Jae Crowder is routinely described in terms of his contract – one of the most tradeable in the league since the moment it was signed in the summer of 2015 with the Boston Celtics. In fact, Crowder has already been traded three times over the life of that deal, heading to Cleveland, then Utah, then Memphis in a series of blockbuster point guard trades.
Crowder might have one more trade left in that contract. He is now a veteran on a rebuilding Grizzlies team with one season remaining on his deal and contenders abound in the NBA. While the league, or at least the teams who reside in Staples Center, waits out a resolution on his teammate Andre Iguodala, Crowder is a lower-cost and potentially more available alternative. Even though Crowder doesn’t match the quality of the 2015 Finals MVP, at least he is playing and demonstrating his value right now.
He hit perhaps the shot of the young NBA season Sunday, a buzzer-beating three-pointer to defeat the Brooklyn Nets. That it came against Kyrie Irving, one of the stars Crowder has been traded for, is a delightful little coincidence. It was the Grizzlies’ lone victory of the season so far, and Crowder’s fingerprints were all over the overtime period. In addition to his game-winning three, Crowder had another triple during the final session and a dump-off to Kyle Anderson for an easy assist.
It was only one game, and Memphis has been fairly dreadful otherwise throughout the season. But there are reasons to like what the Grizzlies are doing and what Crowder has been able to contribute. The starting lineup (Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jonas Valanciunas) has a positive net rating at plus-3.7. Their most-used all-bench lineup of Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Marko Guduric, Anderson, and Brandon Clarke inexplicably does as well (plus-11.4). The other combinations clearly need some work, however.
Taylor Jenkins has emphasized pushing the pace, a total 180 from Grit and Grind now that Morant is running the show. Memphis leads the league in pace at 108.91 possessions per 48 minutes. The Grizzlies get out and go off of not only turnovers, but also made shots, like Crowder does with the quick outlet to Morant here.
The Grizzlies have had difficulty scoring in the half-court on initial offense, but they are much better on putbacks and second-chance opportunities. When Crowder’s on the floor, Memphis’ offensive rebounding rate increases to 28 percent, which would have been a top-five mark in the league last season.
It would be disingenuous to paint Crowder as a competent veteran languishing on a bad team or the lone player helping to prop up young talent. Morant is the engine that makes the Grizzlies worth watching, and other young players like Jackson and Clarke give this team promise. The fact that Memphis doesn’t have a wing-size player in its young core, depending on how you feel about Bruno Caboclo, ensures consistent minutes for Crowder’ that doesn’t mean his performance demands extra attention.
And yet, there always seems to be a market for veteran players who are guaranteed to miss the playoffs. Contenders like the stability of knowing what to expect, even if that’s a career 34 percent 3-point shooter whose 3-and-D reputation dates back to one really good season in Boston three years ago. There’s a theory that players need the intensity that comes from a playoff chase to elevate their games.
The Cavaliers pounced on George Hill for the last playoff run of LeBron James’ tenure, even though he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Sacramento, and Milwaukee fell for Hill the very next season. Philadelphia stacked its first Process playoff team with buyout candidates from the Atlanta Hawks. So, even if his expiring contract is less of a draw given the dearth of the 2020 free agent class, someone will come calling for Crowder. The Warriors may have fallen, but the demand for wings who can guard two through four hasn’t.
Crowder remains a productive player, if not one who can single-handedly change the fortunes of a lottery-bound team. His combined net rating in his three most-used lineups so far is plus-0.8. He moves the ball, doesn’t hunt his own shot, runs the floor, and is loved across the league. It seems like a very safe prediction that the Grizzlies will eventually move Crowder so he can extend his six-season playoff streak.