After winning a record third Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2015-16, Jamal Crawford declined sharply in the 2016-17 season.
Jamal Crawford in some ways looks exactly the same as he always has on the court. He looks almost identical to the 20-year-old who entered the league with the Chicago Bulls. His game looks almost the same as well, with his incredible handles and sweet jump shot.
Crawford won a record third Sixth Man of the Year title in 2015-16, his second with the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite turning 36 during that season, Crawford secured a three-year, $42 million contract to remain with the Clippers.
While Crawford still does not look a day over 25, his game finally began to show signs of age last season. His offensive game took a step back, and his already troublesome defense fell off a cliff.
Jamal Crawford’s contract is only partially guaranteed in 2018-19. However, his huge salary number puts the Clippers in a tough spot this offseason. Fans will have to hope that 2016-17 was a down year in the ageless Crawford’s career. If he continues to decline, however, his contract will become an anchor tying down the team’s future chances of success.
Offense: Poor choices, or fewer chances?
Jamal Crawford has always been a difficult shot-maker. He is basically the personification of the old Charles Barkley saying: “The only difference between a good shot and a bad shot is if it goes in or not.”
Crawford’s exceptional dribbling skills and silky smooth jump shot allow him to will in these kinds of shots:
Despite Crawford’s ability to make bad shots, he took more of those bad shots last season than ever before. Crawford has never been reliant on scoring off of passes; he has been assisted on less than half of his buckets in every season since 2013-14. However, Crawford was assisted on just 34 percent of his looks last season, a sharp decline from 40.6 percent the year before.
Additionally, Crawford’s shot selection last year trended toward more difficult looks. He attempted only 3.9 triples per game last year — the first time he has taken fewer than four per game since 2005-06. Crawford also only got to the line 2.5 times per game — the first time he has taken fewer than three free throws per game since 2002-03.
Some of Crawford’s decline in the efficiency of his attempts can be attributed to playing without Chris Paul or Blake Griffin for long stretches of the season. However, the underlying trends point to Crawford being less able to get to his spots than ever before. While the injury issues will hopefully return to normal next season, Crawford’s ability to find good looks seems to be on a troubling decline.
Defense: Matador Supreme
Jamal Crawford has never been known for his defense. Even in his athletic prime, he was a scoring threat who gave up almost as many buckets as he allowed.
However, Crawford’s already poor defense took a huge step backward last season. He finished the year with a Defensive RPM of -3.18 per ESPN. That was the 98th worst number among 99 qualified shooting guards. Crawford was 72nd out of 80 shooting guards in 2015-16 with a Defensive RPM of -2.72. However, that is a far cry from barely avoiding being the worst defensive 2-guard in the league.
The defensive statistics for Crawford were horrendous, but somehow they do not even tell the whole story. Crawford barely put any effort into guarding his man last season. On the rare occasions when he did try to stop his man, he would either get blown by as his man charged to the rim or get wrong-footed when lunging for a highlight reel steal. His attempts to switch in pick-and-roll situations were prime fodder for defensive film about what not to do in those situations.
Teams have been willing to put up with Crawford’s poor defense for years. His incredible offensive production more than made up for his defensive lapses. However, Crawford’s offense took a step back this year, and his defense fell from miserable to disastrous. That combination is a worrying sign for any J-Crossover fans.
Future Outlook: A move down the bench?
Jamal Crawford crafted a career out of being a premier Sixth Man. However, his future may be in a role slightly farther down the bench.
In some ways, Crawford was not even the Sixth Man for the Clippers last season. Austin Rivers actually averaged more minutes per game despite coming off the bench for a majority of his appearances. Those numbers are somewhat skewed by Rivers’ increased minutes during his starts.
However, Rivers’ increased role may be a sign of things to come for Jamal Crawford. Rivers may jump into the starting lineup full-time next year if J.J. Redick moves to a new team this offseason (as is the prevailing assumption).
A Redick move would allow Crawford to maintain his place as the first man off the bench. If he loses another step next year, however, he may find himself spending more time watching Clippers games than playing in them.
Overall: Fun to watch, but not to pay
Jamal Crawford is still one of the league’s more entertaining players. His fancy ball-handling and penchant for tough shots make him a highlight reel waiting to happen whenever he starts to heat up.
In addition to his fun to watch game, Crawford is a beloved teammate and quality veteran presence. Even if his game finally begins to decline, his teammates will still love having him around. Furthermore, any young guard (and Austin Rivers in particular) could learn a lot from Crawford’s love of the game and ball-handling wizardry.
However, the Jamal Crawford that we saw in 2016-17 did not even come close to living up to his pricey new contract. Even if last year was a down season, Crawford was not worth that kind of money in 2015-16. Crawford should be a fan favorite despite his poor defense, but his contract will play a role in J.J. Redick’s departure — and in Clippers cap struggles for years to come.