Browse Archives by:

Giving Jordan Crawford (And Others) Their Proper Due

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.

  • Pedro L. Carson

    This the most thoughtful thing I have read on this blog.

  • The Cardinal

    All hail Jordan Crawford – Eastern Conference Player of the Week. What a very timely article!

  • Shak

    Stevens will be the first to agree here, he says this in every interview! He doesn’t take credit for it, he always says the players make him look good. He is one of the few I believe when he says those things. He always talks about the players when reporters ask him about him/his coaching. He doesn’t like to talk about him, he loves to deflect. He seems down to earth and knows that the players are the stars. All of them will tell you, he is great to them and he doesn’t try to outshine his players, he’s very humble. That’s why the players love him. Even when they don’t play, they say good things about him… I know they won’t say anything bad but if they really hated him, they would be more vocal about not playing. Instead they say, I have to wait my turn, I trust in what Stevens wants. Look at Hump, an very solid player who performs well, he couldn’t get off the bench. Instead of complaining, he stayed ready, now look at him! The guy is genuine!

  • Shak

    Crawford is a huge surprise! He deserves this honor! The kid is playing out of his mind and has been all season! I’m so happy for him!!! He is gonna be our best RR backup ever! I hope he plays well once his role is reduced, that is when we will see how far the kid has come. Loving what he’s doing… hopefully with the return of RR, Craw will beast with the bench unit (play some 2 w/ RR also) and our team becomes much stronger! Pleaseeeeeee!!! Lol

  • roadsidenotes

    "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."

    I don't understand your point.

    Are you saying that Jordan Crawford was the same player under Doc Rivers that he is under Brad Stevens? And if you're not saying that, then what is the biggest change from last year to this year?

    Yes, Crawford is playing smarter, but that's because, possibly for the first time in his career, he's had a coach that has shown him *how* to play smarter.

    Credit him for being a good student, for paying attention, and for being able to execute. But if not for Stevens, what do you think he'd look like? My guess is he'd look like the same guy he looked like playing for Doc, and every other coach before him.

    This whole notion that players are more important than coaching. Snort! Really? Then what happened in LA last year? What's happening in New York and Brooklyn this year?

    And I can just about guarantee you that Kansas vs. Briar Cliff+Andrew Wiggins would not end in a Briar Cliff victory 'more than half the time'. One guy isn't going to win the game, when all you have to do is keep him from getting the ball.

    • The Cardinal

      I do get TW's point. During training camp and at the beginning of the season, Coach Brad never intended to start Crawford, and certainly never intended to start him as a point guard. Given he's never been asked as a pro to fulfill that role – and even with the C's only because Bradley was so god-awful at the one – Crawford gets the props for stepping up and not only doing an adequate job, but an exceptional job despite the fact he is playing out of position in the toughest role on the court!

      Yes, Coach Brad is doing a great job and gets props for recognizing after the first 4 games of the season (despite the fact it was obvious last season and during game 1 of this one) that someone who can actual dribble without looking at the ball and pass without telegraphing it needed to be in the starting lineup because otherwise, this team might not win a single game. But in the end, it truly comes down to the players executing, and JC has consistently done so.

      My only hope is that when Rondo returns, Coach Brad will give serious consideration to letting Crawford start at the two guard (he has earned the opportunity), maybe subbing out Rondo early and letting Crawford run the point towards the end of the 1st quarter. Then bringing Rondo back in at the beginning of quarter 2 and pairing him with Bradley for 4 or 5 minutes. Rest Rondo, utilize Wallace, Bradley and/or Pressey for a couple of minutes as your primary ball handlers, then bring the tandem of Rondo and Crawford back in to end the 2nd quarter.

      • roadsidenotes

        I think Crawford should generally be the first guard off the bench, whether he's subbing out Bradley or Rondo. I don't think you want Crawford & Rondo as your starting backcourt because of the issues you'd have on defense. Although it remains to be seen how Rondo improves on defense with Stevens.

        And regarding Stevens' initial hesitancy with Crawford, credit Stevens there for providing direction to Crawford instead of dismissing him, and Crawford for accepting it.

        I can see Stevens showing film, for instance, and telling Crawford something like, "Okay, now see what happens when PG X takes two steps toward the lane off a pick and roll instead of immediately pulling up for a jumper: See how he has additional options–passing lanes to this guy, that guy, a pull up, etc." And Crawford goes out, tries it in practice, "oh hey, this works! I'm going to keep doing this."

