Though he finished just sixth in this year’s Most Improved Player of the Year voting, Jae Crowder proved throughout the 2015-16 season he is more than capable of handling a sizable role on a competitive team.
Having averaged career-highs nearly across the board, Crowder made his presence felt in more ways than one whenever he took the floor, and he never allowed offensive or defensive struggles to take him completely out of a game. If his shots weren’t falling, he’d hit the boards. And if he couldn’t find his way to caroms, he’d jump passing lanes on the ensuing possession, turning stout defense into quick offensive opportunities.
For all the good you can say about him, though, there are definitely areas in which he can still improve. He’ll turn 26 years old this July, but one could argue he is still far from hitting his ceiling.
As a whole, Crowder’s offensive game was leaps and bounds better than it had ever been this past season. No longer was he relegated to spotting up in the corners for drive-and-kick threes, but he called his own number on multiple occasions via either a drive straight to the rim or by taking a dribble or two into a pull-up midrange jumper. Those abilities are valuable to be sure, and he should keep working on them to strengthen them further.
However, in Brad Stevens's three-happy offense—the Celtics were 11th in the league in attempts, yet 28th in percentage—it would behoove Crowder to become a more consistent three-point shooter. Yes, there were stretches where it seemed like he was pouring them in one after another. But at the end of the day, he wound up converting on just 33.6% of his 363 tries.
That’s not a bad number, of course, but the closer he can get his clip to the 38-40% range, the better off his entire offensive game will be. Defenders would have to respect his shooting prowess by closing out hard, and that would open up opportunities for Crowder to use his speed and strength to blow by off-balance defenders for easy looks at the rim or to sink his pet shot in the midrange.
Improving further offensively isn’t going to just benefit Crowder individually, though. It will also allow Stevens to employ the 6’6" forward at the four in small-ball lineups, which we saw more often during the Celtics’ first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. Crowder spent 64% of his minutes playing power forward during those six games, as opposed to just 22% during the regular season. The more versatile Crowder can become, the better.
As far as the defensive side of the ball goes, we know what Crowder brings to the table. He’s relentless, intense and always wants to guard the opposing team’s best player. There’s always room for improvement, though.
It would be really nice to see Crowder come into camp this fall quicker on his feet both laterally and north and south. As is, he does a fine job staying in front of the league’s top wings, and he is one of the few players who can really put a body on the Carmelo Anthonys and LeBron Jameses of the world on the block.
Bottom line: the focus of Crowder’s offseason should be both improving on his weaknesses and, perhaps more importantly, building upon his strengths. Could you file that under "most obvious statements in the world?" Absolutely. But sometimes, it’s really that simple. It’s just up to Crowder to put the work in, which shouldn’t be a problem at all.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.