If Jamal Crawford leaves the Clippers, will they suffer?


Jamal Crawford is the Los Angeles Clippers’ instant-offense spark plug and former Sixth Man of the Year. He’s carried their bench for the last three years, but with a plethora of new second unit talent with their offseason signings, how much will the Clippers actually suffer if he’s traded? If he does leave (as various reports have been suggesting for weeks), the Clippers lose one of the best ball-handlers in the game and the man who’s carried their weak second unit so well. If he stays, they keep a creative scorer who can be used to great effect when his shot’s falling.

With two new big men in Josh Smith and Cole Aldrich, the sudden need to trade Crawford for some additional frontcourt depth has somewhat ceased. Although, now that Jamal is coming off one of his most inefficient seasons in the NBA and a poor performance in the playoffs, would the Clippers be much worse off?

Or, more to the point, with the additions of Smith, Paul Pierce, Lance StephensonWesley Johnson and Branden Dawson, has Crawford’s value diminished?

Before delving into why the potential loss of Jamal Crawford might not be as bad some Clippers fans may think, one thing needs to be reiterated: he’s one of the most skilful veterans in the game. That isn’t a knock against his age, because his street-ball type talent is on par with anyone in the NBA. But the effortlessness at which he moves with the ball is deserving of some acknowledgement.

He won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2012-13, and even at 35 years of age he finished third in the race for the award again this year. His ball handling is nearly unparalleled and his ability to heat-up in an instant has served as the anchor of the Clippers’ lacking bench. But after one of the least efficient seasons of his career and a poor showing at times in the playoffs, what exactly are L.A. losing if he’s traded?

May 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) drives to the basket during the fourth quarter as Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry (31) defends in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 115-109 to tie the series at 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This season, Crawford made only 39.6 percent of his field goal attempts (his second lowest mark since 2004-5) and shot just 32.7 percent from beyond the arc (the fourth worst mark of his 15 year career). Of course he still has the ability to heat up in an instant, that’s why he’s one of the league’s best heat-check guys. And whilst his role will be reduced slightly with the arrival of Lance Stephenson, Crawford’s efficiency can’t hover around the low thirties in big games.

Quick flashes of his instant offense can still make a real difference, but with a host of new players who can all contribute off the bench, it’s hard to rate Crawford’s value to the Clippers as highly now.

However, it cannot be denied that he’s had some of the best years of his career in Los Angeles. After averaging at least 20 points per 36 minutes in each season he’s spent with the Clippers, Crawford has established himself as an automatic Sixth Man of the Year candidate. And seeing as he’s had just four seasons averaging 20+ points per 36 minutes in his entire career (three of those are with the Clippers), he clearly suits their fast paced, offensive style.

One of the reasons he’s been so effective, though, is because of how much the Clippers have needed him. Yes, he’s extremely talented and his moves never get old, but with more versatile role players filling the roster, how important will he be this year?

43.4 percent of Crawford’s field goal attempts this year were three pointers. That’s all well and good for a team who ranked third in three pointers per game (10.1), although his 32.7 percent finishing rate doesn’t make his perimeter shooting as necessary. And when you consider the fact he only made 24.3 percent of his threes in the playoffs, adding some diversity won’t hurt the Clippers’ bench by any meas.

This is where Stephenson and Smith are the key players to look out for.

Lance often uses his handles and strong, 6’5″, 210 lbs frame to attack the rim effectively and finish through contact. He’s made 65.6 percent of his shots from within three feet throughout his career, and that kind of interior physicality is something that Crawford can’t quite pull off.

Then there’s Smith. Whilst he did expand his range and efficiency during his time with the Houston Rockets this season (shooting 33 percent from three), he’s still a nightmare for opponents due to his fierce athleticism and ability to finish at the rim. He doesn’t drive to the basket as often as he did with the Atlanta Hawks, but if the Clippers can encourage him to play inside as the explosive power forward he is, they can maximize his talent.

He made 66.9 percent of his shots from within three feet this season and can be a terror in transition, especially with Chris Paul to execute alley-oops with. On top of that, Smith also averaged 2.6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, which is just another way he can make a difference in the paint, as well as from the perimeter.

So, what does this new bench duo mean for Crawford?

This season, the Clippers’ only second unit player capable of scoring in double digits on a consistent basis was Jamal Crawford. With Stephenson and Smith, they now have three such players. And with Pierce and Johnson, they have two more perimeter players who shot at least 35 percent from deep this year.

Obviously depth doesn’t go unwanted, and when it comes to the Clippers, a complete bench is something they’re only just experiencing for the first time this summer. Yet, with so many three point shooters across their roster, the kind of offense that Crawford has to offer just can’t have as much impact now.

April 22, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) shoots against the defense of San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (14) during the first half in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If the Clippers are still thinking about trading Crawford, it may not happen for quite some time. The second unit Doc Rivers has in place now is well rounded at every position, and there’s certainly a place for Crawford — even if his minutes are reduced.

He could be traded, but would the Clippers really get their moneys worth in return? One of the rumored transactions would send Crawford to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for center Brendan Haywood. Yet, with Cole Aldrich in place to back up DeAndre Jordan, Haywood will do little more than keeping the bench warm. And he certainly won’t do enough to warrant the departure of Crawford.

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The addition of Josh Smith may have just saved the Clippers’ frontcourt and Jamal’s career in L.A. in the process. No longer is there the same sense of urgency to send him elsewhere, and he can still contribute even if he seems like an excessive extra among so many new signings. However, if a trade partner becomes available for the Clippers to exchange Crawford for a veteran guard with better passing and defense, or another tough big man, it might just be the best thing they can do.

Jamal has given a lot and he still has more to give. But with more depth than ever, it’s time for the Clippers’ second unit to focus on their athletic versatility instead of streaky shooting and highlight crossovers.

If they do that, it may help improve their chance of winning a championship.

Next: Austin Rivers is the perfect Clippers backup