Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON - Back in January, the Celtics PR department created an infographic that explained why Isaiah Thomas was worthy of being named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve.

Shortly later, he was headed to his first career All-Star game.

That same PR department was back at it again Friday night, but this time with a different objective: get Jae Crowder named Most Improved Player.

Anybody who's watched the Celtics play this season know how important Crowder is to the team. A leader on and off the court, Crowder has become just as indispensable as Thomas - if not more indispensable.

He's also completely turned his career around over the last year.

Consider that when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks last season, it was mainly because they got a first round draft pick in return. Crowder, who had a small roll in Dallas, was an afterthought in the deal.

He's certainly not an afterthought in Boston. It didn't take long to see that Crowder had much more to offer than anybody imagined. He was soon a key part of the C's rotation and a driving force along with Thomas behind their run to the playoffs.

He was rewarded with a five-year, $35 million contract in the offseason and it's already looking like that contract is a steal.

Crowder has set career highs in just about every statistic possible this season for the Celtics. The infographic passed around before the game listed them all: points per game (14.5), rebounds per game (5.2), assists per game (1.9), steals per game (1.8), minutes per game (31.9), field goal percentage (44.5%), three-point field goal percentage (34.1), free throw percentage (82.4%).

 

It went on to say that he's increased his points per game output from last season by 6.8 points (7.7 points to 14.5 points) and that he ranks 12th in the NBA in steals per game.

When Crowder went down with a high ankle sprain, it was apparent early on how much trouble the C's had adapting without him. They lost big games to the Pacers, Thunder, and Raptors before righting the ship.

Then with Crowder resting on the second night of a back-to-back in Golden State, the Celtics pulled off an improbable win.

Brad Stevens said prior to Friday's game against the Bucks how encouraging it was to win that game in Golden State without Crowder, not just because it was the Warriors, but because it was the best game they played without Crowder.

"But then when he was missed, it was clear that he’s a big part of us," Stevens said. "And I think the defensive versatility stands out on that end, and then the shooting. And I think that that sometimes gets overlooked and not talked about. He’s a very accurate long-range shooter, and just another guy standing out there as a threat not only opens up his chances but opportunities for everybody else.”

Of course, getting Crowder named Most Improved Player is going to be a lot harder than getting Thomas named to the All-Star game.

There can only be one MIP, and there's no shortage of candidates. Portland's C.J. McCollum is probably the favorite to win the award after bursting onto the scene this season and forming a lethal duo with fellow guard Damian Lillard.

You've also got a player the Celtics played Friday night in Giannis Antetokounmpo that could steal some votes. Hassan Whiteside is a former D-Leaguer and now double-double machine for the playoff-bound Heat.

You'll undoubtedly see other teams promoting their guys for the award. The Hornets are doing it for Kemba Walker, the Nuggets for Gary Harris, the Pacers for Ian Mahinmi, and on and on. But the simple fact that Boston is able to do that for Crowder speaks to the pleasant surprise he's been and the season he's had.