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Clippers Free Agent Retrospective: Jamal Crawford’s Scoring, Personality, and Style Will be Missed

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Jamal Crawford had an up and down five year stint with the Clips, but was an important piece to the best teams in Clippers’ history.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Key Clippers’ Stats:

· From 2012 to 2016, played 370 games (out of a total of 410), starting 34

· Averaged 15.3 points per game, 2.6 assists per game, 1.8 rebounds per game, and 1.7 turnovers per game

· Shot 41.3% from the field, 35.3% from three (on 5.1 attempts per game), and 88% from the free throw line (on 3.6 attempts per game)

· Played 46 playoff games, starting 1

· Averaged 13.8/1.9/1.8 with 1.2 turnovers per game in the playoffs, shooting 38.5/27.6/90.2

· 3rd for Clippers all time with 662 threes, and 5th in FT%

Expectations:

It’s hard to remember this now, but expectations for Jamal Crawford when he arrived in the summer of 2012 weren’t super high. He was already 32 years old, and had just had his poorest shooting season (by far) since his rookie campaign way back in 2000. There was every reason to expect that the downward trend in scoring and efficiency would continue in Los Angeles. Furthermore, while Jamal had been well liked by fans at most of his previous stops, Portland fans reviled him, blaming him (as well as Ray Felton) for their collapse into the lottery the previous season. Finally, Jamal was replacing the popular Mo Williams, who had been quite a good 6th man for the Clippers in the 2011-2012 season. While most people would have said Jamal was a stronger pure scorer than Mo, Mo was unquestionably the better point guard, and a far superior shooter. Many people thought the Clippers were downgrading their bench production, not improving it. Therefore, it was unclear what exactly the Clippers were going to get out of Jamal, outside of one thing—poor defense.

Reality:

Jamal Crawford was undoubtedly one of the best bench players in Clippers’ history (not saying much, admittedly). At the same time, he was one of the most frustrating. His skills are undeniable, and his scoring kept the Clippers afloat numerous times when the rest of the bench (or the starters, ever) let them down. He also blew tens of thousands of defensive coverages and took a bajillion bad shots, sinking Clippers’ comebacks on dozens of occasions. Jamal Crawford is the ultimate yin and yang player. He provided a lot of great things for the Clippers, but also was clearly a negative quite a lot of the time (especially in later years).

To be fair to Jamal, a clear distinction should be made between his first two seasons on the Clippers (high scoring, solid efficiency) vs his next two (medium scoring, low efficiency) and the last one (low scoring, solid shooting). During Jamal’s first two Clips’ seasons, even though the poor defense and baffling shot-taking were present, they were mere flaws in a fantastic bench scorer. He absolutely dazzled in 2013-2014, when he averaged 18.6 points per game and rightfully won the 6th Man of the Year award. The Clippers’ benches in those early years were also significantly stronger than in later seasons—Jamal’s numbers suffered as time went on not just due to his own decline, but also because he had to do everything himself. Last season, when the Clippers had other competent scorers and ball-handlers alongside Jamal, his scoring dipped and his shooting percentages went up. So while Jamal may have failed the Clippers at times, the Clippers’ also let down Jamal as well by not providing him with enough support.

Any fears about Jamal’s personality were quickly quashed in Los Angeles. He proved himself very available (and insightful) for the media, was generous with fans, and by all accounts was one of the most well-liked and respected players in the locker room. For all those things and more, he became beloved by the Clippers’ faithful, even those who weren’t huge fans of his game. Through five years of constant rumors of locker room dissension, Jamal was one of the few bright spots, rarely coming up in a negative manner. He was a calming and uniting force in the locker room, as every player respected him. There aren’t many players in the NBA who command that kind of attention, and the Clippers will miss that presence immensely. Overall, Jamal was super easy to cheer for—and that is no small thing.

More importantly (certainly for casual fans, but even for dedicated ones), Jamal was a joy to watch, frustrations and all. When he is hot, there are fewer players in the NBA that look more unstoppable. His crossovers are still a thing of beauty even in his late 30s, his first step remains deadly, and there are few players with a greater variety of shots in their arsenal. Some of the dribble moves he performs might not be replicable by anyone in the NBA—possibly even the world. While there are plenty of shoot-first gunners in the NBA, nobody plays quite like Jamal Crawford. That uniqueness is, by its very definition, special. I will miss watching Jamal play basketball on a regular basis, because there was always the possibility he would do something that I’d never seen before.

Not all was sunshine and roses, to be sure. His playoff stats, as seen above, are putrid. The only playoffs he shot even close to acceptably well was in 2013-2014 (39.8/34.2). The playoffs are small sample sizes, especially for teams that never make it past the second round. But collectively, 46 games tell a story, and in this case, it’s a story of Jamal’s game not quite translating to the playoffs. Defense is a lot tougher, and foul-drawing is harder. Jamal was never able to make his game efficient in the playoffs, largely due to his horrible three-point shooting. Some of that is undoubtedly due to small sample size, but in the playoffs, results trump process. If the Clippers could replay their playoff series over the past five years, Jamal would almost certainly shoot better in them. Sadly, that’s just not how it works. He got his chance to shine on legitimate contenders in the postseason, and he let the Clippers down. I’m sure Jamal wishes he had played better. We all do. But what’s done is done.

Legacy:

I liked Jamal Crawford. So did a lot of other fans of the team. He was fun to watch, he was good (at least early on), and he was a positive presence for the team in the locker room and off the court. Jamal didn’t change the franchise or set unbreakable records, yet he was still a valuable component to the best Clippers’ teams of all time (so far). He was also a Clipper for longer than he was on any other team—when people remember his long and storied career, they will probably think of him in a Clippers’ uniform. That’s pretty cool.

Jamal Crawford might not have a statue outside of Staples Center when his career is over. Nor will his number 11 be sent into the rafters. Yet there will be a place for Jamal in most Clippers fans’ hearts, and he is someone that is going to be remembered for a long time. Jamal Crawford will get a standing ovation upon his return to Staples, and it will be well deserved.