Jamal Crawford: 6th man of the year candidate

Note: A previous version of this article ran on Clippers.com April 2, 2013. 

The degree of difficulty in Jamal Crawford’s explosive fourth quarter against the Pacers on Apr. 1 at times bordered on unimaginable.

He would dribble through traffic, wrapping the ball around his back or spinning it on the tips of his fingers as he rocked it back and forth, before flipping in a layup around the outstretched arms of 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. He would scamper around a Ryan Hollins screen, catch the ball and in seemingly one motion fall away from All-Star Paul George to connect on a 17-foot jumper.

He poured in 15 points in the period against the league’s stingiest defense and one that is loaded with athletic wing defenders and a rim protector in Hibbert. Crawford led the scoring charge of what amounted to a comeback that fell a few seconds short. He tallied 482 fourth-quarter points,third in the NBA behind indomitable scorers Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

His performance on Apr. 1 was merely a fragment of the masterpiece Crawford’s put together in his first season in Los Angeles, one that should culminate with him earning his second Sixth Man of the Year award in the last four years.

It’s something that Crawford has tried to avoid thinking about.

“Honestly, the one thing I learned, especially this year, is you really can’t worry about stuff you can’t control,” he said leaning up against the blue padded wall at the Clippers’ practice facility. “I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind, but it’s in somebody else’s hands and that’s always scary.”










 Jamal Crawford








 J.R. Smith










A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters vote on the award. But the words of his peers seem to indicate Crawford is the favorite. That became apparent on the set of NBA TV’s “Game Time.” With about three months left in the regular season former All-Star Chris Webber was summing up a particularly good week from Golden State guard Jarrett Jack and said, “Other than Jamal Crawford… Jack is a candidate.” 

As the season progressed, talk of the award on national NBA shows and in editorial coverage became synonymous with Crawford. Any contender to win it was compared to the lanky 13-year veteran.

It helped that Crawford got off to a blistering start to the season. He scored 20 points or more in six of the Clippers’ first nine games. Only Ricky Pierce in 1989-90 had done that before as a reserve.

And as the Clippers continued on their historic journey, Crawford was seemingly a part of every turn. He scored 20 points or more 28 times through the team’s first 81 games, one behind J.R. Smith for most in the NBA. He effectively led the short-handed Clippers to a win with a jolt of second-half offense in a mid-January game at Houston, scoring 30 points in the kind of rapid succession that would be akin to typing a novella at 50 words per minute without a pause.

It was around that time that Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said he was in the middle of everything the Clippers were able to accomplish this year and analyst Greg Anthony called him the player that took the Clippers from “very good to a championship contender.” It’s that kind of impact Crawford has brought to the lineup on a nightly basis.

The Clippers won nearly 75 percent of their games when he led the team in scoring. He averaged 16.4points per game and did it in four fewer minutes than Smith, who was considered Crawford’s stiffest competition for the award that was first instituted in 1982-83 to honor the Most Valuable Player coming off the bench as a reserve.

Pierce, Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf are the only players to have won it twice.

Crawford says joining them would be a reflection not just on his individual accomplishments this season, but that of the entire Clippers bench which has long held a top four position in the league in scoring.

“It’d be pretty cool because I think it’s never just me,” Crawford said. “I think our second unit is the best in the NBA and I think our starters and our whole organization has done a great job and it would be a credit to them as well.”

Still, if the bench has been a boat, Crawford has been its propellers. They’ve been at their best when he scores. Against Indiana, for example, Crawford had 25 of the reserve corps’ 60 points and when he’s got it going it opens things up for everyone else.

He missed a game in February to see the birth of his daughter, London, and returned with flecks of sleep still in his eyes to top 20 points in four-straight games, shooting 59.3% in the process.

He is welcoming and kind off the court, a menace for opposing defenses on it. Part of what’s made him so valuable for the Clippers this season is not just his ability to score points in explosive bursts, but serve as a dead-eye decoy in the fourth quarter next to Chris Paul.

“It challenges teams that don’t have two great perimeter defenders,” Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said of the combination of Paul and Crawford in the same backcourt. “It challenges teams that aren’t built to handle it and we didn’t handle it very well in game one.”

In the first game of the season against the Pacers, Paul scored eight points in the last 2:26 as the Clippers pulled off an eight-point win in Indiana, something that he’s done often this season. But it’s not as though Crawford never sees the ball in crunch time, either. He’s 22-of-39 (56.4%) in the final five minutes of games that are within five points, including draining a game-tying 3-pointer from the right corner in San Antonio on Mar. 29.

More importantly, Crawford had a plus-minus in the fourth quarter this season that exceeded +200, in line with likely MVP LeBron James. He finished ahead of James in fourth-quarter scoring, coming in third behind preeminent shot-makers Bryant and Durant.

Bryant called Crawford the Sixth Man of the Year because while other candidates had great years, Crawford played like the award winner from the “word ‘go.’”

He was the best among reserves in simple plus-minus rating, which accounts for his own production measure as well as that of his counterpart at the same position. And he's led the Clippers in 3-pointers made, shooting 37.0% from distance and putting together two stretches of more than 40 consecutive free throws made, including a franchise-record streak of 58 free throws in a row at one point.

Crawford made all seven of his free throws against Indiana, six in the fourth quarter, the time of the game he’s been at his best all season. Hibbert, who Crawford scored over at the rim on several occasions, said, “We knew that Jamal Crawford is an extremely talented player, and he just turned it on.”

There are dozens of defenders who would say Crawford has turned it on all year, enough that it is easy to imagine him holding his second Sixth Man of the Year award.