Is Jamal Crawford becoming the player Clippers need him to be?


Jamal Crawford has finally found some rhythm in the absence of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. He’s been struggling up until now, whether it’s been his ball movement, shot selection, or simply the actual amount of shots he’s taking. Things just haven’t come together, and before his last game he was averaging just 11 points on 38.4 percent shooting per game. After a sudden offensive explosion against the Detroit Pistons, though, has Crawford started giving the indication that he knows how to play with this new Clippers squad?

Well, as we mainly have just one or two performances to look at, everything has to be taken with a slight pinch of salt. With such a small sample size of notable performances, we only have the start of an answer for that question. However, the point is that Crawford has at least started to show how he can fit in.

Even if it took Paul and Redick being out to do so, he’s at least made a step in the right direction. The next challenge will be to fit in with the bench again after starting against Detroit.

Obviously when looking at Crawford’s 37 point, eight assist, six rebound night against the Pistons on Saturday, and his previous game with 18 points on 50 percent shooting against the Phoenix Suns, the amount of sheer scoring is what first stands out. Although, that’s really not the most important thing to focus on. Even more so because if Paul and Redick were available against the Pistons, Crawford wouldn’t have taken anywhere near 27 shots — no matter how trigger happy he gets sometimes.

Sure, 37 points was nice for the Clippers. No one could have expected that. Not even Crawford himself would have entered the night expecting to get that hot when Blake Griffin has been carrying the offense so well this season.

Of course, shots were falling that hadn’t been during the start of the season, but there’s more than that. His shot selection, intent to drive, and aim to find his teammates more is starting to show that he can adjust his style. He began to show that he can change his game from the constant high-volume scorer he was as Sixth Man of the Year Crawford, to a quick-trigger, pass focused, slightly wiser Crawford that the Clippers need.

The game against Phoenix, and even the previous one against Detroit, haven’t ended the issues with Crawford’s offensive play, though. We know his defense isn’t great, but he’s still been taking far too many long twos, contested jumpers, not looking to pass frequently, while shooting too early in the shot clock at times to be effective on offense.

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He won’t turn into a pass-first player like Paul and he won’t be the dead-eye shooter that Redick is who’s happy to play off-ball. That being said, with some lobs to DeAndre Jordan, consistently feeding the ball into the post to Griffin, swinging the ball around the perimeter more and tallying eight assists because of it, Crawford’s game against the Pistons was a rare one.

Playing 40 minutes also made it one to remember as he isn’t get any younger at 35 years old.

So, would you like some more evidence of how rare it was? Crawford had just one game all last season with eight or more assists. He simply doesn’t look to pass as often as he did against the Pistons.

In fact, he only had 15 assists in his first nine games combined this season. So to reach more than half that total in just one game (even if he played 40 minutes) indicates a slight change of mindset. He looked to drive and pass back to Griffin on multiple occasions rather than pulling up to shoot, and that hasn’t always been the case this season. It still needs to happen more, but it’s a start.

Nov 14, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) reacts after an assist to forward Blake Griffin during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Clippers won 101-96. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

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He continued to take plenty of long twos which is still a problem for when his shot stops falling. However, the key takeaway of potential change is whether Crawford can look to pass more (as he did against the Pistons) when he is having problems with his shot. Long, off-balance twos simply won’t work all the time, so such outbursts still won’t be a regular occurrence while Paul and Redick are out.

Following the Pistons game, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said that, “Jamal is a great scorer. He’s human too and hasn’t had some great games. We knew it was in him. It is not like he forgot how to play” (per Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times).

Doc’s right, Jamal Crawford hasn’t forgot how to score, he’s just not been choosing the correct shots or moments to do so. Maybe after a couple of strong performances and seeing how adjustments to his game can help the Clippers, that will start to change.

At the very least, we’ve seen more possessions where Crawford has shown that he can change his game to become the player that the Clippers need him to.