Jamal Crawford has been terrific so far in his first season as a Los Angeles Clipper. He's leading the team in scoring at 19.7 points per game and is scoring at a career high level of efficiency. Compared to his season so far, Crawford had an off-game Monday night in San Antonio. He was 4-14 from the field for just 11 points and he also committed four turnovers. By any reasonable statistical analysis, 28 percent from the field and four turnovers is not just a sub-par game, it's a bad game.
So were the Clippers struggling with Crawford on the floor? In fact, Jamal had a +13 plus/minus in 29 minutes, the second best plus/minus on the team. Plus/minus, as we well know, is a very noisy metric and not always reliable, but still, is it possible something else is going on here?
Let's look at Crawford's fourth quarter shots to get to the bottom of this. The simple fact of the matter is that shot creation has value, even if the shots aren't going in, and Crawford is a great shot creator.
Crawford was 2-7 in the fourth quarter Monday night, a perfect microcosm of his 4-14 night shooting. But if you dig into those seven fourth quarter shots, you see that not all misses are created equal.
- 10:52 -- Under heavy defensive pressure, Crawford misses a contested 18 foot jump shot.
- 9:30 -- Crawford sinks a tough runner in the lane, one of his two fourth quarter makes.
- 8:53 -- Crawford gets a good look at a 17 footer, Ronny Turiaf tips in the miss.
- 7:52 -- Crawford penetrates and misses a tough layup, Turiaf dunks the miss.
- 5:28 -- On a fast break, Crawford misses a layup, Eric Bledsoe tips in the miss.
- 2:42 -- Crawford sinks an 11 footer.
- 1:00 -- Crawford misses a 30 footer.
So the box score tells us that Crawford missed five of his seven fourth quarter shots which is not good, but it also tells us that the Clippers scored 10 points on those seven shots, which is very good indeed.
Let's take the Turiaf follows specifically. If you watch those plays, you see how much attention the Spurs defense is giving to Crawford. On the first one, which is a jump shot, Crawford lays his usual array of moves on Gary Neal. Manu Ginobili is leaning towards Crawford the entire time, and finally goes to help as Crawford crosses up Neal. As Crawford goes up for the shot, Tiago Splitter rotates to Ginobili's man Matt Barnes, leaving Turiaf an open lane to the basket and an easy tip in.
The next one is even more straightforward. Crawford beats Neal off the dribble and heads down the lane. Splitter has not choice but to challenge Crawford at the rim, forcing Crawford into a tough shot, but in the absence of Splitter, Turiaf is completely alone at the rim for the follow stuff.
This is where many statistical measures of players are blind, some particularly so. Long time readers know that I am no fan of Wins Produced from Wages of Wins, and this is perhaps the best example of why not. WP, as is evident from the players that rank highly in the metric, tends to reward rebounding bigs who shoot rarely and punish high volume shooters. Players like Marcus Camby, Reggie Evans and DeAndre Jordan are superstars in WP, while Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant and, yes, Jamal Crawford are ranked lower than conventional wisdom might expect. In the case of these plays, by the WP formula, Crawford gets dinged a point for missing a shot, while Turiaf gets the double benefit of a rebound and a score. Yet any reasonable observer would attribute at least some portion of the success of these plays to Crawford, who did most of the work. Reasonable people can disagree on how much credit should go to Crawford as opposed to Turiaf -- I personally would argue that the majority of the credit goes to Crawford -- but the fact remains that Crawford had a role in those scores.
Anyone who has played basketball knows that this is how it works. When Crawford draws Splitter to help, he knows that Turiaf is open. Sometimes you can make the pass (in which case Crawford gets an assist in the scorebook instead of a missed shot), but sometimes you can't -- but you know that if you can just get the shot up, it's almost as good as a pass, because your teammate has the rebound. There's no such thing as a bad shot if your team is in position for the rebound.
Crawford has never scored with the efficiency we have seen from him so far this season. Hopefully he'll continue to be that efficient, though odds are he'll revert to the mean at least some. But the ability to create shots -- late in shot clocks, or when the offense breaks down, or when no one else on the floor can do it -- is always valuable, even if those shots aren't always going in.