Crowder's base of skills makes him the Celtics' indispensable man


Crowder's base of skills makes him the Celtics' indispensable man

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.

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

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Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”


Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Oklahoma City All-Star Paul George knows the Boston Celtics team he and his Thunder teammates will face tomorrow night, won’t be at full strength.

But he’s wise enough to know if you focus too much on an opponent’s key losses to their roster, that same team can potentially hand you a loss which is the last thing the Thunder need right now in what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.

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Currently fourth in the standings, only four games separate teams No. 3-8. Only Houston (56-14) and Golden State (53-17) have secured a postseason berth. 

Which means the Celtics won’t catch Oklahoma City sleeping on them heading into tomorrow night’s game. 

“We are going to address it the same way regardless of who's in there,” George said. “We got to pick these games up. We lost the game on our floor earlier this season.”

But that was early in the season when the Thunder were still trying to figure out how its newly formed core of Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, could mesh.

Oklahoma City has gotten stronger as the season progressed, and are one of the hottest teams around with six straight wins, the most recent being a 132-125 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Toronto. 

Meanwhile, Boston (47-23) has lost its last two games and three of four so from a momentum standpoint, the Thunder have every reason to feel as though they’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. 

And they also have added motivation from their Nov. 3 matchup with the Celtics in Oklahoma City that ended with a 101-94 win for Boston. 

Westbrook had 19 points and 11 assists in that game but shot 7-for-20 from the field. Carmelo Anthony had 14 points but did so on a woeful 3-for-17 shooting. And then there was George’s 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

“We have to show who we are,” George said.

Who they are, is a team that’s fighting for home court in at least the first round of the playoffs where they are currently fourth in the West. 

And their success in the last six games has been fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor. 


In that stretch, Oklahoma City is averaging 116.2 points which ranks second in the NBA during that span. Defensively, they are allowing 104.5 points which is the 10th-fewest allowed in the last six games.

“Just making the right plays, offensively and defensively” is how Westbrook described the team’s recent run of success. 

And the Thunder have every intention of keeping it going against a beat-up Celtics squad that they know they can’t take lightly. 

“Again, we are playing really well,” George said. “A step back if we lose no matter who's in or who's out would hurt us.”