NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: Most impressive thing about the Luka-Kyrie backcourt?

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on the West Finals, Jayson Tatum, his Top 5 shoes and more.

Jamal Crawford narrates Dallas' strong start to the West Finals in the latest episode of Chasing History.

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’s been the most impressive thing to you about the Luka-Kyrie backcourt?

– from Tyler in Dallas, TX

The most impressive thing is their humility. This is the first time either of them has played with a backcourt mate like this, and they’re at a point now where they can lean on each other. If Luka’s in a rhythm, then Kyrie can back off and let him dominate. And vice versa if Kyrie is on one of his runs. It’s a special dynamic to witness.

What is happening to the Timberwolves’ dynamic offense against the Mavericks? What has changed since the Nuggets series?

– Jacob in Highland, UT

Their dynamic offense comes from their dynamic defense, which hasn’t come into play in this series. And that’s made it more difficult for their offense to get into gear. The way Minnesota plays defense was a perfect style against Denver. But against Dallas, it’s the best style for the Mavericks to attack.

The drop coverage worked against Denver because it forced Murray into the paint, made him make a decision and took away the roller from attacking the rim. Against Dallas, it’s helping the Mavs’ best players stay in rhythm because if they miss two or three shots, then they can easily get to the midrange for a 15-footer, which is like a layup if you work on it like Luka and Kyrie. It’s tough for Minnesota, because if they blitz instead of drop, then they can hit you with a late pass to one of the bigs. And Luka is one of the best late-passers in the game.

Has Jayson Tatum finally taken that next step in these playoffs?

– from Boston in Layton, UT

Well, he’s taking a lot of steps. Right now, he’s doing whatever it takes to win that game on that day. And if that’s considered a next step, then yes, he has. It’s been impressive to watch his evolution and his maturity. His leadership started not only in the playoffs but at the beginning of the season when he gathered the team and decided how they would make it work with six players who are considered starters.

Assuming it’s a Celtics-Mavericks Finals, do the Celtics need Kristaps to win?

– from Ben in Massachusetts

Uh oh, we know what assume means! But yes, they absolutely have to have Kristaps to defeat the Mavericks. The Celtics are a great team without him. But he makes them a superpower when he’s out there because he can dominate from anywhere on the floor. There’s a reason he was so hyped as a unicorn when he entered the league. If he’s healthy, then it will be a different series.

Were you ever down 3-0 in a playoff series? How difficult was it to lock in for Game 4?

– from Sam in Detroit, MI

I was down 3-0 in a playoff series to Orlando in 2010. It wasn’t difficult to lock in. You just know there’s a chance that the season could end that night, which is tough to accept.

We got the Magic back the next season!

What’s the most valuable thing a coach can provide at this point in the playoffs?

– from Victor in Denver, CO

Obviously, adjustments during the series. But the most valuable thing is to keep your team locked in on the bigger picture throughout the highs and lows. Like sometimes a coach can do things like call a practice or film session, and then when everyone gets there you take them bowling instead to get their mind off of the series and help them reengage. It helps you see things in a different way when you can get away from basketball for a moment. That to me is a coach’s gift. And it’s sometimes more important than the adjustments they make on the court.

Which remaining team has the best chemistry?

– from Ben in Massachusetts

I haven’t been with every team, so from the outside looking in, I’d say it’s the Mavericks. You’re seeing J-Kidd and Luka hugging,  Kyrie giving every single person a handshake, even Luka giving a high-five to Kyrie’s wife. All that connectivity carries over from off the court to on it.

Do you think Jalen Brunson cemented himself as a Knicks great during this playoff run?

– from Scott in Port Matilda, PA

Absolutely. He had one of those magical Knicks playoff runs that cement you as a legend. And it wasn’t just the playoff run. It’s been the last two seasons. I thought he should have been an All-Star last season. It’s been so much fun as a basketball fan to see his ascension and how he’s made New York relevant again.

After a team is eliminated, do players usually keep watching playoff games? Or is it tough to watch the next rounds?

– from Malik in Sacramento, CA

I’ve seen and experienced both. It depends. Sometimes you can lose a hard-fought series and say, “I just need a break from it.” And you come back a week or so later for the Finals. Or it could be, “You know what, I didn’t have a good playoff run so I need to watch to see if there are little things I can pick up going into the summer training.” So I’ve seen it work both ways. More times than not, I was right back to watching. It was easier to keep watching if the series was a blowout loss than if it was a hard-fought, 7-game series.

NBA coaches are being fired left and right. Do you believe the issue is really the coaches?

– from Nathaniel in Chicago, IL

I’ve always had the mindset that you win as a team and you lose as a team. The coaches are usually the first ones to get the finger pointed at them, and I don’t think that’s fair. Now that I’m a coach – 8th grade AAU, so I don’t think I’ll get fired anytime soon – I’m very sensitive to how coaches look at things and how they manage the team, especially at a higher level. So yeah, I don’t like how quickly the coaches are getting blamed.

