AT 33, CRAWFORD MAY BE ON THE UPSWING
Prior to practice at UC San Diego Jamal Crawford was running off screens set by air.
He would bring the ghost who was guarding him baseline, cut up the lane and simulate catching the ball around the free throw line, feigning a shot curling around a down screen.
Clippers associate head coach Alvin Gentry, who had been watching intently, stopped him for a moment, slightly adjusting the angle in which Crawford caught the simulated pass. He kept at it for nearly 20 minutes.
“I’ve never really ran off of screens that much,” Crawford said later. “So, this is an added element that I haven’t done much of.”
He expects to come off screens and be in more catch-and-shoot situations in Gentry and Head Coach Doc Rivers’ new offense. He prepared for it all summer back home in Seattle.
“It’s weird because personally I feel like I’m getting better,” Crawford said. “You know, I feel like I’m better than I was last year. It’s weird because you always want to think team first. Of course, you want to show that you’ve gotten better, but you’ve got to play your role as well.”
Crawford, 33, is quietly confident all the time. It just grows louder on the court when he fearlessly slices to the basket after turning his defender into a whirling dervish or creates just enough space, and fear, from the man guarding him to get off a high-arching 3-pointer that halfway before it comes down almost inevitably seems it will go in.
It wasn’t long into training camp before Crawford was doing all of that again. The Clippers scrimmaged in three of their six workouts in San Diego. Seemingly all of them came down to the final few possessions and whenever the team made up mostly of the second unit had it in those situations, Crawford was handed the ball and he usually delivered.
Once again, Crawford will be expected to lead the bench. It is something that he has been slated to do for the last five seasons, including winning a Sixth Man of the Year Award in Atlanta in 2009-2010 and finishing as the runner up for the same hardware in his first year with the Clippers.
“I think for a while they’ve been trying to put me in a box,” Crawford said of the media and the league. “I came into the league I was a point guard [with the Chicago Bulls]. Then they got Kirk Hinrich and I went to the 2. I was starting then I came off the bench. When I came off the bench I won Sixth Man and it was like, ‘Ok, that’s it. That’s what he is, a sixth man.’ But I’m actually more comfortable starting. For me, I play the role. It just depends on where I’m at.”
There is a certain mentality to coming off the bench, Crawford says, an adjustment. He is one of the best reserves in the NBA in the last half decade and is arguably one of the better pure scorers in the league. Since his Sixth Man season, Crawford is averaging 15.8 points in 291 games. He’s started six of those. Every active player ahead of him, including another former Sixth Man of the Year winner, James Harden, has started at least 29 percent of his team’s games in that span. Crawford’s started two percent of the time.
“I think when you’re starting you have more of a luxury,” Crawford said at Media Day. “You know you’re going to play 33, 35, 37 minutes per game, so you can kind of feel the game out. When you come off the bench you have to be more in attack mode. You have to make something happen immediately. You have to be kind of a game changer in that sense. You have to watch the game over there and see how you can impact the game, how teams are playing different sets and things like that. Your team may be lacking energy that night and you have to be that spark.
“I think you just have to be more aggressive when you come off the bench.”
He has never had a problem being aggressive. And that’s precisely how Rivers wants him to proceed.
“I want him to be Jamal Crawford,” Rivers said. “I don’t want anything less. I want more Jamal Crawford. More offense and a little more defense. What we’ve told Jamal is that we don’t expect him to be a great individual player defensively, but he can be a great team defender and he’s been doing that.
CRAWFORD’S PRO AM TAKES OFF IN 8TH YEAR
One of the highlights of Crawford’s summer was the success of his Pro Am basketball league at Seattle University.
In the eighth year of the two-month event, which is $5 for adults and free for kids and military personnel, it grabbed national headlines.
“I think the fact that we thought we would get a team again [in Seattle], but we didn’t, made people even more interested in basketball at this time,” Crawford said. “And the guys that we had come were all big-time guys. It just fueled our community and I think now they’re really looking forward to it.”
Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge were some of the bigger names to attend. And, as Crawford points out, there were also plenty of NBA players there on a regular basis.
“I tried to do that every single weekend,” Crawford said. “Even besides those guys we had pros on every single team: Nate Robinson, Isaiah Thomas, Spencer Hawes, myself, Martell Webster, all those guys spread out so they’re seeing a pro every single game.”
As he has throughout his career, the Pro Am was only one of the ways Crawford gave back to the Seattle community. He held his annual Fourth of July BBQ, backpack giveaway and back-to-school basketball camp for underprivileged children as well.
"He’s been great. He’s had an absolutely wonderful camp. He is what he is all the time offensively. He’s been in the right spots defensively."
Defense has never been considered Crawford’s strong suit. But after a couple of conversations with Rivers over the summer and knowing what would be expected in terms of providing help as a team defender, he rededicated himself to that end of the floor. He worked on footwork, guarding quicker opponents and said it was all about “accepting that challenge.”
“A bunch of guys, I’ve had it all my career, they’ll talk to you like, ‘I’m not a good defensive player.’ My comeback always is that if you fight for your limitations you’ll get to keep ‘em. We just don’t buy into that,” Rivers said. “He’s been great. He’s had an absolutely wonderful camp. He is what he is all the time offensively. He’s been in the right spots defensively. Because with him and J.J. [Redick] we really expect them to be great team defenders.”
The addition of Redick gives the Clippers more depth at shooting guard than at any time in recent memory. Both Crawford and Redick could start on most teams in the league and Willie Green, slated to be the third shooting guard, started 60 games for the Clippers last season. Rather than look at it as competition, Crawford sees it as added value.
“I think all of our pieces are pretty much interchangeable,” Crawford said. “On this team, the 2 and 3 do a lot of the same things. You’re really spacing the court. You’re in the corners. There’s movement, so the 2 and the 3 are pretty much doing the same thing. And I think we’ll all have opportunities to play together on the wings.”
Redick is looking forward to that as well and not being on the opposing end of Crawford’s crossover.
“There was a game I want to say right after the lockout in Portland. We both played really well,” Redick recalled. “I think in the first half it was like crossover, crossover, incredible defense, better offense every time. I don’t know if it was incredible defense.
“It was just one of those nights where you do things and you think you’ve got him under control and his ability to create for himself is just incredible.”
Crawford’s ability to create off the dribble will likely remain as deadly as always. If the added catch-and-shoot element prevails as well, more than a dozen years into his career, he might really be at his peak.