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Jordan Crawford is the NBA’s Most Underrated Passer

As a basketball player, Jordan Crawford is best known for three things: 1) While a player for Xavier University in 2009, he threw down a two-handed dunk on LeBron James at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, and tape of the dunk was confiscated by Nike in unnecessarily controversial fashion; 2) he is crazy honestly believes he can be better than Michael Jordan; and 3) perhaps no individual in the league possesses a finer acumen with regards to badly bruising an unblemished offensive game plan.

In other words, to date, Jordan Crawford’s career has been an overt train wreck. But after giving us glimpses of somewhat acceptable basketball since the Washington Wizards literally gave up on him at the trade deadline, it’s about time we recognize Crawford for one of his more cheerful attributes. Crawford might be one of the most underrated passers in the league.

Crawford joined the Boston Celtics to give them some semblance of an explosive scoring punch off the bench; it’s something they’ve desperately needed for the past few seasons. But for the 24-year-old to ever reach his true potential, that isn’t how he should be asked to play. His game doesn’t need to resemble that of his former teammate Nick Young. He isn’t a poor man’s Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, or Lou Williams, either.

None of those guys are asked/able to consistently make those around them better. None of them are on the court to move the ball or set a teammate up. Their job is to end the possession, and maximizing their ability as a coach means recognizing when it’s time to pull the plug—it’s similar with knowing when to leave a black jack table, or walk out of a casino altogether.)

Crawford has a wild, wacky way about him, and he’s talented enough to get his own shot just about whenever he wants. But utilizing that passing gene—something I was previously unaware existed in Crawford’s basketball DNA—is what the Celtics need to do as much as possible. As Danny Ainge casually mentioned a few weeks ago, he might be the team’s best passer.

Crawford is often criticized for taking cringe-worthy shots at inappropriate times, but he knows what he’s doing more than you think (which is understandably never). He understands ball movement and why holding onto it unnecessarily isn’t positive when a teammate holds a distinct matchup advantage; he’s actually quite good at probing the defense until a passing lane opens up, with clear intentions to set the table for another Celtic.

Crawford almost always makes the correct decision as a passer, whether the degree of difficulty be simple or suicidal. He delivers passes with pin-point precision at the right time, which is a crucial skill not every guard in the league has. A passing Crawford is beyond beneficial for any NBA team he’s playing for. It’s the other form who everybody rolls their eyes at.

When he’s passing, Crawford is useful. He reads defenses. He understands spacing on the floor, attacks defenders who’re helping in the paint, and rarely misses a wide open man.

Watch this seemingly simple pass to Jason Terry for a corner three. Shavlik Randolph comes up to set a screen, dragging Hawks forward Ivan Johnson. Instead of using the pick, Crawford waits for Randolph to dart back into the paint. With Johnson lost in no man’s land, figuring out if he should stay with Randolph or trap Crawford, Hawks guard Jeff Teague is forced to take a subtle step towards the paint to prevent an easy pass to a now wide open Randolph. As soon as this happens, Crawford hits Teague’s man (Terry) in the corner. It’s a great example of why timing is a crucial component of successful passing in NBA basketball. Had Crawford made it a second sooner, Teague would be in perfect position to recover and crowd Terry in the corner.

Crawford is so good at attacking the direct center of the paint, drawing the attention of multiple defenders then finding an open teammate at the last second. Here he throws a gorgeous no look pass to Jeff Green that results in an easy bucket. His angle of attack was impressive, as were the eyes that grew out of the back of his head.

Here he is going to the post, then throwing a quick left-handed pass to a cutting Courtney Lee at the rim. The degree of difficulty on this is probably harsher than it looks; an example of Crawford recognizing an open man then doing something semi-miraculous to get him the ball. 

Crawford can throw touch passes without thinking just the same, and his instinct is phenomenal in transition, which makes sense when you realize he’s more than comfortable dancing with fire. This pass to a cutting Avery Bradley is both pretty and direct—Crawford intends to pass before ever receiving the ball back from Pierce.

Here are a few passes that I admire for no other reason than they’re beautiful, entertaining, and effective.

Crawford’s keen passing ability is something the Celtics could surely use, but, unfortunately, his inattentive defense and inconsistent basketball IQ create a quagmire that can only be solved by limiting his playing time. Crawford has always possessed a helpful ability to distribute the ball, but whether he can regularly show it off is another question altogether. 

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  • High Rollers

    "Crawford almost always makes the correct decision as a passer, whether the degree of difficulty be simple or suicidal."

    Well put.

  • GymRat

    Considering such a small sample size of games played in Green, and the fact I can think of a few great passes not mentioned, he is a pretty remarkable passer. Be nice to see him mature and get more consistent.

    Maybe Boston is the place he does that. He did, in a very short time, go from being a player known only for taking wild shots…to a reliable passer who can make plays very few others in the league can.

  • Mike

    I cannot believe that Jordan Crawford actually deserves this attention. Clearly playing for contact and terrible fit within the Celtics. He was not the correct addition piece to the team…and we must be watching different games if you think he is a "pin point passer". What's next? A comparison of Jason Terry's passing ability to Rondo?

    • hydrofluoric

      I'll concede that he *may* not be a great fit on the C's and is not the correct addition to the team, but…

      1. Which of the passes (with video) here do you disagree with in particular? Crawford's passing has drastically exceeded expectations since, as noted, we thought of him as a JR Smith/Jamal Crawford-lite type of gunner.

      2. He's not in a contract year.

      3. We lost Leandro Barbosa… who WAS the right piece, out of curiosity?

  • fabzzzz

    Say what you will about him, talk about his craziness, his awkwardness, his low IQ, etc. (Wow, shouldn't have started making a list).

    But like Green, he's just a guy I find myself rooting for. I like this odd ensemble the Celtics trot out.

    Also, on a side note, KG didn't make ESPN's top thirty players and Pierce finished in the high twenties. The highest ranked Celtic was Rondo at like 22 or something.

  • larry smith