Father time is undefeated, as the saying goes in pro sports. And yet somehow, Jamal Crawford is forcing the old man into overtime.
If you catch Crawford on a good night, like the one he had in Chicago Saturday – 25 points off the bench in 26 minutes, 10-for-17 shooting in the LA Clippers’ 101-91 victory over the Bulls at United Center – you leave convinced that he’s got a painting in a closet somewhere in which he looks his true age, no longer can shoot and has lost his devastating crossover dribble.
Then there’s this explanation from teammate DeAndre Jordan for why Crawford, who’ll turn 37 years old in two weeks, looks little different from when he began his NBA career 16 years ago.
“He’s a vampire,” Jordan said. “He doesn’t age.”
Crawford, seemingly as lean and even spindly in his 17th season as he was at the start of this century, has in fact aged. He’s a family man looked at among the Clippers as the veteran he is, a fellow way more mature than the kid who showed up with the Bulls as the eighth overall pick in the 2000 draft thinking he was the next Allen Iverson or something.
Crawford took his lumps early, and packed and unpacked his bags plenty in search of a role, a staff, a locker room and a role that would suit him. He has that in Los Angeles. He has won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award twice in the past three seasons and three times overall. The Clippers have bulked up their bench more than in the past, yet Crawford remains its single greatest threat. Teammates and foes know it, with Boston likely no different when they face the Clippers tonight (10:30 ET, TNT).
“You could see that the other four made sure that, no matter what happened at the end of the play, Jamal ended up with the ball,” coach Doc Rivers said after Crawford helped L.A. claw a a 1-4 post-All Star Game “rut.” “And he’s a shot maker.”
Said Bulls veteran Dwyane Wade: “He went 1-on-1, and you can’t do nothing when he is going like that. … They run offense to get you moving and then they isolate.”
Truth be told, Crawford and his game have aged in both good and bad ways. He knows his limitations better than in his early days and has shown him to be the most bankable player from his Draft class -- a group that included Kenyon Martin, Mike Miller, Hedo Turkoglu, Morris Peterson and Michael Reed.
“Jamal is a gym rat. ... He’s one of those guys who’s going to be hooping forever. Regardless if it’s the NBA, lunch-time ball or somebody’s local YMCA. He’s gonna find a game.”
It was, of course, when Crawford moved into and accepted his role off the Atlanta Hawks’ bench in 2009-10 that he became the instant-offense, four-point threat he’s seen as today. He snagged his first Sixth Man trophy at that season, has started just 40 times in 565 games over the past eight seasons and is averaging 28.6 minutes (compared to the 32.6 he played his first nine years) in that span.
“It’s unbelievable – he still looks the same. And his game is the same,” said Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, a teammate of Crawford’s for three years. “It’s amazing he’s still playing the same type of style and same type of game he did when he got into this league as a young kid.”
The secret to Crawford’s success? Basketball and more basketball. He doesn’t shun the court in the offseason. And he’s said to drive around with a ball in his trunk, ready to play whenever, wherever.
“He plays basketball. Every day,” Rivers said Saturday. “I don’t see him in the weight room. I don’t see him do anything in the summer but play basketball. He literally plays pickup basketball the entire summer, every day. That’s all he does. He’s like the anti-new generation with weights and all the other stuff. He just plays basketball. And he looks younger at times because he does.”
Said guard Chris Paul: “Jamal is a gym rat. Just a love of the game and the passion, he’s one of those guys who’s going to be hooping forever. Regardless if it’s the NBA, lunch-time ball or somebody’s local YMCA. He’s gonna find a game.”
Crawford does not drink or indulge other bad habits, and he told our Fran Blinebury last year: “I have a T-shirt that says, ‘Ball is life.’ My wife says ‘That’s an understatement for you.’ It’s still all basketball, but with family it balances you.”
Statistically, Crawford’s game is showing some crow’s feet. His scoring is down (12.3 ppg) to its lowest level since his third season. He’s shooting 41.1 percent overall, 34.4 percent on 3-pointers and, per NBA.com/Stats, just 28.6 percent on corner threes.
He’s not getting to the foul line the way he used to, his net rating is again in the red (105.5/108.7) and his player-efficiency rating has dropped from 16.6 two seasons ago to 11.6, his worst since he was a rookie. But Crawford has scored in double figures 36 times, getting 20 or more in 13 of those games, and the Clippers are 22-14 when he does. He has played in all 62 of their games.
One reason Crawford stands out at United Center is because of the guy Bulls fans remember vs. the opponent they dread now. In 244 games with Chicago, he averaged 11.2 points with a .489 true-shooting percentage. In 31 games against the Bulls since they traded (August 2004), he’s averaged 16.2 points on .543 TS%.
Crawford became the oldest player to win the Sixth Man award last season, but he isn’t likely to top that this season. The Houston Rockets’ Lou Williams and Eric Gordon, the Denver Nuggets’ Wilson Chandler and eight other players are scoring more off their teams’ benches. But the Clippers appreciate what he gives them, even with some defensive liabilities, and don’t expect a sharp drop-off.
“He doesn’t act his age either,” Blake Griffin said. “From a maturity standpoint, yes. But he’s one of the younger guys when you’re on the bus, having fun. I don’t know what [his secret to youth] is, but whatever it is, I’ve got to find out before he leaves.”
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