Last season was an interesting one for Jamal Crawford. It not only featured him being one of the instrumental cogs leading the Clippers into the second round, where they lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it also featured him receiving the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award — an award that Crawford could have just as easily won the prior season. It all came together for Jamal Crawford in that one moment, almost as if all his work and sacrifice for the team had paid off and rewarded him with the validation that he rightfully deserved. But before we look forward at Jamal Crawford's 2014-2015 season, let's look back on his 2013-2014 season and see if we can find any building blocks going forward.
Jamal Crawford's shot distribution and shot percentage charts from 2013-2014
The above GIF showcases a few things. There's four different charts and they can be confusing without explanation. The first chart, which is blue and grey and features the traditional court appearance, is what Jamal Crawford's shot distribution (based on percentages) was last season when broken down into only a few segments — left-corner threes, right-corner threes, above-the-break threes, mid-range shots, shots inside the paint, and shots inside the restricted area. The third chart, and excuse me for skipping forward a bit, is the shot percentage — or, rather, his performance based on field goal percentage — for each of those same quadrants.
The second and fourth charts go together as well. Those charts slice the court up into more quadrants and break things down even more. These charts don't just go with the traditional "in the paint" and "restricted area" stuff. They break those down into any shot taken inside of 8 feet, and then go in 8-foot increments all the way out to the three-point line. So it'll be "inside 8 feet", "8-16 feet", "16-24 feet", and then three-point shots from that area. It's all relatively simple once you get used to it.
Anyways, we notice some interesting trends with Jamal Crawford, as far as last season is concerned, when we take a look at each one of those charts and piece them together. In the first chart, the traditional chart, 30.16% of Jamal Crawford's shots last season came in the mid-range area. He made 44.74% of those shots, though. In the second chart, the more chopped up one, 37% of Jamal Crawford's shots last season came in the 8-foot to 24-foot range. He made 43.16% of those shots. In fact, 66.02% of Jamal Crawford's two-point attempts last season came from beyond 8-feet. So, to put it plainly, Jamal Crawford is primarily a jump-shooter. But we knew that already. He's made a career of taking and making the most ridiculously tough shots in the league.
Jamal Crawford makes tough contested jumper over Steven Adams
That GIF of Crawford from Game 6 against Oklahoma City last season is an interesting one when you break it down. Crawford gets the ball from way up top and is one-on-one with Kevin Durant. Then DeAndre Jordan runs up to set a simple ball screen and Crawford just jets to the right and directly into the path of Steven Adams, who actually does a wonderful job of cutting off the paint from Jamal Crawford. So what does Jamal Crawford do to counteract Adams' blocking of a lane to the paint? Oh, he just rises up in the 7-footer's face and hits a crucial shot in a crucial game. Is that a shot you want a guy taking all the time? Not really. Not even close, actually. But it's one that Jamal Crawford has mastered. It's just Jamal doing Jamal.
But, in that very same GIF, you can see the problems that Jamal Crawford can have in an offensive system from time to time. For instance, as he's driving into the face of Steven Adams, you can see Matt Barnes slicing over the top of the three-point line and flashing open because Russell Westbrook lost sight of him. There's also Chris Paul slicing through paint and ending up wide open in the corner because Reggie Jackson gave up on chasing him in order to cut back and help out on Crawford's drive for reasons I'm not sure of. Also, DeAndre Jordan was seemingly open for an alley-oop when cutting into the paint with the only deterrent to a slam dunk being Reggie Jackson and we all know how that would have turned out. All you'd have to do is ask Brandon Knight. And then there's the fact that there's still 16 seconds on the shot clock when Jamal rises up and fires. So while the shot did go in, and the result certainly helped, there were possibly better options available for the team as a whole.
With all that said, that's what makes Jamal Crawford who he is. He's an excellent tough shot maker and is a good three-point weapon to have. He's streaky, he's adept, and he's fun to watch at times. But there also times when he's maddening to watch because you can see that his "score first" mentality takes over and can be hindrance to the team. And none of this takes into account his defense. There's an entire package of Jamal Crawford, and when you peel back the layers, you can see a very complex set of parts that actually fit into this team very well.
So, how does any of that tell what kind of possible impact and season he'll have this year? Well, let's finally talk about that. Jamal Crawford started 24 games last season when J.J. Redick went down. However, Crawford also missed his own share of games since he only played in 69 of the 82 contests. The games started were the most he's started in a season since he started 65 games back in the 2008-2009 season with Golden State and New York. He also happened to be 28 years old then, not the 34 years old he is now. Do we expect Jamal Crawford to start 24 games again this year? Unlikely, unless unforeseen calamities happen again. But it's nice to know that Crawford is there, waiting in the wings, in case anything were to happen again.
One of the primary concerns with Jamal this season is whether we'll start to see some age-related regression. Last year he set a Clippers franchise record for both three-point shots attempted and three-point shots made. But his bread-and-butter is still that tough mid-range shot that he's mastered over the years. He still doesn't like dribbling left a whole lot and has some problems finishing around the rim which is why he resorts to a myriad of floaters and crazy layups in order to get his shot off. However, despite all of that, Crawford is an offensive weapon because of his ability to get crazy hot and seemingly will the team back into games when they need him to.
But, as mentioned, he is a year older. 34 year-old legs don't work like 33 year-old legs do. His decline in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and two-point field goal percentage last year as compared to the year before provide some proof that perhaps Jamal is on the decline. But maybe Jamal felt his legs going a little bit which is why he started passing more. While there's no passing data from other prior seasons, in terms of actual passes per game, last season Jamal Crawford averaged 30.2 passes per game, which was good for the fifth highest mark on the team. He also racked up 5.9 assist opportunities per game and 7.5 points created by assists per game. Jamal seems, at least a little bit, to be passing more. One of the signs of an older player who realizes he can help the team in other ways.
In a lot of ways, Jamal Crawford is a cheap option to have coming off the bench. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year will be making $5.45 million this season and have just one more year left on his deal. It's a non-guaranteed year worth $5.675 million. In this age of the NBA, that's pretty much chump change for a reliable 17.5 point per game scorer, which is what Jamal Crawford has been over the last two season in Los Angeles. There's a small possibility that Crawford could be traded during the year if the team feels it can upgrade their small forward spot but I wouldn't bet too much on that since Crawford is so good at what he does.
There's good and bad with Jamal Crawford. He can light it up in a hurry and help get others involved at times, but his defense and lack of quality shot selection can also hamper this team. This upcoming season will have a lot in store for a 34-year old Jamal Crawford. He's probably going to get 30 minutes a night again, he's probably going to average around 17 to 18 points per game again, and he might actually be more efficient this year since his running mate on the bench in the backcourt this year will be Jordan Farmar, who actually seems to fit quite nicely next to Crawford — since Farmar appears to look to get others involved more than Darren Collison did. And that cannot be understated. That's a huge factor for Jamal's offense this year.
With a better scoring bench unit this season as opposed to last season, it's certainly likely that the pressure of being the go-to-scorer off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers will be a weight lifted off of the shoulders of Jamal Crawford. With Farmar, Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis, and whoever the small forward that night off the bench will be, the onus won't fall squarely on Jamal's shoulders to make something happen. And perhaps, just perhaps, that could rejuvenate Jamal Crawford into having a more efficient season than he's had so far with the Clippers. Only time will tell with this scoring savant.