NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: What's it like to play against Nikola Jokic?

Jamal Crawford explains what it's like to play against Nikola Jokic and names his all-time, straight-out-of-high-school team.

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

What’s it like to play against Nikola Jokic? What makes him so good?

– from Jack in Denver, CO

First off, he’s playing the game from a totally different perspective. He’s seeing how he can make you make a mistake. Then every mistake you make, he’s going to make you pay for it. And he’s one of the rare players in NBA history with that ability. Secondly, he plays at his own pace. When you have a player that smart who you allow to play at that pace, he’s going to beat you most times because he sees everything in slow motion. Jokic plays like he’s in The Matrix.

How surprised are you that the Lakers were swept?

– from Dwayne in Brooklyn, NY

I’m more surprised they even reached the West finals after starting the season 2-10. I still view their season as a win.

Is Jamal Murray the most slept-on player this postseason?

– from Terrence in Long Island, NY

I’m not sure he’s slept on anymore, to be honest. But he is one of the most unknown stars of the postseason. He’s absolutely a star and he showed it in the bubble, but the injury afterward slowed him down a bit. Now he’s back at maybe even a higher level. It’s been fun to watch his journey. And he has the name Jamal … so of course he has game!

What was it like to work/play alongside Michal Jordan?

– from Ethan in Mckenzie, TN

It was a dream come true. At times, I still think about it now like, “Did that really happen?” During the Draft process, my dad told me that Jordan liked my game. And I was like, “Dad, you don’t know Michael Jordan. There’s no way this is true.”

Then fast forward, I get drafted by the Bulls in 2000 after MJ retired. One morning, Tim Grover (Jordan’s trainer) called me and said, “Hey, MJ said you could meet him.” So I drove there at 6:30 in the morning to meet him. It was just him, Tim Grover and myself in the weight room. I was like a fly on the wall … quiet, nervous, and would only speak when spoken to. He was in the middle of a workout when I arrived, and I’ll never forget, he was doing these defensive slide drills and that caught my attention. I’m like, what guy is almost 40 years old doing defensive slide drills at 6 in the morning? That stuck with me. Then he took a break from his workout and was like, “We can work out this summer together.” I was like, “OK, cool” and tried to not cheese too much. I never forget I left there and called everybody back home. But of course, they didn’t pick up because it was 5 a.m. in Seattle.

Working out with him took my game to a whole different level because when the GOAT says he likes your game, it gives you a whole different confidence. It helped change my career and showed me what work ethic really is.

Did you really lose your Mercedes to Michael Jordan in a 3-point contest?

– from Charlie in Ireland

As the young kids say now, that’s 🧢. It didn’t happen.

Who was your favorite team and player as a child? And why?

– from Andrew in Oceania

Michael Jordan was my favorite player and the Bulls were my favorite team because of Jordan. When I saw Jordan, I saw perfection as a basketball player. I’ve never seen somebody make everything look so easy, while still bringing so much joy to watch them play. I would watch his moves and go outside to try to practice them. I would practice his free throw routine and how he moved on the court. Just different things. He sparked my imagination so much. I wanted to be just like Jordan. I wore No. 23 in high school because of him and I wore the wristband on my forearm because of Jordan as well.

When did you realize you could make it to the NBA? And when did you start seriously training toward making it to the league?

– from Elmeri in Finland

I realized I could make it when I was 16 and I was a high school kid playing against pros at Doug Christie’s Pro-Am, which is now the Crawsover Pro-Am. I played against guys like Shawn Kemp, Damon Stoudamire and Cliff Robinson. I had success and was like, “Wow, I think I can really make it.” At that point, it was just a dream. There was no social media to compare myself to. So having a pro say, “You can make it” changed my whole life.

I started training for it ever since I was a kid. I was training three or four times a day in the summer, just to try to be a better basketball player. So when you make it to the NBA, it doesn’t just happen overnight. All those days on the playground, all those days dribbling in the rain (that’s how I got my handles, by the way) helped train me into being a pro one day.

Who are your top 5 European players to play in the NBA?

– from Toni in Croatia

  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Nikola Jokic
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Pau Gasol
  • Drazen Petrovic

Most underrated player you played with?

– from Fabrizio in Houston, TX

Joe Johnson or LaMarcus Aldridge.

What is your all-time, straight-out-of-high-school team?

– from Owen in Rhode Island

  • Kobe Bryant
  • LeBron James
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Jermaine O’Neal
  • Amar’e Stoudemire

With JR Smith as the 6th man.

