Free agency is basically over so teams looking to improve must resort to the trading block. That’s why our A Walk Around The Block series will take a look at different aspects of the trading block, from players likely to move and teams that might make moves to reasons why these trades may happen and some fun trade proposals of our own. Today we look at the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford.
Boasting a career average of 15.5 points per game and zero playoff games per year, Jamal’s misery was finally alleviated when he was traded to the Hawks in the summer of 2009. After years of doubt and with his fifth different team, Jamal finally gave us every reason to believe that so far, he has simply been a victim of circumstance, finally playing for a team with higher aspirations than “let’s not lose all of our games, K?”
The Hawks asked Jamal to come off the bench every night and do what he’s good at (take the ball, shoot a lot, make a decent percentage), not what he’s bad at (virtually everything else). The result was Jamal taking the ball, shooting a lot and making those shots at the best percentage of his career.
Last season, Jamal posted a career high true shooting percentage (57.3%) to go with the best FG% and 3PT% since his second year in the league (45% and 38.2%, respectively). Fully embracing the sixth man role for which he is tailor made, he showed that he can be a major contributor to a playoff squad, and was rewarded with the Sixth Man of the Year award.
How wonderful — a much maligned player finally gets the monkey off his back, mere seconds before the Oxford dictionary officially inserted his picture next to the definition of “selfish high usage scorer on teams that go nowhere.” A real-life Hollywood film.
Or was it?
Other than the record attributed to his team, how different was 09-10 Jamal from 03-09 Jamal? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Jamal had the least assists per 40 minutes in his career at 3.9, beating his previous mark of 4.6. His assist ratio was similarly low at 14.7. This, despite a career-high usage rate of 24.4. His turnover rate was a career best at 8.5, though from a per-minute stand point he was only slightly under career averages (1.7 in 31.1 minutes last year, 2.1 in 32.4 minutes for his career). His rebounding was right around those career averages as well, at 2.5 a night, meaning that his shockingly bad rebounding rate remained just that (4.8. Come on, Jamal, jump). And let’s just not discuss defense, because you know where this is going.
So basically, Jamal was pretty much the same as always, only sharing the ball less and scoring more efficiently. Much more efficiently, to be sure, but not the sort of incredible turnaround it would seem at first glance.
The truth is, despite the great story that was Jamal’s 09-10 campaign, he’s still pretty much the same guy. He is a player with a limited skill set who can be very good in situations where that skill set is needed and just as detrimental when that skill set is not needed and/or when he is asked to do things that skill set does not include.
And that skill set is one of a high-volume shooter. How effective he is as one is arguable, but whether you play him as one or not, that’s the only thing he can do at an above average level. That’s what he does. He is at his best when shooting a high-volume of shots. When the volume of his shooting is high. He requires a high shooting volume. Shooting. Volume. High.
And in Atlanta, Jamal was free to shoot that high volume he loves so much. Whether the Hawks planned this in advance or just caught a lucky break with Mike Woodson’s isolation heavy offense, Jamal isoed and isoed and took long jumper after long jumper and made more than he ever did before. The lack of assists can easily be dismissed as “they didn’t ask him to pass, they asked him to score. He’s just filling his role.” And the career-best shooting is hailed as “he’s a new player.”.
Well, he isn’t. The incomparable Kelly Dwyer said it best:
Now, before we start to treat Jamal as this league’s ultimate martyr, understand that a whole lot of Crawford’s 2010-11 run screamed “fluke.” Sure, he was acting and playing as he always has, but his success rate at doing what he’s always done was way, way higher that it’s ever been in his 10-year career. Because the shots go in, and because he’s working his way toward those shots in the same way you’ve seen him try it for a decade, it’s hard to notice that these makes seem a bit disproportionate given his past.
