In today’s edition of the Celtics Summer Forecast, a bunch of the staff weighed in on who would be the Celtics’ biggest overachiever. For the most part our staff was split between Gerald Green and Jaylen Brown (with a Jonas Jerebko cameo by Bill Sy), but I went in a different direction:
Alex Kungu, Red’s Army (Crowder): I don't like the term overachiever, but I do think that Crowder is moving down the offensive totem pole and his role will better match his skill set. I could see a 3-point percentage in the high 30s and increased points per game due to open lanes. Combined with his high-level defense, he could even become a dark-horse All-Star candidate if the Celtics are near the top of the East in February.
Last season, Crowder was awesome in his role as a two-way wing who could space the floor, defend virtually anyone, and was the clear emotional leader of the team. However, he did have his limitations as a creator for himself and others. Last season, Crowder assisted on 78.62% of his shots, and he sported a putrid 8.9 assist percentage. This is what Crowder is, but as a second option on a team, you’re looking for a lot more.
Roles are everything for non-superstar players, (See JR Smith in New York, Isaiah Thomas in Phoenix, Amare in New York, etc.). When players are put in roles that allow them to play to their strengths, they can become very productive. But sometimes, players can be productive but still need to do more for the team to reach its peak. This was the case with Crowder, where though his counting stats (14.2 ppg, 5.1 assists, and 1.7 steals) screamed great value considering how he was acquired, they also didn’t scream co-star, which was the position he was put in.
With the acquisition of Al Horford, the Celtics no longer need that from him, which is a good thing. Horford paired with Thomas can provide the type of dynamic duo that most teams in the East will have a hard time competing with, but the trickle-down effect could be where Celtics fans really see a difference. A guy like Jae Crowder will now only be expected to defend, shoot threes, and make timely cuts: a role that fits his exact skill-set. The acquisition also makes his job much easier. Celtics will now have a big that can guard on the perimeter, meaning they won’t have to rely on ICE’ing a majority of their PnR coverage. They have another big on the floor who can shoot, which means more space in the lane for drives and cuts. And what could be most important is that they have a big who attracts extra defenders, meaning more space on shooting opportunities. Last season, Crowder shot 39.6% when he was wide open (closet defender 6+ feet) via NBA.com, but he shot a mediocre 31.7% when he was just open (closet defender 4-6 ft away). Wide-open attempts only made up 11.4% of his attempts, with more of those attempts a possibility with extra defenders being drawn to other players, his 33.6% overall three point percentage could see a nice little leap. Even Crowder’s distributing numbers could raise a bit now that, instead of Evan Turner as his second primary option to pass to, it’ll be either Al Horford or Isaiah Thomas—guys that can readily put the ball in the basket from anywhere.
Crowder’s counting statistics might look similar, but his advanced stats will look much improved do to more efficient opportunities. The over-achievement part comes in when you take into account that none of Crowder’s potential boost comes from him getting better. Rather, it’s all projected to be due to a more easier role. That’s not an indictment, however. Crowder’s importance is widely understood, and without him the Celtics are nowhere close to being a top-three seed in the conference. But the fact that his numbers will most likely be bloated due to the impact of other players puts him in right in line to the be the Celtics biggest overachiever.