Where Does Jordan Crawford Fit In With A Healthy Wizards Team?

In the spirit of being more than a John Wall blog, let's talk about someone else on the Washington Wizards.  Let's talk about Jordan Crawford.  Of all the non-rookies on the Wizards, it's Crawford that intrigues me the most.  He's the biggest mystery of all among projected Wizards rotation players.  Where does he fit in?

I've hinted at this question a few times in other posts, most notably in his 211 player evaluation.

For Crawford to advance past the honeymoon stage, he needs to apply his determined attitude toward fitting into a defined, limited role with this team.  He now should know that he is capable of playing in this league, and I can live with him doing what he did this year because he needed to prove that to himself.  Now, he needs to show that he can actually be a valuable cog in a machine.

That's Crawford's challenge this year, and it's one we should all discuss.  But first: why I find Crawford interesting.

Crawford's a tough puzzle for me.  Those who are fans of Crawford focus on his ability to put the ball in the basket and his competitive fire.  As proof, they offer his 16.3 points per game average in a Wizards uniform, as well as that one memorable game where he went back and forth with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  Detractors of Crawford note his shot-jacking nature, pointing to his low shooting percentages, his astronomical usage rate (26.8 percent) and his tendency to force things.

At this point, I'm probably closer to the detractors than the proponents.  But even though Crawford displayed erratic shot selection and decision-making at times last season, you can see why he could be a major asset.  Here, we have to consider team dynamics. 

It's become clear that John Wall likes playing with Crawford.  Why is this?  My theory: Crawford can make plays for himself and for others on his own.  In the aggregate, the Wizards want Wall as the primary decision-maker of course, but there's a danger to relying too much on Wall as the sole offensive initiator.  For one, Wall gets tired more easily if he's has to create every single play.  For another, having another offensive initiator makes the offense more dynamic.  Look what happened to the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs last year.  Against most teams, Derrick Rose was good enough to initiate on his own.  Against great teams in the playoffs, though, the Bulls' one-dimensionality was used against them.  It's a small thing, but it's significant when projecting down the road.  The Wizards' offense simply will be better if Wall can be used as an initiator and as a finisher, especially with his athletic ability.

I hate to make this about Nick Young's shortcomings, but this is one area Crawford has an advantage over him.  No matter how you feel about Young, he's just not a good passer.  Doesn't mean he's a bad player, just means he's limited.  Why does it matter that Young is a poor passer?  Because it limits the sets you can run on offense.  One of the key differences between Young and Rip Hamilton, a player we often compare Young to when looking at his upside, is that passing ability.  Hamilton's career assist rate is 19.8 percent.  Young's is 7.6 percent.  That difference is almost exclusively made up by Hamilton's ability to make the extra pass off curl cuts to open players.  Young can't do that consistently right now, which forces Wall to be both a scorer and a playmaker.  That's not an issue with Crawford, who can see the entire floor, but now must learn to do so consistently.

Of course, Young's ability to score in a team setting is world's better than Crawford, who still freelances far too much.  That's the area Crawford must improve on in order to secure playing time.  If I were coaching Crawford, my goal for him would be simple: up your number of assisted field goals, especially from beyond 16 feet.

According to HoopData, the average percentage of assisted field goals for shooting guards who played over 15 minutes a game was 55.6 percent for 16-23 foot jumpers and 87.4 percent for three-pointers.  For Crawford?  Seventy-nine percent for threes and 23.3 percent (!) on 16-23 foot jumpers.  Overall, according to 82 Games, only 25 percent of Crawford's total field goals were assisted.  (Young, incidentally, was at 61 percent, which honestly should probably be higher too given his relative strengths as a player).  Want to know why Crawford's shooting percentages stunk?  That's it right there.  Those assisted numbers need to go way up.

How far up?  Probably not as far as Young -- Crawford needs to have some latitude to play his game -- but much closer to the average.  Consider that Jason Terry, a similar combo guard with playmaking ability, was up at 60 percent assisted on his 16-23 foot jumpers last year.  In 2007, he was way down at 43.2 percent.  People can change and still be themselves.  I'm hoping Crawford is able to do the same.

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