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Jamal Crawford Player Preview: Crossover Activate

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Entering his 18th season for his 18th coach, Crawford brings a unique playing style to this season’s Timberwolves

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves-Media Day Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of question marks surrounding this year’s Wolves squad, all of which have to do with how the refurbished roster will translate to success on the basketball court. How long will it take for this team to establish chemistry? Will they be able to fix their issues on defense? What about those nagging second-half woes?

These are all completely valid concerns at this point, and those questions will be key in determining if this franchise is able to end its abysmal 13-year playoff drought. But one question we can almost certainly answer right off the bat is: will they be fun to watch this season?

Despite losing two of the team’s best highlight reels during the offseason in Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio, the answer to that question is still yes for an array of reasons. One of those reasons is the acquisition of Jamal Crawford in free agency — a veteran guard who has a keen sense of scoring and smart off-the-dribble instincts.

Most every NBA fan can appreciate a guard who can juke defenders out of their sneakers, and even at the age of 37 Crawford still has the ability to do that with the best of them. Just look at what he did to one of the greatest players in the world last Sunday:

They don’t call him J Crossover for nothing. Here’s a closer look for all you fans of snakes on skates:

Did you catch KAT’s sly smirk at the end there? Yeah, that’s cold. Even this poor Dubs fan couldn’t believe it:

Crawford is a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate who offers a unique isolation game that gives him the ability to break down even the stickiest of defenders. As we saw in the above video, he’s very much still capable of breaking down quick and lanky perimeter defenders like Kevin Durant. But with a roster stuffed with iso-scorers like Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler and Shabazz Muhammad, some might argue that Crawford is redundant on this team — all at the not-so-cheap cost of roughly $4.5M/year for two years.

Scoring aside, Crawford’s ability to break down a defense could become even more valuable if the Wolves prove that they have surrounded him with shooters who can knock it down from deep. If Wiggins and Muhammad can carry over the blips of 3-point shooting success they displayed part of last season, or if Teague and Butler can help in this area, Crawford’s presence immediately becomes more valuable in the drive-and-dish scheme of things.

And on top of all that, Crawford himself is no slouch from deep. Throughout the 17 seasons he’s been in the NBA, he’s shot a respectable 35 percent from behind the arc, which, at the very least, is enough to keep defenses honest. If you look back at that video of him crossing up Durant, you’ll see that KD respects his outside shot enough to keep a hand in his face at all times, allowing Crawford to attack that hand and ultimately get around him for an easy bucket.

Say what you will about offense-first scoring guards, there’s a certain value to Crawford’s game that goes deeper than his illustrious crossover combos. His finesse on the court and his poise off of it could prove valuable to a Wolves squad whose identity is currently up in the air. Here’s a veteran who will be an important voice in the locker room, with playoff experience to boot, and will set a solid example for how this team should conduct itself both on and off the court.

An obvious flaw in Crawford’s game, however, is how he performs on the other side of the ball. As it sometimes goes with this game, the output he gives on offense is not matched by that of his defense. Actually, that’s an understatement. His defensive real-plus-minus (DRPM) last season was -3.18, putting him just shy of the worst in the league according to ESPN (and just ahead of his new teammate Shabazz Muhammad).

Despite his flashy crossovers and crafty scoring, he’s undersized in today’s NBA at shooting guard and lacks the build to guard most perimeter players, which will definitely cause problems if he’s paired next to Muhammad on the Wolves’ second unit.

But even for a coach whose main focus has been defense, Tom Thibodeau had some nice things to say about the veteran’s game late last week. But not without sliding in this quick gem about Crawford in the weight room:

His passion for the game makes him who he is and that’s what makes him special. He loves every aspect of the NBA — practice, games, travel, weight room...well, maybe not the weight room [laughter]. I guess he stretches in there. I don’t know what he’s doing in there, but...his commitment, he takes great care of his body.

The fact that Thibodeau of all people is cracking a joke like this is for some reason strangely reassuring.

But Crawford’s commitment to the game doesn’t forgive the hole he’ll represent on defense — an area the Wolves are in need of desperate improvement this season. To build on top of all that, Crawford’s offensive output has been in steady decline in his last three years with the Clippers. Back in 2013 he averaged 18.6 points per game, but that has gradually decreased since then to 12.3 ppg last season. Although he played all 82 games last year for the first time in his career (a hopeful testament to his durability as he enters his 18th season), his statistical output in general is starting to reflect his age.

If nothing else, Crawford will provide this team with a strong, veteran presence off the bench, some sound offensive instincts that will hopefully rub off on some of the younger players, and an inimitable crossover that will get the crowd out of its seats from time to time. How he fits in this team’s overall scheme and how his flaws are exploited by opponents remain to be seen.

Editor’s Note: Please welcome Anthony to the Canis group. He’s a new member of our writing staff and we’re happy to have him on board.