In your Seattle high school days, who was the best player you ever played against that never played on any major level that you think could have made it to the league?

– from Raheem in Williston, FL 

Doug Wrenn was the best high school player I played against. He actually played big-time college basketball at the University of Washington. I thought he should have played in the NBA for 10 years. Just sometimes the ball bounces a certain way, but he was definitely talented.

Where did you get your creativity from?

– from Aiden in Michigan

Watching a lot of players and then going outside to practice. I spent a lot of time by myself working on moves. Isiah Thomas was the first person I saw sit in a chair and go behind the back. Once I mastered that, I was like, “OK, I’m out here by myself. How can I take that to another level? Oh, I can go behind-the-back into the behind-the-back crossover.” I just started to build off of what I saw and had so many variations of different things.

But what’s crazy is that I’ve never shown my best moves. I was saving them for the All-Star game and since I never made it, I’ve never shown them. So now I get to pass them down to my kids.

Do you feel like one of your moves has gone under the radar, if not which one is the most underrated? Greetings from the UK!

– from Alex in Lancaster, England

The one where I threw the ball around Anthony Johnson – I love you AJ – but I threw the ball around him out of instinct. That move would’ve been big if there was social media back then.

Who do you think caught the worst of your crazy crossovers?

– from Hector in Hartford, CT

Back in college, I remember making a guy fall twice on the same play. He fell, I let him get up, then I did a move, he fell again and I scored. It was at Northwestern.

What was the hardest shot you had to take?

– from Rawl in Romania

I’m not sure if it was the hardest, but it’s one I absolutely never practiced. It was against the Warriors and I did a move on Andre Iguodala. He fouled me and I had to shoot it with a one-hand, under-hand scoop. I’ve never done that shot again.

What was the key to getting so many and-one 3-point shots?

– from Jake in Longview, WA

Well, you’ve seen me play before, Jake. I take some crazy shots. But I also shot when people least expected it. By the time they tried to react, I was already in the shooting motion. So that allowed me to get my shot off even though I was being fouled.

Which coach/team taught you the most in your NBA career?

– from Daniel in St. Louis, MO

I would say Larry Brown was the best teacher I played for. He was like a basketball savant. I learned so much from him.

Who do you think had the best style in the 2000s era?

– from Max in Colorado

Allen Iverson!

During those flights going to play other teams, what kind of activities/games were played between teammates?

– from Nathaniel in Chicago, IL

Most teammates played cards. That was the main thing to fill time on long flights. For me, I just listened to music and either read or browsed online.

I’m a loyal Hawks fan and want to know what you think about the future of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks?

– from Lael in Atlanta, GA

The future is bright. They just have to show stability. I think having Quinn Snyder there, someone who Trae really, really likes and enjoys, and Dejounte Murray, a guard who has the freedom to be himself alongside Trae, gives them the tools they need to succeed. With them growing alongside John Collins, I think there are some really good pieces in place. They just have to continue to embrace the journey. They set the bar so high with the East finals run that the past two seasons have been disappointing because everybody thought they would take off. They just have to continue to embrace the journey to greatness.

What is your view of Domantas Sabonis? What does he need to improve to go one more level up?

– from Marius in Lithuania

I love his game and how hard he plays. His skills and Sacramento are on the right track. If they continue to build on what they did this season, then the sky is the limit for them. They’re one of the best young teams in the NBA.

What do you think of Anthony Edwards’ game? What can make him better?

– from Antoine in Atlanta, GA

Anthony Edwards is a superstar. I love his game. He already started doing what can make him better – being a leader and continuing to make his teammates better. He took pride in being not just a shooting guard, but a lead guard who sets the table for everyone including himself. That’s the growth he can continue to do.

Do you have any specific tips that allowed you to become such an efficient 3-point shooter despite it not being a priority in your training early in your career?

– from Alfie in Hertfordshire, England

I’ve always loved shooting 3s. But there was a time when it wasn’t really accepted. Once I saw the game going toward that, I embraced it even more. Then it really changed when I started playing with the Clippers. I knew I would be off-ball more because Chris Paul would have the ball. To play with him and Blake [Griffin], I had to be a much better catch-and-shoot guy. So that’s when I really started honing in on that.

The key to improvement is just getting shots up at game speed. That can be a game-changer for a lot of players because if you just practice good habits, you’ll become a better shooter.

If you could combine all your abilities with any other basketball player in NBA history, who would it be? And why?

– from Te Moana Temu in New Zealand 

Michael Jordan because he’s the GOAT.

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