        I have my doubts (see rant below) that Crawford has ever had the NBA game explained to him in a manner that he can make use of. And he's been an excellent student.

    • Vincent

      Players are always more important than coaching. Great players make average coaches look like geniuses. Genius coaches make average players slightly above average. if you don't understand this, you've never played a sport.

  • Federico (Argentina)
  • hax

    Stevens has been believing in Crawford since he was hired. Instead of a normal coach benching him and telling him to play smarter ot get more mature, he believed in him, inspiring and motivating Crawfish to step up his game and prove he is a big time player.

    So I disagree with the part where 'Stevens' start wouldn't look this good without amazing play by Crawford', since Stevens made Crawford this way, even if he is too humble to admit it.

    • roadsidenotes

      Right. It's a *team* effort.

      Stevens is not overcoaching these players. He's not scripting their action, or yelling in sets from the sidelines. So, yes, Crawford's success is due in no small part to Crawford's abilities.

      But here's the question: Of all Crawford's NBA coaches, who is the only coach who has given him the instruction and the framework to be the best Crawford he can be?

      People say the NFL is a copycat league, but shoot, it's got nothing on the NBA. You got 30 GMs, of which, 25 (roughly) are in constant fear of unemployment, which means they're all going to be copying each other….. none of them trying something new—even when confronted with overwhelming evidence that the conventional wisdom is flat out wrong. Look, Cleveland's last four picks were 1, 4, 4, 1. And what do they have to show for it? Kyrie Irving. So much for the idea that tanking works! So much for the idea that you can build a franchise by repeatedly winning the lottery!

      Look at the coaching realm—-Danny Ainge was the sensation of the off-season because he hired a college coach. Yeesh. How is Brad Stevens *not* an attractive option when you look at the alternatives in the NBA. Do you want to hire a guy with a 'system', or do you want to hire an ex-player—bearing in mind that your coaching pool consists of currently unemployed people who cpuldn't win at one of the various mismanaged misfit teams that fill up the dull gray middle of the NBA?

      This league is so full of GMs trying to save their jobs by copying what some other marginally more successful GM did, and so full of coaches whose qualifications for the job are almost entirely sartorial….

      And, while I'm ranting, how about another: The 'conventional wisdom' that an ex-player is a good hire because he can relate better to players! That's absurd on two different fronts. I think we'll find out, as time goes on, that Stevens relates better to his players than Doc did, and that because Stevens treats these guys as adults. Further, how many ex-players bring their own hidebound preconceptions to their jobs. For how long was the rap on Doc Rivers that he was hard on point guards? Why should that even be an *issue*?

      Gaaah. Get off my lawn!

  • Yeat

    I remember watching a C's/Wiz game a year or 2 ago and thinking who's Jordan Crawford and damn he'll be a good NBA player in a few years. He got to the Celtics last season and I didn't know what I was thinking that day. Stoked to see him "flourish" in a good role

  • Mark

    Crawford is going to be a nice trade asset this season. Keep playing well, Jordan.

  • skeeds

    I'm gonna make an obvious comparison here. Jordan Crawford is Jason Terry 10 years ago. High level scorer, excellent pick and roll player, downright audaciously confident gunner, gets to the basket at will. He can seriously be the most effective sixth man in the league. Why not starter? Perhaps because he's a bit too haphazard to run the whole offense, all the time. As is Terry. And Manu. And JCross. But more importantly, because that "unstable" attitude is why these guys are perfect sixth men.
    Ideally, he's not the guy you replace your pointguard with. He's the guy you insert to solve every offensive problem you have, even if for 5 minute intervals. And while he wouldn't start, he'd probably finish every close game, averaging over 25 minutes.
    When Rondo comes back, I'm looking for Ainge to do the smart thing and keep Crawford. And I'm looking for Stevens to take another page out of Pop's book and have his best all around offensive player on the bench. The 3 man rotation of Rondo-Bradley-Crawford, has the potential of being a devastating force…

  • Jim

    The last thing we need to do is trade Jordan Crawford. For once we have another person on the team with some real skills at the pg position .My true belief is if Doc Rivers were still the coach Crawford would have never gotten the chance to play except in garbage time. By the time Rivers left the team had become boring and predictable . Try watching the Clippers they are becoming boring and predictable. Stevens has these guys believing in themselves and each other. Points on both sides of this article are well taken. I am pleased to note that Rick Pitino is not walking through that door. For this team to grow it takes leadership and talent. We have some of both .