Today’s Fastbreak columnist Joseph Nardone on the somewhat surprising success of Jae Crowder and the Boston Celtics.
The Boston Celtics have a roster which is weirdly built. Not weird because the players on it are such, but they should in no way be as successful with it as they have been dating back to last season. It’s a team filled with role players banished by other organizations, a few lottery picks and a plethora of diamonds in the rough. Basically, Brad Stevens has done a lot of winning with a roster more people would’ve normally projected to be lottery bound.
Folks won’t act like that now, but only hindsight has allowed us to know that the Celtics are going to remain competitive with Isaiah Thomas as their best bucket-maker, Avery Bradley taking over 13 shots per game and Jae Crowder being one of their best overall players. Not a single thing anyone would ever project a playoff team to be comprised of. Seriously, the history of the NBA says that Boston’s current run of success is absurd. There’s no reason they should be winning as many games as they are.
There was also no reason to think that Crowder was ever going to be anything other than an end-of-the-bench-type of talent — at best. It’s why he was selected in the second round, not some lottery selection, and part of the reason why Boston is his second team. He wasn’t projected to be all that good, nor did he show a ton of promise early in his Dallas days. Had he, Dallas would’ve found a way to keep him in the mix.
That was then. This is now, as the somewhat undersized small forward finds himself being an everyday starter for Boston.
Crowder wasn’t an abomination with the Mavericks by any means. He wasn’t great with them, either, though. Only starting 24 games in 184 chances, Crowder only managed to see 16 minutes per game as a member of the franchise. In that time, while small glimpses of one day being a solid role player were shown, he only managed to score 4.6 points per game on 41 percent shooting.
Not a single thing in his numbers projected him to be another team’s reliable rock. Then again, most teams aren’t built the way the Boston Celtics are.
Since moving to a land where there’s more jerseys hanging in the rafters than there are All-Star-level talents playing on the court, Crowder has been a revelation. Last season, in which Stevens hurled him in the starting rotation 17 times in the 57 games he was with Boston, Crowder averaged 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds while playing solid defensively.
This season has been his breakout year. Through 30 games, in which he’s started them all, Crowder is averaging 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. More importantly, he’s shooting a career-best 45 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three. Furthermore, to highlight how hard he must have worked on his game, his ho-hum career 75 percent free throw shooting has ballooned to 82 percent. While the latter might not seem like a big deal, it clearly shows Crowder has done the work to earn his starting spot.
So, of course Crowder is the only member of the Boston Celtics to start every game for the team. He’s their one consistent presence. Yet, like many other guys on the roster, no one outside the Boston area can tell you what he looks like — even if he walked into our living rooms wearing an “I’m Jae Crowder” t-shirt.
I have no earthly idea how sustainable Boston’s run of success is. Honestly, it seems somewhat counterproductive, as some will eventually tire of a Brad Stevens-led Celtics team always falling between being a 4-8 seed in the East, but never having a true chance at winning a title. Without getting some of those ping pong balls to grab franchise players, all these pieces of coal turned diamonds may be treasures other teams will value but Boston can’t win the big one with.
Then again, maybe they can. I mean, whether it’s directly because of Brad Stevens or their front office simply hit on guys like Jae Crowder or dumb luck, they continue to win. A lot. All the time. Against both bad and good teams. That’s without a single player any franchise in the NBA would build around — or, hell, allow to be their second- or third-best player on a team they expected to go deep in the NBA Playoffs with.
I guess what I’m trying to say, in the most roundabout way as humanly possible, with the ways things are going positively in Boston, despite all the evidence in the history of the NBA saying it shouldn’t be like the way it is, is that we’re likely a year or two off from Jae Crowder being the league’s MVP.
Honestly, because other than that, or because of that, I have no clue how it’s all working and how Crowder has become such a good starting NBA player, or how Brad Stevens makes it all work. However, I’m more than happy to enjoy watch it all unfold, because let’s be honest, this is fun.