Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Jae Crowder. For a look at the other profiles, click here.
BOSTON -- When Jae Crowder suffered a high ankle sprain near the end of last season, the rest of the NBA soon learned what the Boston Celtics have known for quite some time.
The 6-foot-6 Crowder is arguably the Celts' most indispensable player.
Having positioned themselves for one of the top seeds in the East, Boston went 5-4 without Crowder. And when he returned the Celtics still hovered around .500, which ultimately led to a four-way tie that, following tie-breaking procedures, left them at the fifth seed.
You can find guys on this roster to step up and contribute if Isaiah Thomas isn’t around and the scoring void needs to be filled. Avery Bradley is an all-world defender but Marcus Smart isn’t too far behind, and he's proven when Bradley has been out.
But when Crowder isn’t available, trying to find a body or two that can deliver like he does in his do-it-all role, is a lot easier said than done.
That’s why Crowder is such a vital part to Boston’s chances of success heading into this season, one in which the Celtics will be expected to be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
To do so will require a number of players to step up their game, Crowder included.
Here’s a look at the ceiling and floor of Crowder’s game heading into this season.
The Ceiling for Crowder -- All-Star
While it may initially seem a stretch to think of Crowder as a potential All-Star this season, it is by no means out of the question.
Last season was Crowder’s first as a full-time starter in which there were significantly more positives than anyone -- outside of Crowder -- expected.
He averaged 14.2 points to go with 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals -- all career highs. In addition, Crowder shot 44.3 percent from the field and 33.6 percent on 3s while averaging 31.6 minutes per game.
Considering Crowder was, at best, Boston’s third-scoring option, those numbers aren’t too shabby. But if he is to enter the conversation as an All-Star (which, if Boston wins as many games as expected, will likely happen) there are certain parts of his game that have to be improved upon while others need to be highlighted.
Crowder is viewed by many as a good defender, but it really hits home when you see how he fares against some of the league’s better scorers.
Indiana’s Paul George is one of the toughest players in the NBA to cover, but you wouldn’t know it when you see how he plays against Crowder.
According to nbasavant.com, George has shot 40.9 percent (9-for-22) from the field when guarded by Crowder. And to show that he can get it done at both ends of the floor, Crowder has shot 50 percent (6-for-12) against George.
Other data on nbasavant.com revealed that Crowder has also limited other elite scorers, such as Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan (3-for-10 shooting), Chicago Bull and former college teammate Jimmy Butler (7-for-21 shooting) as well as Golden State star and two-time league MVP Stephen Curry (3-for-11 shooting).
Clearly, Crowder’s defense will not impede his progress towards becoming an All-Star caliber player. The bigger concern is his offense, which has to become more consistent and more diversified going forward.
Crowder was most comfortable as a catch-and-shoot player last season; according to NBA.com/stats, it accounted for 44.2 percent of his shot attempts. Part of that was a function of Boston’s offense. Because of Thomas’ dribble penetration and teams being concerned about Bradley’s mid-range game and ability to shoot from the corner, Crowder would often find the ball in his hands with a wide-open look at the basket. That helps explain why 60.7 percent of Crowder’s shots involved no dribbles taken and that 41.8 percent of his shot attempts were wide open (a defender was at least 4-6 feet away when he shot the ball) despite his not being a player that breaks down defenders.
Going forward, Crowder needs to expand his game to where he can put the ball on the floor more and create more shot attempts for himself, rather than rely so heavily on his teammates to get him good looks at the basket.
This might make for more contested looks, but that’s not a bad thing for Crowder.
Despite contested shots (nearest defender 0-2 feet away) accounting for just 8.1 percent of his shot attempts, Crowder shot 60 percent from the field in that scenario according to NBA.com/stats with an effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of 60.8.
The Floor for Crowder -- Rotation player
During the Celtics’ pursuit of Kevin Durant this past summer, Crowder coming off the bench was a given. Even if Boston bolsters its roster between now and the February trade deadline and adds a wing player that knocks Crowder back to being a reserve, his place in the team’s regular rotation is rock solid. He does too many things that Boston needs done in order to be a good team.
We pointed out earlier how he has performed defending some of the better scorers in the NBA. Crowder has also been impressive as a help-side defender, which can be seen in his ability to get his hands on a lot of balls defensively. Last season, Crowder averaged 3.3 deflections per game, which ranked fifth in the NBA.
He also averaged 4.7 contested 3-point shots per game, which also ranked fifth in the league, a factor in opponents shooting 4.6 percent less from 3-point range against Crowder than their season average.
His defense, rebounding, timely shot making are all collectively crucial to the Celtics’ chances of having the kind of deep, meaningful postseason journey they envision for themselves.