This year, most of the First-Team All-Defense were bigs while most of Second-Team All-Defense were guards/small forwards. Should All-Defensive teams go back to being positioned?

– from Chase in Tulsa, OK

The tough part is we’re playing positionless basketball and mostly everybody is switching now on certain coverages. So it’s hard to say what a player’s specific position is defensively if they’re guarding everybody in some respect. I think the current setup works well.

If you could attend any NBA game in history, which game would you choose and why?

– from Riley in Melbourne, Australia

Michael Jordan’s last game with the Bulls against Utah. There were so many elements to it. The way they were down and had to rally. The fact he had almost half the points in the last game. Pippen’s injury. How MJ was able to score, go get a steal and score again all in the same sequence without a timeout. It was magic. So that’s the game I’d go to.

At what moment in your career did you notice a skill change? (Where you achieved a new level of breakthrough).

– from Sam in South Carolina

My summer after my rookie year, because I started working out with Jordan. Once I started working out with him, it was one of the only times in my life when I felt my game jump to a whole new level. It was so weird. I could feel my game growing, and then I got hurt. But I took what I learned. And the injury helped me become a better shooter because I would sit in a chair and focus on getting my form perfect.

It’s one thing to have confidence. It’s another thing to have NBA confidence, which I got that summer when I was playing with the GOAT. Him having confidence in me sent my confidence through the roof.

What are your top 5 favorite sneakers when you’re hooping?  Do you have an all-time favorite shoe?

– from Mike in Houston, TX

Here’s what I’ve been wearing for the last few years:

  • Curry 10 – This is the pair that never leaves my home gym
  • Jordan Jumpman – This is the pair I take on the road. I don’t even know the exact model, it’s just a type of Jumpman. They don’t have a symbol.
  • KD 13s – These are thin, so they work well for me
  • Why Not Zer0.3 – Haven’t worn these in a while, but they’re solid
  • J.Crossover 2 – My shoe with BrandBlack!

And my all-time favorite shoe is the black Jordan 5 with the silver tongue. My life changed when I saw those.

How did you find out about winning the Sixth Man Award? Was it just a shock to you as it was to other people or did someone tell you before the announcement?

– from Tyler in Mississippi

It was a shock to me, especially my first one. The Hawks’ PR guy Arthur Triche told me right before the announcement. That was a game-changer for me because it was never the goal to be a sixth man. I just wanted to be on a winning team.

How does it feel to win teammate of the year? How do you set yourself apart from the rest as a team leader?

– from Mike in Frankfort, KY

I didn’t even know that was an award. So when I heard about it, I didn’t realize it was a league-wide thing. I thought it was just for my team. When I found out it was for the whole NBA, I was very proud. And now it’s probably the award I’m most proud of because it’s not something you’re trying to win. You’re just trying to do the right thing for everybody and think about them before your own goals. It was cool to just be nominated by my teammates. But it was another level to be recognized by other players I didn’t play with.

Jamal – I’m an unbiased Rockets fan. I’m pretty sure you’re an unbiased basketball fan. I’m curious to know your thoughts on the ’94 and ’95 Finals IF Jordan doesn’t play baseball. Do the Bulls win eight straight or are the Rockets able to win one of those vs. Chicago?

– from Jay in Houston, TX

Let me make it clear, the Rockets were great and you should never underestimate the heart of a champion. Rudy T was unbelievable. Hakeem was one of the best players ever. Clyde, Kenny, Robert Horry. They were amazing.

But when you’re talking about the GOAT … once he figured out how to win championships, he won every time he got to the Finals. So I have to go with him to win both of those titles, too.

How did you avoid making excuses and keep focus on getting better? Basketball wise and in life.

– from Jalen in Memphis, TN

My dad always taught me that if you want an excuse, there’s one out there for you. You can always find an excuse. I’ve always felt like if I made an excuse, then I was cheating myself. Like I was cheating myself from going through adversity and cheating myself from going through the grind to get better. I couldn’t look at myself knowing I did that. So I just tried never to make excuses. Period.

How can I be more creative and get handles like yours?

– from Joel in Tacoma, WA

Creativity comes from imagination. Being by yourself with the ball will help you be more creative because you don’t have anyone to impress or guide you. It’s just your imagination with the ball. So if you keep the ball with you at all times, then you’ll find more opportunities to tap into your creativity.

Look I know you’re 6’5, but how did you get around opponents who were bigger than you when you were younger? I’m currently in AAU and I’m struggling with doing that in the paint.

– from Vann in Michigan

Learn to use their strengths against them. While I’m 6-foot-5, I’m usually the thinnest player on the court. So I try to use their aggressiveness against them and master my feet. No matter what, if you have good footwork in any sport, then you’ll become a better version of yourself. Once you have the footwork down, then it’s easier for you to turn an opponent’s strengths into weaknesses.

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