Jae Crowder Carves Out Role on Mavericks
When Dallas Mavericks rookie Jae Crowder was named Big East Player of the Year last March, the news didn’t center around the Marquette forward’s brilliant senior season. Instead, the predominant opinion was that West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, and not Crowder, deserved to be the POY.
It wasn’t a surprise that WVU coach Bob Huggins publicly criticized the decision (“I would have that argument if I was him,” Crowder told HOOPSWORLD. “Kevin Jones is a great player.”) But the fact that Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun publicly stated his support for Jones and reports later surfaced (like this one from Adam Zagoria) that Louisville coach Rick Pitino also voted for Jones seemed to diffuse the excitement.
But there was a reason Crowder, and not Jones, earned the hardware.
Even though Jones led the conference in scoring and rebounding, Crowder’s team won more games (they finished second in the conference and had an overall record of 27-8) and that’s a direct result of his stunning defensive ability — the same trait that promises to keep him in the NBA for years to come.
“They didn’t win the ball games,” Crowder said of his competition for POY. “I feel like that was the separation and I feel like it was well deserved on my behalf. Not to brag or anything.”
And as insignificant as that superlative seems now, it did stick out to coach Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks, who acquired Crowder, Jared Cunningham and Bernard James from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Tyler Zeller and Kelenna Azubuike at the 2012 NBA Draft.
“We knew coming out of Marquette, he was ready to play a man’s game, you know, because of how they’re coached in that program,” Carlisle said. “He’s a four-year guy, played in a lot of big games and he was Big East Player of the Year. That’s a pretty big deal.”
Carlisle’s assessment was spot on.
Crowder began the season as one of the top options off the bench (he averaged over 19 minutes in his first four NBA games) and when veteran Shawn Marion went down with a sprained MCL against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, Crowder stepped in to start the next two games, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds in a win over the Toronto Raptors and adding seven points and three boards in a loss to the New York Knicks.
“I felt like I got the vibe from the coaches, just them trying to explain everything in even more detail than what a rookie would usually expect,” Crowder said. “When that started happening, I figured I would be in the rotation.”
The Mavericks’ health issues have undoubtedly played a factor. Marion and Dirk Nowitzki are both out, but Crowder won’t necessarily retreat to the bench when they return.
Whereas it’s hard to find minutes for most rookies (Cunningham and James have barely played), it’s even harder to keep Crowder off the floor.
“Well he’s a good player for one thing,” Carlisle said. “There’s been an opportunity because of how he’s played. He’s kind of put himself in that position. And, you know, right now we’ve got injuries, so that’s affecting things.”
Carlisle described Crowder as “a good scrambler,” which means he’s able to pick up any assignment — regardless of the offensive player’s position — after being picked off his man.
“He can guard multiple positions,” teammate Dahntay Jones said. “He can guard threes or fours. He’s strong, he’s mobile, he uses his feet well.”
And as Carlisle said, Crowder is “going to keep getting better.”
Crowder says he’s been peppering Marion with questions and studying his defensive tendencies (they’re both around 6’6, 230 pounds and are frequently asked to defend similar players). And when he’s working by himself, Crowder is focused on maintaining his strength (he had the most bench press reps, 20, at the pre-draft combine) while adding quickness so he can defend faster wing players.
But the biggest area for improvement is on offense.
He averaged 17.5 points on 49.8 percent shooting as a senior, which is encouraging. The issue is that a lot of those points came in the paint, where his frame is unlikely to have the same success in the NBA.
Even though Crowder wasn’t much of a three-point shooter in college (he averaged 1.7 three-pointers per game), he believes he has the tools to become one as a pro.
So far this year, Crowder has hit nine of 18 three-pointers, and he’s done so in a variety of areas on the floor (he’s best at the top of the key, but has also had success on the left wing and left corner).
“A knock-down shooter,” Crowder said, when asked what kind of offensive player he can become. “Someone you have to respect on the three-point line. And of course, I think I’m pretty confident and pretty good in a pick-and-roll situation. I feel like with time, when I play the three, there are certain times when you get those pick-and-roll situations.”
You wouldn’t expect Crowder — a second-round pick — to have any advantages over the lottery guys, but you’d be wrong. Crowder’s distinct edge is that he knows how to get on the floor and stay there. A lottery pick plays because the team used a significant resource to acquire that player, presumably because they believe he shows promise.
Crowder, meanwhile, has already shown he knows how to carve out playing time without having the added advantage of perceived upside. He doesn’t possess promise. Crowder offers an actual tangible advantage for Carlisle and the Mavericks, which might explain why he looks and acts so comfortable, despite being just 22 years old.
“I feel like this is my job now,” Crowder said. “This is what they pay me to do, so I’ll just show up each and every day.”