Jordan Crawford and the Blank Canvas
Jordan Crawford wasn’t suppose to even sniff this type of production. Normally in the NBA, me-first gunners stay that way until the bitter end. The only way for possible salvation for them is to usually find a system with talented players to thrive, like Jamal Crawford in Los Angeles or Monta Ellis in Dallas. Their surrounding ecosystem normally has to be very efficient for them to survive in the NBA in some way, and usually that level of success is more short-term than anything.
Either way, Jordan Crawford is the most unexplained thing in the NBA to many people. Leading a team that was suppose to be tanking, Crawford currently has the Boston Celtics in the atrocious East’s four seed. There isn’t a bevy of All-Star’s next to him pushing him on or off the court, he’s just legitimately improved. He’s having a career year in every single facet of his game, and he’s already a third of the way in the year.
Even more perplexing is the fact that Crawford hasn’t changed his game much. Normally these types of players pull in the reins some, but Jordan is still putting up 28-footers regularly. His usage is down, but that has more to do with his new-found love with making a pass with flair for the assist. Crawford passes the ball like he shoots it, the harder it looks to accomplish the more he thrives. When the hole gets to a real tight squeeze, he has the ability to fire in a no-look pass with perfect pace. Some of the most breathtaking assists come from the point guard in Boston, when it was culture shock that he was even playing the position just two months ago.
In many ways, Crawford’s story is that of a lesser Gilbert Arenas. Arenas played his prime in an era where efficiency was just a newborn concept, and far out of the way of many front office’s and fan’s mind. We allowed Gilbert to play like Gilbert because quite frankly, it was a lot of fun. He became the most unpredictable force in the NBA, and he’d consistently teeter the line between utter doom and reaching the holy land every single game.
Yet in this era, that’s just not the style in which the NBA plays. Crawford is allowed to still do the things that make him Jordan Crawford, but in a smaller box to play with. He plays nearly 10 minutes per game less, giving Arenas plenty of time to hoist, and he gets a much more detailed stat sheet at the end of the game. He’s still a man who plays more off-beat than anyone in the league, but in an art-form that doesn’t allow him to stray nearly as far from the path as they use to allow. Arenas was was of the most infuriatingly genius abstract artists the game has ever seen, Crawford is a surrealist that bends imaginative basketball to its elastic limit.
Outside of the time difference, their stories align quite well. Both were in the caught somewhere in the middle of point guard and shooting guards. Both had the size and skill-set to be ball-handling wings, but have found peace operating as shoot first point guards. There, the size becomes a strength and the need to facilitate acts as a balancing mechanism in the mind. Playing the two, a gunner has no idea when the next time they get the ball. Moving on-ball allows for a little more comfort in passing, as there will be plenty of time on the ball for the entire game. Arenas also matches Crawford’s love for the deep ball, and sudden emergence story-line.
That’s why — in an era that can be overly robotic — Crawford is such a wondrous joy to behold this season. There is plenty of love shown for the robotic killers such as LeBron, Durant, and Chris Paul. But with Crawford, there is a beatnik appeal to him. Some people will never get Steez, and that’s alright. It makes it all the more enjoyable for the ones that do however. Knowing that he’s playing at an effective level his way is a joy to watch, and he’s even being efficient at the same time. When others roll their eyes at another leaning jumper that clanks out, the disciples of the Jordan Crawford renaissance cheer on the fact he had the audacity to attempt that shot. If he can get away with being able to pull some of the shots he does while being an effective point guard. He colors outside the lines, and that’s what makes him so endearing in this era.
Unfortunately if history has taught us anything, there is a shelf life for the type of heretical play Jordan brings. Like Arenas and others before, these types of players — especially the ones who succeed at the point — either find there way to a contender’s bench or out of the league quickly. More methodical ways of playing the game win out, as they should. Teams try to build foundations up by creating the most efficient and talented squad they can. While Crawford certainly has all the tools to be considered the latter, it is hard for him or any team he leads to be thought of the former in this day and age. The Celtics rank 23rd in offensive rating. While the ride that is “Jordan Crawford number one option on offense” is enthralling, it isn’t a huge secret that Steez found himself in this position by being the de facto option instead of being hand-picked for the job. Rondo eventually will return as the alpha dog, and uncertainty will surround Jordan.
As for now, enjoying what is developing before our eyes will be in the itinerary. It’s not everyday that you get a such a retro feel with a player, and that will be the pistons behind the support Crawford will find this season. The NBA is perfecting the art of basketball every single day, but Jordan Crawford is finding his way through his very own medium.