While the Mavericks haven’t been able to take complete advantage of the longest homestand in franchise history, losing three nail-biters that came down to the final seconds, the team’s lengthy stay in Dallas has been very kind to one player in particular: forward Jae Crowder.
The wing has found inconsistent playing time all season, as Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has given the backup small forward minutes both to Crowder and teammate Wayne Ellington throughout the season. During one stretch in late February it was Ellington who received the coach’s nod, and Crowder played just three combined minutes in five games.
However, the playing time pendulum has swung back The Beast’s way, and Crowder has deserved every second of playing time he’s been getting. During the last five games, Crowder is averaging 8.8 points per game on 64 percent shooting from the field, including a blistering 61.5 percent clip from beyond the arc. Prior to those five contests, Crowder had made just four field goals combined since Feb. 21.
“He’s playing hard and he’s gotten his shooting in a better rhythm,” Carlisle said before the Mavericks faced off against the Clippers Thursday night. “Now he’s just reacting out there. I think when you get into struggles shooting the ball, you start thinking too much. That can affect how hard you’re playing. This is a hard game to play when you’re distracted at all.”
Simply put, the Mavericks are better when Crowder is on the floor, as they allow just 99.6 points per 100 possessions, the best on the team, and they outscore opponents by 11.1 points per 100. That difference is the highest mark on the team by nearly two full points (Devin Harris sits in second place) and 4.4 points ahead of third-place Brandan Wright. When Crowder is in the game, the ball flies around the floor, as it did Thursday night against the Clippers, particularly in the second quarter. In that game, Crowder’s plus-minus was a team-best +17 in just 19 minutes.
Those numbers do not go unnoticed by NBA coaches and fellow teammates. While Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis have probably been the team’s two most valuable players this season, Crowder’s impact on games — when he’s playing well — is undeniable. But after such a long period of inconsistent minutes and poor shooting, how’d he get back on track?
“I shot with Dirk a few times,” Crowder said. “He just told me when I get air underneath the ball, it looked good. He has faith in my jumper, and that’s one thing that he’s told me and it stuck with me. When I get air underneath the ball, good things happen.”
That’s a fairly simple adjustment for a professional basketball player to make. Many young players tend to let their offensive successes and failures affect other aspects of their game. While that might not be the case with Crowder, it’s difficult to argue with the evidence: Dallas is 20-11 this season when Crowder shoots 50 percent or higher from the field, and he’s played at least 12 minutes in all but three of those games. Although his imprint on games might not run as deep as those Nowitzki or Ellis make, when Crowder is on, the Mavericks are on.
So what’s he got to do to keep this run going? As Mavs great Rolando Blackman famously said, it’s all about confidence.
“Be aggressive,” he said. “Take the shots, and don’t worry about make or miss, because I know I can shoot the ball. Just take the shots.”
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