Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
When the Dallas Mavericks traded for Rajon Rondo, one of the pieces that went to the Boston Celtics was Jae Crowder. It was, to be kind, an overlooked aspect of the deal. In retrospect, it’s pretty evident that the Celtics won the trade on Crowder alone.
During his time in Boston, he’s averaged 15.4 points, 6.2 boards and 2.1 dimes per 36 minutes. He’s established himself as one of the top-10 small forwards in the league. Dallas kicked Rondo off the team during the playoffs. So, yeah, it’s safe to say that Boston won that trade. But the question for Crowder is this: How much more can the man who just turned 26 on July 6 grow?
Crowder has an outside shot at the All-Star Game, depending on the success of the Celtics at the time. If they’re looking like they could be a mid-50s win team, he could get in as a reserve. He was 30th in Win shares last year, so it’s not unfeasible. A relative dearth of All-Star frontcourt players in the East could enhance his chances as well.
New teammate Al Horford along with LeBron James, Paul George Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond are probably locks. That leaves three more spots for Jimmy Butler (now a small forward again), Kevin Love, Hassan Whiteside, Carmelo Anthony, Giannis Antetokounmpo (although perhaps he could be counted as a guard?) and Crowder to compete for. And you figure someone is going to get hurt. The coaches always seem to like to fill one position with the “coach’s player” type who does the little things, and Crowder could get that nod.
The Celtics have a good team, but by virtue of their abundance of draft picks they’ve accrued, they also have young players worth developing. Among those is No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown, who could take some of Crowder’s minutes. The addition of Horford and maturing of Marcus Smart could take away a few of Crowder’s touches.
Those things combined could cause a small drop in Crowder’s numbers, though, not that much. His usage was already a fairly moderate 18.5 percent last year, according to Basketball-Reference.com. It’s not like the offense is running through him anyway. More likely is his 56.5 true shooting percentage goes up a bit.
Crowder’s efficiency is above average, but not because he’s a particularly efficient scorer; it’s more because he takes shots from the most efficient places. 598 of his 813 shots came from inside the restricted area or outside of the three-point line:
As you can see by his basic zone shot chart, the only area where he’s significantly better than the league average is at the rim, where he shot 67.7 percent. But Crowder presents a great example of why the three is preferable to a long two. As fans, we tend to equate 33.3 percent three-point shooting with 50 percent field goal shooting and tend to make that our “barometer” for a shooter. So we might not recognize how much Crowder’s three-point shooting, even at just 33.6 percent, helps.
He was 41.7 percent — above the league average — on his 163 long two attempts, scoring 136 points (.83 points per shot) on them, and that’s above the league average. That’s the baseline to judge his three-point shooting by.
On his 363 three-point attempts, he scored 366 points, or 1.0 points per shot, or 0.17 points per shot more than on the long twos. So even for a player like Crowder, who is a limited three-point shooter, it’s better to take that extra step back, and he’s smart enough to know where the line is.
He’s a below-average pull-up shooter, with an effective field goal percentage of just 35.4 percent, but he’s decent enough on catch-and-shoots (52.8 percent) and at the rim to compensate for it. And his work at the rim, which includes going 139-of-209 on layups, are enough to make him both a productive and efficient scorer. He’s just not the guy you’re going to run your offense through.
Crowder had the seventh-best Defensive Real Plus-Minus among all small forwards. And if you trim that down to guys who played more than 30 minutes per game, only Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and Finals MVP LeBron James were better.
Technically, the Celtics were better defensively when he was on the bench, but that seems to be misleading. The Celtics’ best defensive lineup that played over 75 minutes was Avery Bradley, Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Isaiah Thomas, which yielded just 94.5 points per 100 possessions. And the worst lineup with significant minutes Crowder played in had a defensive rating of 102.9.
Crowder on defense is the same as he is on offense. He plays smart and hard, and that helps compensate for a relative lack of athleticism.