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The strange case of Jae Crowder

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Behold, a list of undeniable truths.

  1. In a seven year NBA career, Jae Crowder has already played for six NBA franchises - the Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, and Miami Heat.
  2. Across a career that includes over 600 games played, Crowder averages 9.6 points per game (on 42% overall shooting and 34% shooting from beyond the arc), 4.1 rebounds, and 1.5 assists according to basketball-reference.com.
  3. During Jae’s brief stay in Memphis (45 games, all as a starter) he scored 9.9 points per game on career worst shooting (36.8% overall, 29.3% from beyond the arc) while performing at a career best rebounding (6.2) and assist (2.8) rate per game. The rebounding and assist production holds true with per 36 minute and per 100 possession measurements as well.
  4. Once Crowder left for Miami in the Andre Iguodala/Justise Winslow trade, he became a much better shooter (48.5% from the floor, 44.5% from three) while taking even more shots per 100 possessions (14.5) and maintaining his rebounding pace.

Jae Crowder is seen by some as a veteran presence that would have been very valuable to the Grizzlies in the Bubble - someone that Memphis could’ve depended on. Others view him as a statistical albatross, an example of a rookie head coach in Taylor Jenkins depending too much on a journeyman with experience. After all, despite his atrocious shooting - a full 6.5% worse than Dillon Brooks as a member of the Grizzlies from three - he still played more minutes for Memphis in just 45 games than Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, and De’Anthony Melton. Considering Crowder played his last game with Memphis February 3rd and these three players all played in at least 13 more games than Jae, that’s less than ideal for a rebuilding team.

So how much would a vet like Crowder (his 54 playoff games played would’ve led Memphis in the Bubble) have helped the Grizzlies, even though his shooting woes were quite apparent? That we will never know - and besides, if Jae were still with the Grizzlies the long-term acquisition of a younger, more talented (and to be fair injury-prone) player in Winslow wouldn’t have occurred. What we do know, though, is what Crowder was with Memphis and what he became with Miami are two different players.

Why? Well, it lies in a unique “At his best” and “At his worst”

At his best

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Jae has been consistently better for Miami, Crowder’s two best performances this season according to basketball-reference.com and their Game Score measurement came with the Grizzlies. His overall best showing was in early January’s blowout victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Jae of course was red-hot from beyond the arc, but what really stands out in this particular game is how he played on both ends extremely well. Crowder has this aura/legend about him of being this very good hustle defender, and that was validated in this contest with thre blocks, three steals, and eight total rebounds. He also had seven assists (which, as you saw in the clip above, is a bit inflated considering the shots that dropped) as an example of his understanding of where he is on the floor and how that relates to his teammates.

But there’s another game Jae played especially well in - against the Timberwolves - that shows just how different Memphis Crowder was than Miami Crowder. For three days after his stellar shooting showing against the Clippers, Jae scored almost half as many points (14) and made five less threes (1, compared to 6 against L.A.). Yet he was still an impactful defensive showing (5 steals!!), still cleaned the glass very effectively (8 rebounds again), and didn’t have to take 17 shots or make a ton of three point buckets to be a force.

THAT Jae Crowder would’ve been welcome in Memphis, perhaps beyond this season. But he rarely showed up.

At his worst

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Jae Crowder was at his worst when he shot the ball too much. Jae took 8 or more threes in 12 of his 45 games with the Grizzlies. Memphis was 2-10 in such situations. Beyond just three pointers, when Crowder took nine or more shot attempts at all the Grizzlies were 9-17. That’s a miserable record. And remember, Crowder played 45 games for Memphis. So in 26 of Jae’s 45 starts for the Grizzlies, he took nine or more shots. And the teams was eight games under .500.

Is all this his fault? No. He was enabled by a coaching staff that prioritized being a threat to take a shot more than anything. So despite Kyle Anderson being a better basketball player in almost every way except for chucking threes than Jae Crowder, Crowder was the one who got the starts at the 3. Instead of having a willing facilitator of offense in Anderson there to get the ball to the Jaren Jackson Jr./Ja Morant/Dillon Brooks typed you’d rather be taking those shots, you saw Crowder take advantage of his green light and the space provided by opposing defenses.

The Jae Crowder that is thriving in Miami was coming off the bench and only became a starter for Miami in the Bubble - he has started 11 games for Miami and was a reserve for 12 before the restart. He is surrounded by more talent overall, which obviously helps. The Heat were supposed to be a playoff team, after all - Memphis was supposed to be in the bottom eight or so of the NBA. But the Crowder you see now, about to move on to the second round of the playoffs, did not exist for the Grizzlies.

Veteran presence has its value. But don’t let it distract from on the court contributions.

What comes next?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For Jae? The playoffs continue. He will enter free agency this offseason, and whether he stays with Miami or goes to another contending team he will be seen by some as a “wonderful fit” after the success he’s had with the Heat.

For Memphis? They move on with Justise Winslow, hoping he can get healthy and contribute at the level they (and I) believe he is capable of. They wait out the Dion Waiters waived contract eating at their cap space, and ponder the best way to utilize Gorgui Dieng (who they got from Minnesota in exchange for James Johnson) in the final year of his contract. Crowder simply struggled with Memphis, especially offensively...but if it is fair to say that the likes of Dillon Brooks are out of their ideal role as a starter for this Grizzlies team that the same is true of Crowder?

He was asked to be too much for Memphis - not in terms of his shot attempts, but in terms of being a key starter that had to eat minutes for a young, rebuilding team. And it was a team that he actually wanted to be a part of, unlike Andre Iguodala. That in and of itself is a lesson in professionalism that the young Grizzlies will carry with them. Crowder’s time in Memphis - while limited - helped the franchise grow both on and off the court. Despite his poor shooting, there’s value in that too.

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