So it’s more than likely, at age 30 (and hitting 31 in March), that Jamal will slunk back down to earth slightly in 2010-11. The guy’s been right around 41 percent shooting (35 percent from deep) his entire career, so for him to make 45 percent and 38 percent last year sends all sorts of warning signals to fans that know that shooting percentages, ahead of just about everything else, are the flukiest stats to behold. Beware the guys that see those numbers jump up for a year. And welcome, with open arms, those who saw their percentages dip unexpectedly the year before. Because they’ll bounce back.
So yes, Jamal’s turnaround last season was a joy to behold. Nobody can be mad at a guy who finally gets it – Zach Randolph and Josh Smith had me bouncing in my seat all season – but please note that it wasn’t as turnaround-y as it was an extremely fortunate set of circumstances.
While the optimist in me wants to believe that from now and until he retires, we’ll see the 09-10 Jamal, it must be said that if those shooting percentages drop back the way statistics dictate, the new saint-like Jamal could be short lived.
Will He Be Traded? Should He Be Traded?
Much like Carmelo Anthony, Crawford has asked the Hawks to trade him so he can get an extension before the frightening 2011 free agency period (Crawford has one year left on his deal for $10 million). The main difference here (besides the caliber of the player) is that Crawford is reportedly all for staying with Atlanta long term – he just wasn’t offered the chance.
This means that even if, to the naked eye, trading for Jamal poses some Meloesque risks (giving up assets for someone who could bolt), chances are, if you offer Jamal money to stay, he will stay. (Does not apply to Minnesota.) Throw in Jamal’s value as an expiring deal, and trading for him makes sense.
Of course, if you’re Atlanta, trading him makes even more sense. Though locking in your core has it’s value, the Hawks already signed Joe Johnson (their third best player, by the way) to a ridiculous $120 million extension. Combine that with Josh Smith’s eight-figure deal, Al Horford’s upcoming extension, Marvin Williams’ remaining $32 million over four years and Atlanta’s history of reluctance to spend, and you have quite a financial pickle. Especially while remembering that Crawford’s current yearly salary of $10 million a year is way too much for what he can give you.
Atlanta’s situation is tricky basketball wise, as well.
Though they have established themselves as a top four team in the East the past two seasons, they are now in danger of being knocked back to first round fodder by the still strong Magic and Celtics, the new-look Heat, and the ever improving Bulls and Bucks. The roster still has major holes – no big man depth, a corpse starting at point guard, stuff like that. By drafting Jordan Crawford, the Hawks have what they hope is an adequate replacement for Jamal in the “scorer named J. Crawford coming off the bench” role. To improve the rest of their roster, Jamal is pretty much their only asset.
And if we’re already looking for reasons why Jamal can be redundant, let’s throw out new coach Larry Drew. Mike Woodson’s Hawks were famous leaguewide for playing the most iso-ball this side of Lebron James. The main beneficiaries were Joe Johnson and Crawford, who were given the ball and told to score.
Drew, however, is promising a balanced offense with more ball movement and less standing around watching. Whether this actually happens remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the Hawks would be better off letting Horford and Smith create some offense (if not all of it) with their great post and passing skills than watching various shooting guards go one on one.
Mix all of these together, and you have a plethora of reasons Jamal’s Atlanta stay should end. Considering Jamal’s successful 09-10 season and entire career so far have been, as we said, greatly affected by circumstances, perhaps the abundance of now negative circumstances should be a strong hint.
The Asking Price
As it always is with Jamal, every zig has a zag, this one being that Jamal is still an integral part of this Hawks squad. This means that even if the Hawks are intent on moving him rather than paying him, they would (should?) expect to get back pieces to bolster their rotation. No Jamal Crawford for Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton, thank you very much.
However, we then zig back to the Hawks’ payroll. As much as they’d want to get back rotation players for Jamal, they probably don’t want to be paying them big money in the long term. Not extending a 30 year old shooting guard to acquire another 34 year old point guard with 3 years on his deal isn’t what Atlanta is looking for.
