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The Life Of Steezus: The Rise, Fall And Rebirth of Jordan Crawford

After a career filled with more trials than triumphs, it looks like Jordan Crawford is finally ready to return to the NBA.

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Prior to the summer of 2009, Jordan Crawford stood as a relatively unknown college sophomore that was on the verge of transferring from the University of Indiana to Xavier. In an attempt to bring more attention to his name, the 20-year-old Crawford spent a part of the summer leading to his Xavier debut competing against other college studs at a mini-camp sponsored by LeBron James and Nike.

At that event, Crawford was thrusted into the national basketball spotlight when video emerged of him throwing down a vicious dunk on LeBron James. While most young players would just relish in that new found attention, Crawford quickly moved past that initial “15 minutes of fame”.

That transition was evident during his lone season at Xavier as Crawford erupted to average 20.5 points and 4.5 rebounds on 46% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. Just one year after being a relatively unknown entity, Crawford established himself as one of the best scoring options in college basketball. Crawford was awarded for making that sudden transition as he was named Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team and Sporting News All-American Third Team.

Crawford’s rise to being an elite college prospect ultimately pushed him to declare for the 2010 NBA Draft despite having two years of college eligibility remaining. Initially, that decision seemed like a good decision as the New Jersey Nets selected him with the 27th pick before dealing him to the Atlanta Hawks.

Unfortunately, Crawford’s stretch of success ended abruptly once he signed his first NBA contract. From the jump, Crawford struggled to be able to get comfortable within his particular team’s rotation. Despite being selected by the Hawks with a first round pick, Crawford only played a grand total of 160 minutes with the squad before he was traded to the Washington Wizards in a trade deadline deal. Although Atlanta’s decision could be excused due to Crawford averaging 4 points and 1.7 boards on an atrocious 35% from the field in 10 minutes per game, it was just the start of an unfortunate series of events for the young guard.

Over the following four seasons, Crawford suited up for three separate teams in the Wizards, Celtics and Warriors, respectively. Although the casual fan would see Crawford as a solid rotation scorer that averaged 11.6 points in 25 minutes per game. However, teams across the NBA saw him as a guard that stood as an inefficient scorer that maintained a lackluster 50% True Shooting Percentage during those initial four NBA seasons.

Those struggles ultimately put Crawford without a home in the NBA before he even turned 26. Like most NBA castoffs, Crawford embarked on a journey to China with hopes of possibly re-energizing career on the international stage. Those plans began when he signed on with the Xinjiang Flying Tigersof the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). In his first five games with that team, Crawford shined by averaging 29.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists on 45% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc.

That Chinese success only intensified in the following season when he signed on with Tianjin Ronggang. From the jump, Crawford became an immediate fan favorite due to him showing that same “Steezus” nature that he exhibited with Xavier. With a gigantic green light (a term associated with players who can shoot anytime they want), Crawford put up numbers that would make Wilt Chamberlain blush. In 26 games with the team, Crawford averaged 43 points per game on 49% from the field. That scoring barrage was headlined by him putting up 72 points and 16 rebounds in a January 8th game against the Sichuan Blue Whales.

Despite him regularly putting up numbers that would seem impossible in NBA 2k, Crawford still wasn’t satisfied. Rather than the possibility of him spending the remainder of his career putting up gigantic numbers, making six figures and possibly becoming a Chinese icon, Crawford had his eyes set on one goal. Making his way back to the NBA.

Crawford’s hopeful journey back to the NBA began when he decided to start the season in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive. His transition to the D-League started on an extremely surprising note when he requested a B-level D-League deal so a player without NBA experience could get a bigger contract. This singular move sent an example that Crawford was a drastically changed man than what we saw when he was with Atlanta or Washington.

That level of maturity is also evident when you watch Crawford play with the Drive. Compared to his prior NBA stint, Crawford seems a lot more controlled with how he performs on each individual possession. Rather than putting up regularly mind-numbing shots, Crawford recognizes when he should attack the rim, facilitate or try to hit the perimeter or mid-range jumper.

Crawford’s offensive maturity comes evident when you look at the numbers that he’s putting up. In his 35 games with the Drive, Crawford is putting up 23.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 48% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc in only 30 minutes per game. Those shooting averages have allowed Crawford to maintain a solid 59% True Shooting Percentage, which is nearly identical to the 60% TS% that he had when he was averaging 40+ points per game in China.

Coinciding with that efficiency as a scorer, Crawford has also evolved into being a pretty solid facilitator for the Drive. That work began when Drive head coach Rex Walters put Crawford as the team’s starting point guard when Ray McCallum was called up to sit on the Hornets’ bench.

Although he was never previously known for his facilitating, Crawford had success in that role as the Drive’s main distributor. In February, Crawford averaged 5.3 assists per game with a solid 1.71 Ast/TO ratio. While that may not see too impressive, it’s definitely an accomplishment for a player that has widely been regarded as one of the most score-first guards in basketball.

His evolution as a facilitator is due to the pretty stellar court vision that Crawford regularly possess. Whether he’s working on the perimeter or driving to the paint, Crawford is able to use his 6’5 frame to see over the court and make the necessary read. Once he’s able to do that, Crawford does a great job of making these picture-perfect feeds that most shooting guards aren’t able to make. A prime example of that is seen in the play below where Crawford makes the pretty backdoor pass to Chris Anderson despite being surrounded by two defenders.

No matter the progress that he has made as a facilitator, Crawford is still regarded as arguably the best scoring threat in the D-League. Averaging 23.3 points per game with a 59% TS%, Crawford is able to shine due to his ability to shine as both an on-ball cutter and mid-range/perimeter shooter.

While solid in both areas, Crawford is probably does his best as an on-ball cutter. That’s primarily due to Crawford’s sheer ability to just explode towards the paint at a moment’s notice. Once he makes his way to the paint, Crawford can use a smooth side step to create the separation needed to get an easy look from around the rim. Even if he isn’t able to do that, he can use his strong 195 pound frame to score from around the rim.

Crawford’s knack of creating separation from the opposition has also helped allow him to become a viable threat as a mid-range shooter. Whether he utilizes an off-ball screen or just decides to break down the opposition on his lonesome, Crawford is regularly able to quickly get in the necessary position. Once he’s able to do that, Crawford is regularly able to make that jumper due to his quick and smooth shooting stroke. That skill is evident from the clip below or by him shooting an impressive 49% from between 15-19 feet.

Back in late December, Crawford told Ridiculous Upside that he decided to play in the D-League because “it was the best way to show NBA teams the type of locker room guy I am, what type of professional I am, and also show the type of player I am.” While that may seem like standard sentiment from any player looking for a second chance, it’s clear that Crawford has taken a complete 180 degree turn from how he was during his first stint in the NBA. That progression is evident whether you look at him from either an on or off-court perspective.

From an on-court perspective, Crawford has progressed into being an efficient scoring threat that can also work as a reliable facilitator. Perhaps more important than that is how Crawford has developed into the man that’s more than willing to be that big brother figure to any of his younger Drive teammates.

Those improvements has Jordan Crawford into being one of the brightest parts of the entire NBA D-League. Whether it’s his ability to score in bunches or throw a precise pass while driving to the rim, Crawford definitely stands as arguably the most entertaining player that the league has to offer. While we’d love to see him continue to shine in Grand Rapids, it’s time for Jordan “The Artist Formally Known as Steezus” Crawford to make his way back to the NBA.