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Jae Crowder: from posterized victim to unsung hero

Avery Bradley has been flat out great on the road trip and Isaiah Thomas got revenge against his former team last night, but Jae Crowder has quietly put together a good string of games that if he continues, could make the restricted free agent a Celtic next season and beyond.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The road trip infamously started in Sacramento with Jae Crowder getting posterized by DeMarcus Cousins:

To his credit, he had the balls to jump in front of that train and try and take a charge and for what it's worth, Jae got his revenge a few plays later:

Those are the highlight plays from the west coast swing, but where Crowder has really shown his value is doing the underappreciated dirty work in the trenches.  His numbers don't jump off the page during the three game stretch since the All Star break (13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists).  He's hardly a key cog in the Celtics offense and he's a -16 on the trip, but when you watch him play, you can see why he's the only player that's survived the Rajon Rondo trade and why Danny Ainge has been targeting him for years.

Defensively, his strength and size have been major assets.  Brad Stevens has used him in the closing lineup in both close games against the Lakers and Suns for his ability to guard multiple positions.  Against the Suns, he covered everyone from former teammate Brandan Wright to mini-LeBron Eric Bledsoe.  With his defensive versatility, the obvious comparison is to Jeff Green.  For what it's worth, since the trade and according to Synergy Sports, Jeff Green gave up 0.949 PPP in 33 games and Crowder has allowed 0.913 PPP.  The difference seems marginal but if you look deeper into the numbers you'll find that Crowder is closing out on shooters (0.852 PPP vs. 0.964 PPP) and defending ISO's better (0.81 PPP vs. 0.949 PPP).  What Crowder lacks in athleticism, he's making up for in effort and grit.

On the offensive end, when the team announced that Jared Sullinger would be lost for the rest of the season and with Kelly Olynyk still on the mend, I was worried about how the Celtics would cope with the hit to their big man depth.  So far, it's been Crowder filling those minutes at the 4 and he's done fairly well.  He shot a respectable 5-15 from beyond the arc, getting looks as a screener in pick and pops and as a swingman on guard penetration.

What I've really liked has been his aggressiveness to drive from above the break.  Whether he's taking advantage of a slower Ed Davis as a quick 4:

crowder dunk

Or using his bulk against smaller perimeter players like Jeremy Lin, he's become the second coming of Crash and he's already got the dreads to play the part:

crowder drive

But it hasn't all been good for Crowder since joining the Celtics:

I remember this bonehead pass against the Kings when the Celtics were trying to finish the third quarter strong:

crowder turnover

But then he makes up for it four nights later in Phoenix with a simpler bounce pass with James Young filling the lane:

crowder assist

That's the essence of good Jae Crowder: making the right play at the right time.

When Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love, and J.J. Barea were still teammates in Minnesota, I used to think they'd make the perfect Russian stacking dolls. I'd love it if Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, and Brandon Bass became the Celtics' version, a trio of rock solid Tommy Point go-getters that look more like NFL linebackers than NBA players.  This summer, Ainge will probably opt to extend a $1.2M QO to Crowder and let the market determine Jae's price.  He'll undoubtedly get better offers from contenders looking to fill out their bench with players that can make an impact on defense and not be a liability on offense.  Hopefully, he'll get a good run over the next 28 games and not only prove his worth in the league, but his value to the Celtics going forward.

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