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Crawford Ready for Breakout Season

Jamal Crawford Jamal Crawford averaged 16.0 ppg and 6.0 apg in 31 starting assignments last season.
Posted September 25, 2003

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    Is veteran guard Jamal Crawford (6-5, 190 – Michigan ’00) on the verge of a breakout season? All signs indicate that he is. After seeing limited playing time his rookie season, missing most of his sophomore year due to an ACL injury and splitting time with Jay Williams last year, the starting point guard job is all Crawford’s in 2003.04 and, as he showed at the end of last season, he’s ready to make his mark.

    “I think that Jamal is going to have a very good year,” said Bulls Head Coach Bill Cartwright. “All of our guys had good summers, including Jamal. He’s been in working out and his body looks as good as it ever has. He’s got some muscles in his body now.”

    Crawford looks to continue his late-season success from last year, as he prepares for his fourth season with Chicago. Crawford started the final 20 games of the year and averaged 18.7 ppg and 6.9 apg, while shooting .458 from the floor and .406 from three-point range.

    “We won’t need Jamal to score an incredible amount of points. We need him to be an orchestrater; to be a court leader. I think that if he can do those things, he’ll have a phenomenal year.”

    On the year, Crawford posted career-high averages of 10.7 ppg, 4.2 apg and 2.3 rpg. He also shot a career-best .806 from the free throw line. In addition, he experienced a full season with valuable playing time, and that is what might prove to be most important for Crawford come opening night.

    “I think that the big thing Jamal has learned, after competing last year with Jay [Williams], not to mention working against a veteran like Rick Brunson who pounded on him, is how to be a pro,” Cartwright stated. “He suffered a little bit, but he really persevered to push himself through it. I think he also learned more about what it means to be a point guard in this league. You’ve got to be a distributor and you’ve got to be a penetrater. He also found that he is able guard in this league. He made a big jump last year and we are hopeful he’ll make a similar jump this year.”

    Defense will be emphatically stressed by Cartwright and his staff when training camp gets under way this week. While that aspect may not be one of Crawford’s fortes, he sees the potential in him to improve.

    “Defending is something that you learn,” Cartwright said. “Guys don’t come into this league as great defenders; you learn how to be one. A good example of that is Gary Payton. When he first came into this league, people didn’t know if he’d make it, but now he’s a phenomenal player. Jamal has the capacity to become a good defender and he has the length being 6-5. Plus, I think he’s willing to work at it.”

    Kirk Hinrich Kirk Hinrich joins the Bulls after being selected as the seventh pick of the NBA Draft 2003.
    The backcourt will also include first-round draft pick Kirk Hinrich (6-3, 190 – Kansas ’03). Hinrich joins the Bulls after being selected as the seventh pick of the NBA Draft 2003. The four-year product from the University of Kansas was a Third Team All-America selection his senior year and earned Honorable Mention All-America his junior season.

    Hinrich helped lead the Jayhawks to back-to-back Final Four appearances his last two years, including the 2003 NCAA Championship Game. He averaged a career-best 17.3 ppg his senior year, including 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg and a career-high 1.86 spg. Hinrich ended his career at Kansas as the school’s third all-time leader in assists (668), steals (206), three-point field goal percentage (.429) and three-pointers made (234); he ranks eighth in scoring (1,753).

    Cartwright will look to Hinrich, who averaged 8.5 ppg, 3.3 apg and 1.8 rpg in this summer’s Rocky Mountain Revue, to step right in at a position that is a natural one for the rookie.

    “Kirk’s a pure point guard and he’s got point guard skills,” Cartwright explained. “He wants to lead, he wants the ball, and he knows what to do with it. A lot of things that don’t always come naturally to point guards do come naturally for him because it’s his style of play.”

    Hinrich also has the ability to fill in for Crawford and help on the defensive end.

    “He’s not afraid to put his nose in there,” said Cartwright. “He’s a tough kid and that’s what I really like about him. I shouldn’t say this right now, but I will: I feel he’s going to be a very, very good basketball player. He has all the skills that are necessary to be a very good point guard in this league. He can penetrate and he’s an unselfish player—he’s always thinking pass first.”

    While most rookies find it challenging to adjust to the NBA game, point guards are typically in for an especially difficult task. Hinrich, however, is expected to enjoy a slightly easier transition thanks to his college experience.

    “Interestingly enough, the system at Kansas, strength and conditioning-wise, is a lot like ours,” Cartwright said. “They do a lot of the same things that we do and their system fits our system. As far as their style of play, they run and they get up and pressure defensively. A lot of aspects will be similar ones for him and I think that will really help.”

    The Bulls have another young point guard in Roger Mason, Jr. (6-5, 200 – Virginia ’02), who begins his second season with the Bulls after missing the first 55 games last year recovering from right shoulder surgery (10/30-2/19). In 17 games, Mason averaged 1.8 ppg in 6.6 mpg while shooting .355 from the floor.

    “I saw him make 91 out of 100 jump shots in a shooting drill this summer,” Cartwright said of Mason Jr. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. But he does have some strength, he can shoot the basketball, and he’s a tough minded kid who can guard.”

    Roger Mason Jr.
    Mason Jr.
    Jay Williams
    Cartwright says he’ll look to get Mason Jr. playing time early in the season, especially in Chicago’s eight exhibition games, to get a clearer idea as to his progress and to gauge where exactly he will fit into the team’s mix.

    The Bulls will be without the services of Jay Williams (6-2, 195 – Duke ’02), who was injured in a motorcycle accident on June 19. Williams will miss this entire season, but the 22-year old guard still hopes to return to the court, possibly during the 2004.05 campaign.

    “Jay is making progress and he’s getting better,” Cartwright reported. “The hardest thing for him is going to be keeping his spirits up. He’s going to have good days where he makes some progress and he’s going to have other days where he feels terrible. Unfortunately for me, I was out for about two years with a stress fracture. It wasn’t career threatening, but it set me back and it was something I knew I had to work through. The obstacles along the way make things seem like they were are so far away. Jay has an advantage in that he has a great support base. He’s a physically strong kid and he’s young, so he’ll have an opportunity to come back.”

    Even though the Bulls won’t have Williams on the court, he’s still very much a member of the team and Cartwright says that both the coaches and players hope to see him back in Chicago in the near future.

    “We’d like to get Jay back as soon as he can get up here. He does still have a couple big procedures coming up, but we know we’ll have him back here eventually.”

    In the meantime, expect Crawford, Hinrich and Mason Jr. to do a more than adequate job in handling the Bulls point guard duties in 2003.04.

    - Adam Fluck, Bulls.com