NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: Most to prove after the All-Star break?

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on the All-Star break, teams who could rise and more.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have gone 3-7 since Doc Rivers took over as coach at the end of January.

The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2023-24 season! Have a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag. 

Which team has the most to prove after the All-Star break?

– from David in Portland, OR

The Bucks. After making the trade for Lillard this offseason and switching to coach Doc Rivers midseason, they have to find a better rhythm before the playoffs. They need this pressure, though, to get to the level of team they want to become.

How beneficial is the All-Star break to a player’s body and state of mind?

– from Michael in Austin, TX

It’s very beneficial, but every player uses it differently. For me, I still played every single day because I dreaded the first return to practice after being off for a week. So I wanted to stay in shape and stay sharp. It still felt like a break because I controlled the schedule, had the gym to myself and didn’t have to travel. It was kind of the best of both worlds. I got a break from the everyday ritual, but still got to hit the gym.

What trade deadline move do you think will have the biggest impact in the playoffs?

– from Sean in Miami, FL

I’m not sure if it will have the biggest impact. But I think the Suns picking up Royce O’Neale was an underrated move. He’s kind of a Swiss army knife who can do a bit of everything and still handle the ball if needed. So keep an eye on how he’s able to help Phoenix.

Who is your dark horse to win the NBA Finals that no one is talking about?

– from Kihoon in South Korea

The Suns. Most people are talking about Denver, Boston, LA and Milwaukee. But not as many are talking about Phoenix. They’re built for the playoffs and just have to stay healthy.

Who is your current pick to win Kia MVP?

– from Mark in Chicago, IL

Either Luka or Shai. Luka’s stats have been knocking on the MVP door for a couple of seasons. And I think with Kyrie missing so many games, Luka has a good argument to make for MVP, especially if Dallas can climb the standings over the final stretch. For SGA, he’s on a mission and it’s very loud to have that young team No. 2 in the West. It jumps off the page. So I think he could sneak in there and get it, too.

Is there a team you think is best positioned to climb the standings?

– from Sarah in Miami, FL

Dallas. They have a lot more flow to their offense with Kyrie this season than they did last season. And their role players are playing really, really well around him and Luka. I think they could make a move up the West standings, especially once they get Lively back.

What do you expect Kyle Lowry to bring to the Sixers?

– from Tom in Pittsburgh, PA

He brings another conductor to the team. He won a championship with coach Nurse in Toronto, so there’s a trust there. And he’s back home in Philly, so he’ll be even more motivated. He brings everything you want a leader to bring to a locker room.

What are your thoughts on the 65-game rule for awards?

– from Tyler in Denver, CO

I like what we’re trying to accomplish – to get guys to play more. I’m not a fan of load management. But on the other side of that, if a guy is injured and is set to miss 10-15 games … like for example, Bradley Beal’s recent hamstring injury … then I think the players feel incentivized to rush back from injury so they can stay above the 65-game mark. And that’s a problem.

At the end of the day, even if the rule is not in place and a player doesn’t reach 65 games, the voters do not have to vote for that player. Nobody is saying you have to vote for a player just because their stats jump off the page. So I don’t think there should be a set amount of games a player has to play to be considered for awards.

What is the most impressive play (dunks, blocks, handles) you ever witnessed at practice/open runs during your time in the NBA?

– from Patrick in Baldwinsville, NY

It was while playing with Michael Jordan when I was a young player. I’ll never forget it. I was nervous playing with him, so you could imagine the energy I had on the floor. I was running around too fast and shooting it too far or too short because of the nerves. But I remember one time I got the rebound and MJ took off streaking to the rim and I threw a full-court baseball pass. Immediately, my muscle memory told me I had overthrown it. But then MJ jumped up, caught the ball with one hand, took one dribble and exploded up for the dunk with the ball never touching his left hand. And he was 40 years old. That was the craziest part.

How does a midseason addition like Pat Beverley impact a locker room?

– from Sam in Milwaukee, WI

I’ve seen moves like that impact teams in different ways. You add a veteran guy who is accomplished, he comes in and tries to take things over. That can become divisive. But Pat Bev is not that guy. He’s going to be the player who comes into the locker room and pulls everybody together. He’s going to tell the young guys what to do, and he has the respect of the older guys. He’s going to be an extension of the coach because his only agenda is winning. His energy and focus have been consistent wherever he goes, so I expect that to continue in Milwaukee.

What’s it like playing with a big who can block 10+ shots like Wemby?

– from Julia in New York, NY

Well, I’ve never played with someone like Wemby. He’s in his own lane. But when you have a shot-blocking big on your squad, it gives you total confidence to be more aggressive on defense because you know you’re covered. The guard you’re defending won’t go all the way to the rim to get a clean look, so that makes your job a lot simpler. DeAndre Jordan was the best shot-blocking big I ever played with.

