NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: Favorites to win In-Season Tournament?

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on the In-Season Tournament, surprise teams, dribbling inspirations and more.

Jamal Crawford dives deep on meditation and spirituality with Lakers superfan Flea.

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 teams do you think will make it to the Knockout Round? And who do you think will win the In-Season Tournament?

– from Mikal in Miami, FL

The field is too wide open before Tuesday’s games to predict who will advance to the Knockout Round. We’ll have to watch and find out! But if the Suns make it, then I predict they’ll win the Tournament.

Which of these teams has surprised you the most so far in this young season: Rockets, Magic, Pacers, Timberwolves or someone else?

– from Deven in New York, NY

I’ll say the Rockets and Wolves, and to a lesser degree the Magic. I expected Orlando to be a surprise team, but I didn’t have them being second in the East. So those three squads have definitely surprised me this season.

Do you think the Golden State Warriors need a rim-protecting center?

– from Destiny in New York, NY

The Warriors need other guys to make shots alongside Steph. I think they can figure out rim protection. But their shot-making is the key since it will give Steph more room to operate. When Steph has space, they’re a more dangerous team … no matter who is protecting the rim.

Has spirituality, or some kind of spiritual practice, affected your game? In terms of being completely present in the moment, and letting go, and having faith when things might feel a little off on any particular day. Did you do any kind of meditation or prayers or anything like that, to let go of any distractions and get into the zone and have complete faith in yourself and connection with your teammates? Also, through some sort of spiritual practice or faith, were you able to access a more vast source of energy?

– from Flea on tour in South America

Yes, I absolutely prayed every single time before I stepped on the court in a game. I always tried to stay centered and in the moment. I didn’t think about anything behind me or in front of me. Michael Jordan was the best at being present, and because of that he just continued to stack those present moments and present days into a 1-of-1 type of career.

One thing that helped me before NBA games was to listen to the same music I played before high school games. That centered me because high school is when the game was the most fun and pure. And it’s when I was the most dominant. So the music helped me tap back into that mindset and provide the zen I needed to say, “OK, now you’re ready to go”, no matter how big the moment was.

And Flea, I have to say you’re a legend and I love watching you at Lakers games. I love the spirit you have for the game. Continue to crush it while out on tour! Much respect.

What do you think about Russell Westbrook’s decision to come off the bench to give the team a better chance to win?

– from Colin in Hayden, AL

I love Russ’ team-first attitude. That’s all I’ve ever heard about him from every teammate he’s had in every place he’s been. But for the way that team plays, I still think Russ starting and Harden coming off the bench is a better option. 🤷

What is your early take on the Timberwolves?

– from Theo in Minnesota

I’m very surprised at the level of consistency they’ve shown. They’re a young team overall but they look serious about what they’re doing and everybody’s on the same page. It’s going to be interesting to see how this early momentum will carry into the second half of the season.

There are always a handful of teams that start off strong, then taper out as the season progresses. Why do you think that is?

– from Joshua in Louisville, KY

Once the losing starts, the jokes aren’t as funny as when the season started. You get more into yourself and less into the team when struggles start. Then that spirals from there and now you’re mid-season like, “We don’t have a chance to do anything.” And then it gets really bad.

Why has the Spurs season started so bad?

– from Harry in England

We didn’t have expectations they would make the playoffs this year, so I don’t think it’s been bad. This is the year of Wemby. He’s learning the NBA game and the different rhythms of different teams. So this is the season for him to set the foundation for his full career, which in turn will establish how good San Antonio can become over the next decade.

I am a diehard Celtics fan. I am befuddled about the Celtics’ ongoing struggles against the Orlando Magic. Why do you think the Celtics have lost so many games against the Magic over the last two seasons?

– from Manny in El Paso, TX

It’s interesting you ask this because when I was watching Celtics-Magic the other night, it reminded me of how the Big 3 Celtics used to struggle against the young Hawks with Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Al Horford. Even when they met in the 2008 playoffs, the Celtics won the series, but the Hawks pushed it to seven games.

So sometimes it comes down to matchups. But other times it comes down to not knowing what you don’t know about a young team like Orlando when they’re out there hooping and not showing a certain level of fear. It makes for an interesting storyline, that’s for sure.

What do you think of Brandon Ingram?

– from Dennis in Oxnard, CA

I love his game. He goes about his business quietly, but he’s one of the best players in the league. He’s fearless. If the Pelicans are going to make noise in the postseason, he’ll be right at the center of that success.

What do the Pacers need to compete for a championship?

– from Jacob in Ft. Myers, FL

They need another player with elite talent to reach the championship level. If they can add any superstar to this group, they should take that chance.

I have been watching basketball since 1968. Here is my all-time top five most fun-to-watch team: Julius Erving, Earl Monroe, Pete Maravich, Connie Hawkins and Kyrie Irving. Who are your top five most fun players to watch?

– from Matthew in Boulder, CO

Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson.

How much of an impact have coaches had on your life and your experience as an NBA player?

– from Brody in Utah

It’s been everything. I still remember two early coaches I had – coach Bugs, who I played for as an 8 or 9-year-old, and coach Mike Bethea from the legendary Reiner Beach High School. He’s still there now. But coaches take on so much more than just coaching. They’re father figures.

