
Ultimately, it’s a choice between upside and a one-dimensional proven product (though he’s quite good at that one dimension).
When comparing these two defensively, size does matter.
Though Crawford has shown the hustle and energy that would warrant him being a good defender, he just does not have the size to defend most shooting guards. Nick Young will never be mistaken for a lock-down defender, but his size (6’7”), long arms and commitment to on-ball defense, is a marked advantage to that of Crawford. With Young on the court, the Wizards allowed 0.4 points less per 100 possessions than with him on the bench. Crawford on the floor was a liability, as the Wizards allowed over three points more than with him on the bench.
While it does not seem like a lot, these statistics are telling of the discrepancy in the defensive capabilities between the two. Potential plays a role in this, as someone with the hustle and effort level of Crawford should improve as a defender with time and experience. However, because of his size and inability to guard shooting guards, this relegates him to playing the same position as John Wall. Wall should be able to hold his own on defense, therefore leaving Crawford in a predicament to improve quickly or find himself coming off the bench in a combo-guard role.
Defensively, Young is more versatile, being able to guard shooting guards and small forwards if it came down to it. Crawford’s strength is his ability to gamble for steals with hustle plays.
I see Jordan Crawford being able to at least match Young’s defensive ability in the future, given another season of playing time and adjusting to the faster pace of the NBA. If Crawford can add some bulk to his frame, and expand his knowledge of the fundamentals of defense, he will have no problems defending both guard positions.
In only 42 games played, Jordan Crawford has a triple-double and a double-double to his credit, along with a string of games in the last month and a half of the season where he averaged over 15 points and over five assists each game.
In his entire career, Nick Young has never had a triple-double and, in 64 games last season, he never had a double-double. He only had five assists in a game twice in the entire season and is an extremely subpar rebounder for his size and athletic ability.
Crawford has the hustle and energy that is infectious in the locker room. Coaches love to see it and it endears the fans. He is easy to root for because, even though he makes a lot of mistakes, the flashes of greatness are apparent. That, coupled with the confidence he has, makes fans invested in his future success.
Nick Young has matured in front of our eyes, coming to the Wizards as the 16th pick of the 2007 NBA Draft with a scoring prowess that drew comparisons to Kobe Bryant. This past season he finally put it together, showing he could score with the best of them, trading buckets with Dwyane Wade and totaling 38 points (Wade had 41) in a game where he almost single-handedly won it for the Wizards (121-113). He also had his career-high of 43 in an overtime win fueled by his late game scoring, which proved he could be clutch in crucial moments.
With experience, Crawford is a player I could see switching easily between the two guard positions, handling the ball at times while allowing John Wall to move around off the ball.
This is probably the toughest position battle Washington is going to have for next year. While I tried to keep money out of my previous slides, I cannot stress enough that Nick Young is only worth bringing back for a reasonable price. What should the price be? I can’t even guess because who knows what the new CBA agreement will ultimately do to the salary structure. Based on the current system, a Mid-Level Exception seems appropriate.
Money aside, I believe that Jordan Crawford’s spark-plug energy and scoring ability is better suited to come off the bench in a Manu Ginobili-type fashion. With his ability to handle the ball and take the pressure off of Wall, he has the perfect combo-guard skill set to spell either guard position for decent stretches of time. It is extremely important that Flip Saunders does not overplay Wall, as his breakneck pace leads to scary falls almost every time he darts down the court.
Nick Young should remain the starter at shooting guard to start the season, as his experience and efficient scoring will be sorely needed on a starting lineup where Andray Blatche was launching up ill-advised jump shots all season. His size should allow him to move over to small forward at times while rookie Chris Singleton adjusts to the pace of an NBA season. I can see Crawford eventually taking over the starting role if he makes the adjustments necessary to reduce his mistakes and play smart basketball on both ends of the floor.