NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: Biggest surprise from playoffs so far?

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on the first round, postseason energy, and his favorite all-time matchups.

Anthony Edwards and the Wolves are headed to the West semifinals after sweeping the Suns.

The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2024 NBA Playoffs! Have a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag. 

What team has surprised you the most?

– from KP in Cleveland, OH

Minnesota. I knew they were good. But the way they swept Phoenix and the swagger they did it with was impressive. We all know what Ant can do. They’re strongest as a group, though, and they showed that throughout the series. Jaden McDaniels stepped up. KAT played perfectly off Ant. Gobert held down the defense. Conley was as sturdy as always. And Coach Finch did an unbelievable job (hopefully he gets well soon). They surprised me the most and it should be an incredible series against the Nuggets.

What was the most impressive part to you about Jalen Brunson’s Game 4?

– from Michelle in Buffalo, NY

The most impressive part to me was that he made all the right calls. And that’s tough to do in the playoffs. Whether it was calling his own number or calling his teammates number, he kept making the right decisions. That’s impressive in a game with so much intensity and stakes on the line. It was a legendary performance.

What differentiates Anthony Edwards from other young stars?

– from Devin in Chicago, IL

His mentality. We throw around the word “dog” a lot, but there are a lot of fake dogs out there. He’s not one of them. He’s attacking everything that’s in front of him and trying to impact the game as much as possible. It’s a mindset that not many players can tap into, and even those that can usually don’t have superstar skills like Ant.

Is this the best Wolves team you’ve ever seen?

– from Matt in Duluth, MN

Let’s wait a couple of weeks and I’ll let you know. They’re in the conversation with my favorite Wolves team, the 2003-04 version with Garnett, Sprewell and Cassell that lost to the Lakers in the West finals.

As of Monday morning, who do you think is going to win the championship?

– from Justin in New York

The Denver Nuggets.

Are the Thunder still being slept on? I’ve heard so many say that they are the weakest 1 seed of the decade, but it seems that after sweeping New Orleans they deserve some more respect. What do you think?

– from Joshua in South Carolina

They’re absolutely still being slept on. But it’s not because they’re the No. 1 seed. It’s because of how they play for each other. If you play that hard and that well and that smart together, then there are few things that can slow you down. Their game is young, but their mind is mature. And that’s what makes them dangerous.

What do you think the closest first-round series is going to be?

– from Asher in Marysville, OH

Clippers-Mavs. I think that will go seven games.

What changes for the Clippers with Kawhi sidelined?

– from Carlos in San Diego, CA

He’s their best player, so obviously they’re different without him. You’ll see the other stars be more aggressive. And it should give more opportunities to Norman Powell and big Zu to get involved. While they would prefer to have Kawhi healthy, they’ve also gotten used to playing without him over the last couple of seasons. So they’re definitely not out of it just because Kawhi is out.

What happened to my beloved Suns? Is it schemes, chemistry, injuries or what?

– from Jake in Iowa

I thought they gave in. They gave in to adversity. They didn’t give in to the team. And they gave in to “the disease of me.” That isn’t necessarily about “my shots”, “my this” or “my that”. It’s when something’s not going right for ME, then I focus on getting ME right and not getting the TEAM right. That problem reared its ugly head for Phoenix. On all fronts, accountability wasn’t there.

How can the Bucks persevere while dealing with so many injuries? Were you ever on a team that dealt with playoff injuries like this?

– from Michael in Los Angeles, CA

Yeah, I was on a team that dealt with something similar. When I was with LA, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin got hurt within 5 minutes of each other in the same game against Portland. That was crazy. But the thing about the playoffs is nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. They’ll say, “Hey, we wish this guy was playing.” But they’re going to continue to play the game. So you have to stay focused on the goal and not get distracted by who isn’t available to play.

Going deeper into the playoffs and next season, what areas would you like to see Paolo improve?

– from Bryce in Orlando, FL

For Paolo, since he’s such an unselfish person by nature, I want to see him impose his will on the game from the jump and have a dominant mindset. He has all the skills and intangibles to dominate, but he’s still only 21 years old. So as time goes on, he’ll lock into that mindset on a more consistent basis. I would love to see him go into every game with the mindset that he’s going to show everyone he’s the best player on the court.

Have you been particularly impressed by any team on the defensive end so far this postseason? Which one if any?

