Last month, while I was working on my Nick Young feature, I asked Wizards guard John Wall what he thought about two of his former teammates’ divergent yet equally successful paths to relevance in the NBA.
At the time, of course, Young was enjoying the hottest and most efficient scoring tear of his professional career. Meanwhile, Jordan Crawford, who had essentially replaced Young as Washington’s volume scorer in 2012, had reinvented himself as a facilitating point guard with the Boston Celtics.
To my surprise, Wall sounded like he had always expected Crawford to excel in a point guard role:
“[Young and Crawford] are two different players,” Wall explained to SheridanHoops. “Jordan has actually played point guard before and he seems very comfortable in doing that. He just had to play more of a scorer’s role when he was here. They’re both having great years so far, and I’m happy for both those guys cause they were my teammates before.”
Before pairing up with Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens, Crawford had never averaged more 3.0 assists per game over a full season. However, after starting 35 games in place of Rajon Rondo, Crawford has proven to be an extremely capable facilitator. He’s averaging 5.7 assists per game this year — directly on par with Damian Lillard. Per 36 minutes, Crawford’s assist totals boost up to nearly seven per game.
But with Crawford getting shipped to Golden State in Wednesday’s abrupt trade, he will obviously leave his role as a starting point guard. Some pundits have assessed Crawford as a “heat check” scoring acquisition for the Warriors. Yes, Crawford is averaging 13.7 points per game and does have an aggressive scorer’s mentality.
However, Crawford will be relied upon more for his facilitating prowess when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala need breathers than for his scoring abilities. As he proved in Boston, he’s more than capable of dialing back the field goal attempts when he wants to get his teammates involved.
Crawford joins an already dangerous Warriors’ offense and makes them potentially lethal. Golden State has officially become the only team in the league to boast a rotation of four starting-quality guards with extensive experience as both primary facilitators and primary scorers at high levels.
Curry and Crawford have both succeeded as starting point guards in the NBA this season. Meanwhile, Iguodala and Klay Thompson both assumed distributing roles in college and have high basketball IQs.
In other words, the Warriors’ “amphibious four” in the backcourt should allow coach Mark Jackson to mix and match guard duos throughout the remainder of the season.
Golden State had struggled earlier in the year to make up for the facilitating and scoring void that Jarrett Jack’s departure created. While Crawford doesn’t quite have the distributing experience that Jack brought, he should still be a significant upgrade over Toney Douglas and Nemanja Nedovic as the backup point guard.
And if all goes according to plan and Crawford proves to succeed as a backup point, it will take a major burden off of Curry to run the show as a distributor. In turn, this should set up a lot more quality looks from the corners for both of the “Splash Bros.”
As it stands, Crawford should have enough games with Golden State under his belt to qualify for the award by the end of the season. While I don’t expect him to make up enough ground to seriously threaten Reggie Jackson, Mo Williams or Ginobili individually, I do expect him to make the Warriors deep enough to threaten anyone in the playoffs.
Now, onto the rankings…
|1||MO WILLIAMS, G, PORTLAND: Took the top spot last week and announced his plans to test free agency this summer. What should he expect? His hot January might net him a bigger pay day. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 6.0 assists in only 25 minutes this month. More importantly, Portland bounced back with two convincing wins at home.||1|
|2||MANU GINOBILI, G, SAN ANTONIO: Came back from injury to help the Spurs to two wins last week. He’s averaging 5.6 assists in five January games and his team is enjoying a six-game winning streak. If the Spurs win the Western Conference, Ginobili deserves strong consideration for the award.||2|
|3||MARKIEFF MORRIS, F, PHOENIX: After a couple of weeks without a standout performance, Morris exploded for 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists in less than 30 minutes to help his Suns snap a three-game losing streak against the Lakers on Wednesday.||3|
|4||ALEC BURKS, G, UTAH: We profiled Burks earlier in the season but even we couldn’t have predicted the 22-year-old’s rapid development as a scorer. He went off for 34 points against Denver on Monday and followed it up with a 20-point night in San Antonio on Wednesday. Utah now looks decent; largely because they are decent. They have mysteriously alternated wins and losses over their past 14 games.||–|
|5||DION WAITERS, G, CLEVELAND: The Cavaliers have won three of their last five and Waiters has looked very strong of late. He’s averaging 15.6 points and 3.5 assists in January and has improved his distributing while cutting down on his turnovers.||–|
DROPOUTS: Nick Young (4); Tyreke Evans (5).
FIVE TO WATCH: Jordan Crawford, G, Golden State; Danny Granger, F, Indiana; Gerald Green, F, Phoenix; Lou Williams, G, Atlanta; Rodney Stuckey, G, Detroit.