Yesterday, with just over a minute left in the first quarter and the Celtics leading by 20, Jordan Crawford ran a pick-and-roll with Kris Humphries. After coming off the screen, a hundred options opened up, and Crawford had less than a second to decide what to do.
Should he dish to Hump, rolling down the lane mostly uncontested? Should he keep driving and try to draw Carmelo Anthony off Brandon Bass for a mid-range jumper? Should he try to get to the rim and dish either Jeff Green or Avery Bradley in the corners? Should he pull the trigger from 3-point range? Should he pull up from the free throw line? Should he pull up from anywhere between 20 and five feet? The possibilities are kind of endless, but he has to make up his mind in a split second.
On this play, Crawford made the right call, stopping in the lane and firing in a 15-foot jumper. This hasn’t been an uncommon occurrence for him this season.Pick and rolls are a staple, and they are an area of the offense he’s been doing more efficiently than many of his counterparts — his PnR offense is ranked 18th in the NBA.
Crawford has never been credited with being a particularly cerebral basketball player. The consensus regarding his playing style is that he is a gunner — a player who can catch fire at times but can also shoot his team out of games. Gunners aren’t generally considered intelligent basketball players, relying instead on high volume shooting to get their impressive numbers. The fact that Crawford picked up that reputation early in his career precludes him from having an intelligent playing style on his own, in many people’s minds.
Brad Stevens is being credited with maximizing every player on the Celtics roster to their fullest, and he certainly deserves to be lauded for his performance as coach of the Celtics thus far. No one, before the season, would have expected a start like this. Boston is playing extremely well, and he is putting his players in the position to succeed.
But I wonder sometimes whether we go overboard in our praise of Stevens because that’s the narrative that makes the most sense to us. Jordan Crawford (and here, the example of Crawford represents the entire team as well) has never had a player efficiency rating of 19.0, and he has never stood on the threshold of the 50-40-90 club at this point in the season. “It must be Stevens,” we reason. “Stevens is the new factor here.”
That logic is flawed, to a certain extent. Once again, Stevens has certainly done an amazing job with a limited roster. But we have to remember the work a player like Crawford has put in before we hand all of the credit to the coach. A basketball player’s job is incredibly complex, especially a point guard, and over the last two games, Crawford’s assist-to-turnover ratio is 13-2. Crawford’s true shooting percentage is higher than it has ever been at .571, and he’s averaging the fewest field goal attempts per 36 minutes of his career. That speaks to Crawford picking his spots more intelligently and having put in shooting work over the summer. Stevens is putting him in the position to succeed with various sets, but Crawford is the one making the correct decisions, and he deserves equal — if not more — credit than Stevens.
Stevens, for his part, understands this. “I think the best part about it is he’s picking his spots extremely well and he’s defending extremely well,” Stevens said after Crawford and the Celtics demolished the Knicks on Sunday. “This is not about guys, what they could do yesterday or what they’ve done in the past. It’s about what you can do to better improve yourself and he’s done a really good job of just getting better and really embracing that.”
But nobody is accusing Stevens of giving himself too much credit — he stays so even-keeled, the suggestion is ridiculous. I’m just saying that we as fans need to be careful how much credit we give the coach, especially when the players are so obviously playing an improved, smarter game. It’s a trap many college fans fall into — Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self are excellent coaches and undoubtedly great recruiters, but give an NCAA DIII school Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, and that DIII school would beat Duke or Kansas more often than not. Coaches have a big impact on the game, but their impact is secondary to the players.
I worry that, in crediting Brad Stevens entirely for Boston’s unexpected success, we are minimizing Sullinger’s newfound shot selection, Bradley’s intelligent-but-aggressive defense and Crawford’s incredible improvement.
Give Brad Stevens credit, without a doubt, just not at the expense of his players. A coach can only do so much, and Stevens has done (and continues to do) his part. It’s just that without Jordan Crawford’s excellent work in the PnR along with everyone else’s improvements, Stevens’ start doesn’t look anywhere near as impressive.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.