If one were to rank players according to the frustration they cause among the Moneyball crew, Jae Crowder was a regular in the discussion last season. It might seem unfair to label a second round rookie frustrating, but he showed such potential early and had flashes of solid play often enough to keep us interested in his progression. Leading into this season, one of the questions on the back burner was whether or not Jae Crowder was a rotation player for the Mavericks.
If we're being absolutely fair, Crowder's rookie campaign was a smashing success. He played 78 games, starting 16, had modest stats, and, most importantly, he contributed to a .500 team as a rookie. If we're being overly critical fan "analysts", Crowder's rookie year was an exercise in hair pulling.
He was a darling of the statistical world prior to the draft and he looks like a fearsome basketball player. Carlisle threw him to the wolves early with his defensive assignments and he fared as well as can be expected in the Western Conference. Offensively, he never seemed to identify a role. Though he had the occasional hot shooting game, he shot poorly from just about everywhere. His shot was erratic, he rarely attacked the rim, and he rebounded poorly for someone so physically imposing. He was a "three and D" player who wasn't very good at three's. His summer league performance didn't alleviate fears and heading into this season it was important Crowder improve on both ends of the floor if he hoped to become a rotation regular.
During the preseason we heard all the typical, positive spin coverage regarding a player with upside like Crowder, in particular that he lost weight. His performance during the pre-season didn't calm down his critics (namely Andy Tobo and myself), but he often found himself paired with end-of-bench players who didn't end up making the team.
Fast forward to the regular season. In game one he saw only 9 minutes of action, taking and making one corner three pointer at the start of the forth. Against the Rockets, he played a few minutes in the second quarter as Dallas was mainly trying to hang around, but the game ended up getting out of hand by the fourth. Then something weird happened: during garbage time he hit 5 of 7 from deep, making a blow out look respectable in the box score.
After the game he told Tim Brown: "A lot of times I fade away on my shot [in games], so when I land I'm already out of my shot...For sure [adding a lot of arc to my shot] is one thing I've been focusing on as well. Trying to get the ball up there, so just in case I do fade on my shot, which I tend to do, I'm making sure I have a little bit more arc on it so that it tends to go in [anyway]".
Maybe it was just a one-off game, after all, guys get hot in the NBA. But over the last five games Crowder has continued to shoot well, hitting 20 of 34 shots. He leads the league in effective field goal percentage at 75.6%. He's 6th in the league in true shooting percentage. Will he be a league leader all season? His 43 attempts are far too small a sample, and it stands to reason he'll come down to earth at some point. If he can shoot, say 42% from the field this season instead of last season's 38%, he becomes quite a bit more valuable for the Mavericks.
His defense was his main asset last year, and the weight he lost over the summer seems to have added a bit of quickness needed to deal with the glut of small forwards which rule the NBA these days. Considering the offensive mindset of this year's Mavericks, it's hard to determine if Crowder will earn regular minutes no matter how hot his shooting. Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are ahead of Crowder on the depth chart as it stands. But with each passing game, Crowder's versatility shifts Carter from bench necessity to valuable trade asset.
So is Crowder worthy of a rotation spot? Absolutely. His hot shooting is bound to cool, but he understands what causes his form to falter. He's made himself valuable on offense instead of being a question mark. Crowder's minutes might vary depending on match up, but he's earned his role in this season's Mavericks.