I had the honor of playing for 5 of the top 15 coaches in NBA history. And I got the chance to talk to one of the most brilliant coaches ever recently.

Has coaching your son changed your opinion on coaches/coaching in general? If so, in what ways?

– from Caleb in Scotland

Well, coaching my son was a challenge at first because I so didn’t want to be a coach who favored his kid. So I was harder on him than anybody else the first year and a half. But with this season just started, he’s earned it. He’s earned everything that comes his way.

So I’m trying to treat him like I would any one of the kids, and that’s been my growth as a coach. But I care about all of them like they’re my son. So that’s really cool.

Who was your favorite player to practice with?

– from Colt in North Carolina

Michael Jordan. I got a chance to work out with him for two straight summers. Being around him and working out with the GOAT changed my life. His belief in me changed everything. I got to see how he worked, even at 39 years old, at six in the morning every day. Nobody else is even close to him.

What is the most underused move in basketball, and why should players bring this move into play?

– from Aiden in Martinsburg, WV

The most underused move is an up-fake. A simple ball fake freezes the defender. It makes them guess. If you do a ball fake and he doesn’t jump, you have the shot. If he jumps, you can get around and make the play. So I think that’s an underused move.

Who was your biggest inspiration when it came to dribbling?

– from Xavier in New Jersey

It started for me with Isiah Thomas. He was the first person I was mesmerized by watching him dribble the ball.

And then Tim Hardaway, Allen Iverson, “White Chocolate” Jason Williams, “Skip to My Lou” Rafer Alston, Nick Van Exel, Rod Strickland, Baron Davis, Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury. Those guys, especially the earlier ones, all inspired me to go outside and dribble. From there, my imagination took it away and my mind started working and working. Then I discovered things by accident and it took on a life of its own. Still to this day, new moves come to me while I’m playing and I’m like, “Oh, keep that for later.”

Who was your first NBA mentor? And who was the first player you took under your own wing?

– from Robby in Candia, NH

My first NBA mentors were Gary Payton and Doug Christie. They were both right here in Seattle. One was from Seattle (Doug) and one played in Seattle (Gary). So I had the best of both worlds. And they were two different types of mentors. Doug showed me how to be a pro and work on my game. Gary was more of the mental stuff off the court. How to deal with situations and handle different things. So it was the perfect balance.

My first mentees in the NBA were Will Conroy and Brandon Roy.

What was the best Raptors team you played against?

– from Keeton in Toronto, Canada

Maybe it was because I was a younger player, but to me, the best Raptors team I faced was the Vince Carter and Charles Oakley era in the early 2000s.

How hard is it to go on a back-to-back in two different cities and play without getting tired?

– from RJ in Reno, NV

It’s hard, but you just have to really lock in on your recovery and preparation. So if you have a back-to-back, you need to drink more fluids and get more rest. Some coaches only hold a morning meeting instead of a shootaround to help the team stay rested before the second game. That extra rest can go a long way when it’s time to perform and everyone is watching.

Being one of the NBA’s best guards to play the game, what is your advice to young NBA players on how to stay focused and how not to get distracted living a celebrity lifestyle?

– from Frank in Washington D.C.

In a simple form, keep the main thing the main thing. The celebrity lifestyle couldn’t happen without basketball. Nobody would know you if it wasn’t for basketball, right? So everything that comes is from the foundation of basketball. If you keep basketball as the main focus, you’ll be alright.

After a very successful playing career, you seem to be doing really well. What kind of advice would you give to other players when they face retirement?

– from Oscar in Galicia, Spain

Find your passion. You can do different things to occupy your mind and your time. But if you’re passionate, it gives you a whole second wind and you attack it with the same dedication and hard work that you put into your sports career – whatever sport it might be. So find what you’re passionate about and that will lead you where you need to go.

During your time in the NBA, which season did you feel like you were in your prime?

– from Ninongnirm in Las Vegas, NV

It’s interesting because my best statistical season was New York with averages of 20.6 points and 5.0 assists. But I was a better player with the Hawks. And then an even better player with Golden State and LA. So I’ll go with the Clippers, even though I was 32 when I went there.

That was the best point of my career as far as the team, my role, and everything in between. It made me figure out how to be just as effective with less time, fewer shots and less time on the ball. To do that, I had to add other tools to my belt, which made me a better player. It’s why I was able to win Sixth Man of the Year at 34 and 36 years old – the oldest anyone has ever won an individual award.

Did you ever run into Tom Brady while in college and if so were you guys friends although you played different sports?

– from Reagan in Nanticoke, PA

We had what they called training tables. It was basically a dinner that basketball and football players had at the same time. They would go to our games, and we would go to theirs. So yeah, I did run into them a lot. But I haven’t seen him since.

What is your favorite video game to play?

– from Vidal in Grand Island, NE

I don’t play video games. I stopped playing with NBA Live 95. I was like, “I want to be in the video game. I don’t want to play it anymore.”

Hi Jamal, I’m a big fan, I’m trying to learn your iconic double behind the back, do you have any tricks or drills that helped you get it?

– from Wissam in Parla, Spain

Before you think about the ball, think about your feet. The ball will follow your feet.

Have A Question For Jamal? Submit It Below!

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