A little over a month ago I auditioned for the esteemed position of Mavs Moneyball contributor with a post about Jae Crowder and covered his college history, expectations and disappointments. So I'll try to touch on something new this time. Inquiring minds can take a look at my thoughts about how he might be a dark horse or the odd man out with the Mavs' new stockpile of talent here.
At the time, I felt with the addition of Al-Farouq Aminu at small forward and more point guards to give Devin Harris additional minutes at big guard, as well as Richard Jefferson working either spot, Crowder might be on the losing end of a battle to get significant minutes in the rotation -- that is, unless he is really able to step up and shoot better as well as making a more visible impactful difference on defense. Since that time, Rick Carlisle has also shown his interest in making the Mavs a little tougher and more physical. Tyson Chandler and Aminu will certainly help with that, and Carlisle has voiced his appreciation for the grittiness that Jameer Nelson brings to the table. Can Jae join the party?
Looking at last year
As mentioned in my previous rundown, Crowder came out of the draft with big expectations even though he was a second-round draft pick. Using that as a barometer, he's exceeded expectations. But looking at evaluations of his ability and how he performed at Marquette, not so much. Still, he has clearly shown signs of things that Rick Carlisle really likes.
His second year was still little disappointing, as it wasn't drastically different from his first year. Still, despite playing about a minute less per game and scoring slightly less, he made significant improvements in his field goal percentage, free throw percentage and PER. More of a problem was his inconsistency: if you look at his splits there are wild swings from month to month, including a particularly dreadful April when he shot only 15.4 percent from the field over an eight-game span. Ouch.
It was encouraging to see his two consecutive triple doubles with the Texas Legends -- it shows he is capable of doing a little bit of everything.
Here are the first game highlights vs. the Los Angeles D-Fenders:
and the repeat great performance:
Hopefully it wasn't just something about the D-Fenders...those games were in March, preceding his struggles in April. It would be great if he could translate those D-League performances to his NBA games.
Best case scenario
As mentioned previously in looking at his college game, Crowder was thought to be a potential impact maker on both ends of the floor and it showed up in his D-League games. He looks to be taking a significant step in effort that's already showing up on the defensive end. If he continues his upward trajectory, he should become one of the go-to guys on defense and hopefully produce enough on offense that he won't be a liability. Even at their advanced ages, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter were still very solid defensive players. But if Tyson Chandler, Aminu and Crowder are even half as successful as advertised, the Mavericks will have transformed from being one of the poorest defensive teams in the league to potentially one of the best. Add to that Greg Smith and Devin Harris healthy all year and Mavs have solid defenders at every position on the court.
Naturally, in a perfect world, Crowder will also rediscover his inside game and improve his shooting as well.
Worst case scenario
It seems the only thing that might happen is a continued lack of consistency or his effort and improvement trail off. It doesn't seem likely since the culture and the competition has changed, but if he continues to shoot threes indiscriminately while not sinking enough of them, particularly without making a significant impact on defense, he is likely to see his minutes go down rather than up. Unlike last season, there are now other capable guys who can provide what Rick Carlisle is looking for.
With the coach publicly pushing for more toughness and the arrival of Tyson, Aminu and Nelson, the message seems to be getting through. As it happens, Crowder visited the Ben and Skin Show Wednesday and seems to feels he's benefitted a great deal from the influx of new personnel. Not only is he soaking up direction from a vocal leader and elite defensive player in Tyson but has also taken the new arrivals as motivation and it seems to be working. Carlisle commented earlier this week in the Dallas Morning News that Crowder has "been the best defensive player in camp so far" and sees this year as the time he will establish himself in the rotation.
That is indeed good news.