Besides Shai, who on the Thunder is the most important to the team?

– from Kenneth in Houston, TX

Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. Chet is more important defensively and Jalen is more important offensively as another closing option. But for a young team like OKC, it’s more a collection of great parts than a few stars. Everyone has a big role to play for them to succeed.

He gets no love because of their record, but guard to guard, what’s your overall take on Coby White? Also, is PG or SG his best position?

– from Tony in Sierra Vista, AZ

I think point guard is the best position for him because it gives him the chance to dictate when he shoots. His quickness and ball-handling ability allow him to get to space and get his shot. So point is the best position to keep doing that.

The most important thing for him is to keep working and know people are taking notice of you. I’ve been in that position before when you’re on a team that’s struggling, but you’re playing well – in fact, I was in that position with Chicago before. You’re not necessarily getting the national attention and it becomes difficult to stay focused on the ultimate goal. If he keeps working, then the attention, accolades and wins will come eventually.

Who was the most technically skilled teammate you ever had?

– from Daniel in New York

Great question. Joe Johnson and LaMarcus Aldridge. I’ve given LaMarcus a lot of love in here already, but haven’t talked as much about Joe. He was so versatile. He could play inside or outside, and he was one of the first guys in my generation who you could not bother his pace. He was so strong, could run all day and was always reliable. He played 38 minutes per game for a long stretch and never got hurt.

I remember one time, coach Larry Drew had us run a mile before we could step foot in practice. And Joe was a heavier guy, so I thought I could easily run a mile faster than him. But then he had either the best or 2nd best mile time on the team. I couldn’t believe it. He was 6-foot-7, 250 and could run a mile faster than most players. He was incredible.

Who’s the best passer you’ve ever played with?

– from Mikey in Illinois

Stephon Marbury and Chris Paul. And the most underrated passer I ever played with was Blake Griffin.

What are your thoughts on the NBA allowing players to enter the draft after high school again? Do you agree?

– from Nathaniel in Chicago, IL

Yes, I agree. If you’re an actor, you can go into acting at any age. If you’re a golfer, if you play baseball, etc. We don’t put a limit on those things. A lot of the current international stars in the NBA have been playing professionally since they were young. It helps them hone their skills and it’s a reason why they’re so good now. If you can get into a stable environment that has vets and a support system around as a sort of village, then you’re in a great position to grow your skills. Not to mention some of the greatest players in NBA history came straight from high school. So I’m happy the NBA is going to allow it again.

What is an exciting rule change or new element you would like to see added to the league?

– from Philip in Florida

Every team must have three players with 10+ years of experience. I want that to be a rule.

If we dropped a prime Jamal Crawford in today’s NBA, what differences would we see in his game now vs then?

– from Conor in Oakland, CA

You mean if you dropped me now into the NBA? Since I’m still in my prime? 😆 You would see me more at the point guard position. The NBA back then put you into a box – either you were a point or a two. And I came in as a point, that’s why I was drafted so high. Once I started scoring a lot, they moved me to the two. I should have stayed point guard and scored from that position. So if I was dropped into the league now, I would be more of a central part of an offense as the point and my passing skills would be on bigger display.

Going to an NBA game in March, I am wondering if there is anything unique or cool to do as a fan during pregame if you arrive 90 minutes or more before tip-off?

– from Matt in Syracuse, NY

Get there right when the doors open so you can catch some of the pre-warmups. Before all the players come out as a team, the guys hit the floor to do their individual drills. Watch all of the intricacies of what each player is doing. You might be shocked to see that Steph Curry, the greatest shooter ever, starts his warmups inside near the basket. So get there early and watch how differently every player warms up. Some start with dribbling, some with layups, some with stretches. There’s a lot to see before the game tips.

What is the best way to balance and manage studies and basketball?

– from K A in Australia

If you’re blessed enough to play in college, they say you’re a student-athlete, which means student comes first. You have to hone in on that part because I don’t care how good you are in basketball, even if you make it to the league, you need your education in all walks of life. So concentrate on the studies first, but then put just as much effort into your basketball skills after the studies are done.

Best way to adjust to organized basketball? I’m 16 and a pure hooper and I could probably beat 99% of players my age in 1v1 but playing organized basketball is tough for me especially when I don’t have the ball. I tried watching film, but watching film of professionals and trying to adjust to my level of basketball is not possible.

– from Bogdan in Belgrade, Serbia

Watch college basketball more than high school or the NBA. They do the best job of promoting five guys attacking as one. The ball is the star in that situation. So that should help you adjust more to team basketball. And don’t just watch the highlights. Make sure to watch full games, including your own, and you’ll learn. You’ll learn the difference between a good shot and a great shot. You’ll see how spacing and cutting can impact the offense. All those different nuances are critical to becoming a good basketball player.

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