In a perfect situation, the Hawks can move Jamal for a combination of cap relief and cheap-yet-legit rotation players. Teams that are under the cap and can thus absorb more salary than they give back could have an advantage here, but since most of those teams are in the midst of rebuilding processes, it’s probably too much to ask for.
As has already been mentioned, Crawford is very effective when inserted into the right niche. It’s highly unlikely that he will be as good as he was last year, but he can still help a team in need of a perimeter creator off the bench. This means that any potential suitor must have that need for a deal to make any sense at all.
Of course, even then, the team must be willing to invest in a aging shoot-first guard with one good year on his resume. Seeing how Jamal is reportedly sick of Atlanta because they won’t pay him, one must assume that he will treat any team he goes to the same way. So teams looking to acquire a one-year rental will probably get a very angry one-year rental. And when Jamal is angry, he kills your team from the inside. All of this creates an absurd situation where the Sixth Man of the Year has very few good fits.
There is one team for whom Jamal is a very good fit as far as style of play, although him moving there is as unrealistic as it gets: the Orlando Magic.
While I am a true believer in Jameer Nelson and I despise the voices that cry out “Orlando needs a true clutch player,” I do think they could use another player who can create his own shot from the outside. Vince Carter was brought in last season to fill just that role, and while, again, I think the massive criticism against him has been too harsh, it’s hard to state that he’s delivered.
Jamal can fill that roll for Orlando.
On the other hand, this is a pretty bad fit for several reasons. First, if the Magic bring in Jamal, they must move either Vince or JJ Reddick. And I wouldn’t move Reddick for Crawford (he’s too good an all-around player and too young to move for an aging one-trick pony), and I doubt Atlanta wants Vince.
Even if Vince is moved, that’s still a lot of players vying for back court minutes. Jameer and Chris Duhon have point guard locked up, and small forward is so stuffed with the likes of Pietrus, Q-Rich, and occasional spot duty by Ryan Anderson and Rashard Lewis, that either Pietrus or Q could see minutes at shooting guard as well. And of course, Atlanta would probably rather not help a division rival.
So while the fit makes sense on some levels, it probably doesn’t pan out.
Looking through other teams, the Mavs always seem to have a need for a high usage two-guard as well, but with Jason Terry and Caron Butler on board, I don’t think Jamal will be worth the price they will have to pay. Last year’s Bucks could have used Jamal’s scoring, but he’s not as good a fit as trade acquisition Corey Maggette since he doesn’t get to the line as much, and I don’t think you want those two on the same team again. Chicago needs shooters, but not of the high-volume, questionable-efficiency kind.
The best fit I see for Jamal is the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Bobcats are desperate for offense, and could play Jamal at point while letting Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw run the offense. It’s not ideal, but since the team’s starting point guard is DJ Augustin, they aren’t getting much play-making from that position any way (although I’m a big fan of the Shaun Livingston signing as a back-up point). They can also offer Atlanta the big man they need – either Erick Dampier or Nazr Mohammed. If Larry Brown, for whatever reason, talks himself into taking Mike Bibby, they might be able to dump his dead weight deal as well.
All in all, though, you can see that the options aren’t great, which should tell you how even though Jamal supposedly turned it around, he still has many problems to his game (again, basically everything that isn’t high volume shooting).
Atlanta seems to have good reason both to keep Jamal and to move him. Conversely, despite his fine play last season, any team acquiring Jamal will be taking a major risk while doing so.
Usually, situations like these mean that the player is staying put. But Jamal is, as always, a special case.
With Atlanta probably knowing that he is the piece they can best utilize to acquire new, key components, and with Crawford coming off such a strong season, there may be one or two teams that can talk themselves into bringing him off the bench for 30 minutes and 14 shots a night. Then again, the Hawks could also talk themselves into paying Jamal more than he is worth to stay on their squad.
Either way, I doubt Jamal doesn’t get paid.
Despite the progress made in evaluating players, scoring is still the stat that is overrated the most, and a strong scorer like Jamal will always find a suitor. Whether he can live up to that billing for another year is yet to be seen.