We previewed the rookie from Marquette before the start of the preseason, as an impressive summer league was still relatively fresh in our heads, and a desperate need to find hope following a crushing offseason was very much in effect. Perhaps no second round pick since Wang Zhi Zhi had come to Dallas with higher expectations; which isn't to suggest Crowder was expected to be a star, but more than second rounders are generally afterthoughts.
A quick recap:
Jae Crowder's path to the NBA was by no means typical. Before a late growth spurt shot him up and helped him shed the baby fat that plagued his adolescence, Crowder was as recruited as a football player as he was a basketball player. Originally committing to South Georgia Tech, Crowder discovered after a year that the school was uncredited. He transferred to Howard College for his sophomore season, and after breaking out there, Crowder received several offers as a JUCO transfer. He chose Marquette, and there under coach Buzz Williams, Crowder finished out his college career in fine fashion, working extra hard along the way to catch up in his studies with the year he lost at South Georgia Tech.
In our discussion with Anonymous Eagle, Brewtown Andy stated that Crowder was the best all-around Marquette player he'd watched in 20 years. That's extra impressive when you consider a certain shooting guard for the Miami Heat attended that school.
Despite numerous accolades, like Big East Player of the Year, Crowder was still viewed as a "tweener", and slipped to the second round of the 2012 draft. There, the Mavericks scooped him up, and were quick to point out that while traditional scouting may have knocked him, advanced statistical analysts raved about him. At the summer league, Mark Cuban was interviewed, and he extolled the virtues of Crowder, as Crowder proceeded to put on a show and win over many in attendance(myself included).
Crowder didn't exactly set the world on fire, as you can see, but there are a few positives here to look at going forward. The first of which is that he actually played, and that's no small feat, considering the man turning in the lineups every game. Coach Rick Carlisle is notoriously stingy in giving out minutes to rookies, and Crowder started over a dozen games and was in the rotation all season, despite the presence of two high quality small forwards on the roster, in Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.
A big reason I think Crowder got the burn he did is because he started off the season strong. Through his first 14 games, Crowder was shooting 42.8% from downtown, shocking numbers from the man who shot 35% from college the 3 at Marquette. Predictably, Crowder came crashing down to Earth, though he did experience a few more hot streaks as the season progressed. When Crowder stepped onto the summer league courts and began jacking up threes, it came as a bit of a surprise, as most scouting reports billed Crowder as a streaky shooter and someone who usually played inside-out.
That Crowder continued this approach in the regular season is less surprising(especially since the coach unapologetically stated this was his desire), but going forward, it might behoove him to try to diversify his offensive attack. I believe Crowder can improve from the 32.8% he shot as a rookie, but he'll never be confused with Steph Curry, and for someone as strong as Jae, it would be a shame to not see him try to force the issue inside a little more, as he did in college.
Where Crowder did live up to his college reputation is with his smarts and hustle. Crowder showed a knack for moving the ball and making the right pass, posting a very strong assist-to-turnover ratio for a rookie wing. He also intercepted his fair share of passes, and given his prolific thievery as a Golden Eagle, we can assume he will continue to steal the ball. Crowder rated pretty OK as an on-ball defender, though not exceptional, and Dallas defended better with him on the court than off. Crowder was also one of the only Mavericks to rate in the positive in plus minus.
What to expect going forward:
I think, for some, there is a sense of disappointment about Crowder's rookie campaign. I don't know why. It's true, he'll never be a star, but there's a lot of evidence here that Crowder can play, and that his contributions to team basketball should not be overlooked. Guys who can make the right pass, know where to be on defense, and knock down the occasional open jumper are not as common as you might think, especially not in the second round. I also think a big part of what made Crowder the stathead favorite is that his play improved every season as a collegiate, and the same can continue now. Crowder is a hard worker, and an unselfish, humble guy. If next year comes and goes without much improvement, then I'll concede that his limitations have simply finally caught up with him. But I'm not betting on that.
The first bit of improvement from Crowder will come when he's allowed to expand his offensive role, as I said above. More than half Crowder's shots came from deep, and that jumpshooting mentality sunk his free throw rate and his true shooting percentage in the process. Prior to the season, Grantland put up a piece about Crowder's ability to make cuts and find open spots in the defense. I hope we'll see a little more of that from Crowder in the coming season.
Of course, all that assumes Crowder is here. He is one of several players Dallas can cut without cap consequence in the pursuit of a big name free agent. I'm hoping that doesn't happen. Crowder is the sort of rotational gel-player that makes good teams better, and I could see him developing into a Jared Dudley(another guy who struggled with his shooting at first) type player soon.