CRAWFORD HAS BEEN SIXTH MAN AND MUCH MORE FOR CLIPPERS
It’s like old times for Jamal Crawford.
He’s back on the bench. Back to the role his career has dictated. Back to the spot that makes the Clippers as dangerous as any team in the league. Back to sewing up a potentially historic Sixth Man of the Year trophy.
In many ways, Crawford’s return to the bench after sitting out for eight of nine games with a strained left calf was parallel to the description on his official Twitter page (@Jcrossover): “I love basketball, but basketball doesn’t define me.”
Crawford may be one of the best reserves in NBA history, but coming off the bench doesn’t define him.
Like never before, this season has proven that for Crawford, who has started 23 times, played point guard, shooting guard and even some small forward, and been asked to do far more than be a high-scoring spark as a reserve.
Whether he’s been asked to start or come off the bench, Crawford has been among the steadiest players in the league. The Clippers have won better than 66 percent of their games in either situation. Crawford’s scoring 17 points or more per game in both roles, including topping 20 points 13 times as a reserve. He is averaging more assists than his Sixth Man of the Year season in 2009-10 and has been praised by Head Coach Doc Rivers for embracing playing defense.
With all that he’s been asked to do, all that has come with injuries to Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, which could have zapped the Clippers’ chances at home court advantage or a top three seed in the West, and all that Crawford has provided beyond merely points, his second Sixth Man seems inevitable.
“You never want to just play for an award,” said Crawford, who was the runner up for the award in 2012-13. “You want to win and I think when you win and you play well within that things like [awards] happen and they kind of come about. I would be lying if I said at this point you don’t want to win it because the season’s almost done. But obviously if we’re not winning and I’m not having a pretty good season then we’re not even talking about it.
“If I were to win that award, it’s definitely not just me it’s a total team effort. Everybody has played a part in everything that we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Crawford’s teammates, though, typically turn the praise back to him.
“Jamal knows how much he means to our team and we want him to be him,” Paul said. “That’s a scoring threat and somebody that defenders fear every night.”
Darren Collison added: “He’s great. That’s what he’s been doing off the bench. He scores in such a hurry, and in such bunches. I think everybody expects that from him. He could easily be a starter in this league. The way he scores is always fun to watch.”
The shiny parts of Crawford’s game are what have made him a standout: the 40 4-point plays in the regular season, the times he puts defenders like Lance Stephenson or Tony Allen in the dryer on tumble, and the 6.7 points per game in the fourth quarter this season, including clutch baskets late against Sacramento, Minnesota, Miami and New Orleans. But Crawford believes he is having his best all-around season.
“I just wanted to be better, honestly,” Crawford said. “I never want to feel like I’m going backwards or I’m plateauing. I want to be better and I said it earlier and I thought I was better this year than last year. I think so far it’s worked out the right way. We’ve won a lot of games and I’ve played a pretty big role in that. It’s all a team effort, but I feel like I wanted to be better this year and I feel like I’ve kind of done it.”
And perhaps winning is what it has come down to more than anything for Crawford, who turned 34 last week, especially playing for Rivers. That’s why it has been easier to embrace whatever role has been thrown his way.
“I think it would be hard [to adjust] but having the teammates and coaches that I do around me they make it easy,” Crawford said. “They don’t ask me to change too much.”
According to Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who was a part of four NBA title teams while working as an assistant in San Antonio, what Crawford does for the Clippers is what great teams need to win.
“I do know that guys who embrace that role and really understand how valuable that is to the team and to the coach, they are invaluable,” Budenholzer said. “I think Jamal is one of those guys that loves being that wild card off the bench and coming in and having that positive impact for his team. It just really helps a team manage a game, manage a season, separate themselves in those parts of games. When you have somebody that good coming off your bench it’s a real luxury. Most importantly that player has to embrace it and I don’t know Jamal that well, but it seems like he embraces it.”
MVP candidate Kevin Durant, a friend of Crawford’s who played in his Seattle Pro Am this summer, echoed Budenholzer.
“When you have a team that’s trying to win a championship, just two guys can’t do it,” Durant said during All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. “The whole team has to, and Jamal is one of those guys that have done a great job for the Clippers. Hopefully, he has a bad second half of the season, selfishly. But, I love Jamal; he’s like a big brother to me. I’m excited. I’m glad he’s playing well. He definitely deserves Sixth Man of the Year.”
In a month, when the NBA’s award season begins, Crawford may very well become the first player in NBA history to win a Sixth Man of the Year with two separate teams. If it happens, though, it could be a testament to his entire body of work.