2012-2013 Clipper Player Previews: Jamal Crawford

Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images

For three weeks this preseason, we'll be publishing Player Previews for each of the 15 players currently under contract with the Clippers. In some cases there may not be much difference from last season's Exit Interviews, but the team does have seven new faces, and there were some significant developments over the off-season for some of the returning players as well, so let's get caught up with all of them before the season starts. Today's edition, former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford.

Jamal Crawford career stats (12 seasons)

PPG

APG

SPG

MPG

PER

15.3

3.9

1.0

31.8

15.3

Jamal Crawford is an NBA Rohrschach test -- people see in him what they want to see. Or maybe it's actually the seeing that's the problem. Because if you watch Jamal Crawford long enough you're bound to see him do something spectacular at some point. And I do mean spectacular. He's one of only 25 or so active NBA players to have scored 50 points in a game -- and the only player in NBA history to have done it with three different teams. He is also the NBA career leader in four-point-plays -- by a wide margin. The guy knows how to score.

He also stands out because, much like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony and others, Crawford has a knack for making very difficult shots. And if you're a fan of the opposition when Crawford does these things, you may feel like your team is playing good defense, that they did everything they could to keep him from scoring, that they forced him into a very difficult shot -- and yet he still scores. And when he's doing it to your team, you start to think that he just can't be stopped.

And then you look at his statistics, and they tell a slightly different story. Because even though Crawford is a relatively proficient scorer, especially for a bench player (a career high 20.6 points per game in 07-08, 18 per in just 31 minutes in 09-10 when he won the Sixth Man Award) he's never been a particularly efficient scorer (under 41% from the field in his career). He makes a lot of really tough shots partly because he TAKES a lot of really tough shots. And while those shots really make an impression when they go in, taking a lot doesn't tend to help one's shooting percentage, and it may not be helping one's team a lot either.

The Clippers have to be doubly concerned with the addition of Crawford this summer. They signed him to a four year contract for the full midlevel exception. It works out to 4 years and about $21M, though the third and fourth seasons are only partially guaranteed. But not only has Crawford been an inefficient shooter in his career -- he's coming off one of the worst shooting years of that career, making just 38% from the field in a difficult season in Portland last year.

However, there's one thing that is often overlooked in the perennial "points per game" versus "shooting efficency" debate. While it's true that scoring for scoring sake is probably overvalued in the NBA at the expense of efficiency, one thing is often forgotten -- every team has to take some number of difficult shots every game. There's a 24 second clock on every possession, sometimes defenses shut down what you were trying to do, some possessions just don't go very well, and the simple fact is that across almost 100 offensive possessions per game, a significant number of them end up in bad shots. Someone's got to take them (unless you want to just take the shot clock violation) and in those situations, having a Jamal Crawford on your team becomes incredibly valuable.

This is why Crawford has found success as a sixth man well into his career. For six seasons, Crawford was a starter, starting 348 of 466 games he played from 2003 to 2009. But NBA second units rarely have the same level of overall offensive talent as first units, and having a guy who can carry the offensive load, particularly one who can generate his own shot, becomes very important.

That will clearly be Crawford's role on the Clippers. When the Clippers traded for Chris Paul and signed Chauncey Billups in December 2011, they moved former starter Mo Williams into that bench scorer role, and he played well there. Coach Vinny Del Negro seemed to like having a designated scorer coming off the bench, to the point where he left Williams in that position even after Billups was hurt. Indeed so far in the preseason we're seeing a similar pattern play out -- while Billups is still out, Crawford remains on the bench, as the designated scorer for the second unit.

And so far so good. It's only preseason, and it's only three games, but Crawford has been terrific so far. His crossover (and this is a guy whose twitter handle is @jcrossover) is nothing short of nasty, perhaps the best in the league with Allen Iverson retired. And he's shown his traditional bent for making really tough shots.

Surprisingly, for a guy with a reputation as a chucker of the highest order, Crawford is actually a good playmaker. He was originally drafted as a point guard, and played a lot at the point in his career before finally settling into the bench scorer role. He has good court vision and will definitely make the pass to an open teammate, often in spectacular fashion as fans found out early in his first appearance as a Clipper when he hit Blake Griffin with a 40 foot lob pass.

The Clippers had to get a shooting guard with size this summer and Crawford was among the best available. He is not without his flaws, that much is clear. He will miss a lot of shots this season as he has done throughout his career. But he will also fill an important role on the team. Not only is he a 6'6" guard (an option the team simply didn't have for most of the season last year) he's also the guy who can take on the scoring load for a second unit that is very good, but not particularly offensive minded.

Will the Clippers get Crawford circa 2010, the guy who won the Sixth Man Award in Atlanta, or circa 2012, the guy who spent one dreadful season in Portland missing almost two thirds of the shots he took? Most likely it will be somewhere in between, but if he plays anything like he's played so far in preseason, the Clippers will be very happy with their biggest free agency signing of the summer.

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