– from Jack in the United Kingdom

OKC. They ATTACK you defensively. They don’t just play defense. They attack you on defense. They don’t even let you make entry passes. They’re blowing up handoffs. It was unbelievable to watch in person to see the speed and physicality they play with. They’re the most impressive team I’ve seen on defense in these playoffs.

Does treating a playoff game different from any other game help? Or is it better to keep the “it’s just another game” mentality?

– from Kyrie in Brooklyn, NY

I think it’s a bit of both. Everything is heightened, like if you were running back on defense 7 out of 10 times, that has to be 10 out of 10 now. So that part intensifies. But also at the end of the day, it’s still basketball and you’ve done this your whole life. And I always feel like you’re at your best when you’re having fun. Watch SGA make a huge shot and he runs back smiling. Ant Edwards does something and he’s running back grinning. They’re having fun and being who they’ve been their whole lives. They’re just showing the world that now.

What are your top 5 playoff series of all-time, not including any NBA Finals matchups?

– from Derek in Portland, OR

The first five off the top of my head:

  • Clippers-Spurs first round in 2015
  • Lakers-Blazers West finals in 2000
  • Sixers-Raptors East semifinals in 2001
  • Celtics-Hawks first round in 2008
  • Bulls-Pistons East finals in 1991

What moment in your career made you realize the playoffs are a whole different breed than the regular season?

– from Isaac in North Arlington, NJ

It was during my first playoff series with the Hawks against the Bucks. We won the first two, then lost the next three. After we lost Game 5 at home, it felt like the world was falling on top of us. When you go up 2-0, you’re on top of the world. Then you lose the next two and it’s OK because you know you have Game 5 at home. But after losing that, I remember sitting at my locker and I was the last one to leave. I felt like it was my fault because Joe Johnson was limited so it was a lot on me. I had a total collapse, not with turnovers but missing shots I normally make that could’ve easily won that game.

I ended up being the leading scorer in the next two games and we won the series. But after Game 5 was the moment when I realized playoffs are a different beast. I felt like the energy had been pulled out of me. Everything is so ramped up.

I’m always amazed by the skills of today’s players, but I hear experts say players today don’t know the fundamentals. Can you explain what I’m missing here?

– from Nick in Denver, CO

Today’s players are more skilled from top to bottom than ever. But they’re younger than ever, too. That plays a big part in fundamentals because back in the day players would get 3 or 4 years in a college program to learn the basics and then bring those skills to the league. Simple things like jab steps, playing off two feet as Brunson does, footwork in general, entry passes, how to run the floor properly, how to provide proper space, how to run a screen-and-roll, how to run a screen-and-pop, terminology – all those are fundamental things you need to learn to be great in the NBA.

Who has impressed you the most with their ball handling? 

– from Alex in Tampa, FL

SGA’s handles aren’t talked about enough. He’s able to get anywhere he wants on the court with his counter moves and footwork. His handles are definitely underrated.

In the playoffs, why do most coaches only play an 8-man rotation?

– from Adam in Philadelphia, PA

At the biggest moments, coaches play who they feel like they can trust the most. So in the playoffs, they prefer to tighten the rotations and keep their most trusted players on the floor as long as possible. That’s been the formula for most coaches. Unless your coach Mark Daigneault in OKC. He has a different squad over there that leans on its depth, even in the playoffs.

How quickly do coaches decide to change their rotations in the playoffs? Is it game by game? Half by half?

– from Jake in Robbinsville, NJ

There usually aren’t dramatic changes to full rotations. But you’ll see tweaks here and there, especially after the first couple of games. It’s a chess match. So if you’re starting big matches up better against a team’s bench big, then you may move them to the 2nd unit to dominate your opponent’s bench rotation. The goal is to maximize matchups where your team has an advantage. Coaching adjustments like that play a major role in the playoffs. And some coaches are better at it than others.

What advice has a coach given you that you’ll always remember?

– from Peter in Melbourne, Australia

From the legend Larry Brown – good players make themselves good, great players make everybody good.

How does it feel to be the voice of Chasing History this season?

– from Charles in New Orleans, LA

It’s an honor. As a student of the game, I’ve watched so many different documentaries and specials over the years. And I’ve heard Bob Costas, or Marv Alberts, or Ahmad Rashad narrate those highlights. So I’m beyond honored to be the voice of Chasing History this postseason, I can’t say I dreamed about it, but this is actually cooler than a dream.

In the latest episode of Chasing History, Indiana holds off Milwaukee in OT to win Game 3.

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