After being forced to miss his senior year in high school because of a broken foot and sitting out another in college after transferring from Indiana to Xavier, Jordan Crawford was experienced in having to wait his turn. So, it wasn’t a drastic adjustment when he spent the first few months of his rookie season in Atlanta as, basically, a fan who didn’t have to pay for his front row seat. He hated not playing for the Hawks, but knew how to handle it.
Crawford actually benefited from two opportunities. The first came when the Wizards held out trading Kirk Hinrich to Atlanta until Crawford was included in the deal. And the second came when Nick Young developed discomfort in his left knee, giving the 6-foot-4 Crawford a starting shooting guard job along with John Wall – and the longest green light of arguably any rookie in the league.
His former team is still alive in the playoffs, as the Hawks will take on the top seeded Chicago Bulls in the second round beginning on Monday after a mild upset of the Orlando Magic. But chances are, Crawford wouldn’t want a do-over on the trade.
In his first four months with the Hawks, Crawford never played more than 22 minutes or attempted more than 15 shots in a game, playing behind Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. In his last 26 games with the Wizards, Crawford averaged 33.3 minutes and 16.3 shots. He wasn’t always the most efficient shooter, connecting on just 39 percent from the floor, but he was fearless and incredibly clutch. He forced overtime in an eventual win over Utah, and after making another jumper to force overtime in a win against the Celtics on April 11, Crawford offered up an explanation that is surely a personal mantra, “I always feel if I can see the basket, it’s a good shot.”
Crawford had some stellar performances in his two-month stint with the Wizards, as he dropped 27 points on the Chicago Bulls, had 25 points and 10 assists in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, scored a career-high 39 points in a loss to the Miami Heat and recorded a triple double the next night — while starting at point guard with Wall serving a suspension — against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“He’s what we call a ‘baller,’ ” said Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, who perhaps gained slightly more security after Crawford exploded on the scene. “He likes to play, he’s a fan of the game, he has a good feel, high basketball IQ and he’s versatile. He showed that he not only is a scorer, but he can also make plays. He can play the backup point guard role if we need him to or full time if we need him to. He also showed feistiness and competitiveness, which I think rubbed off on the rest of our team.”
But after Crawford’s high-scoring performance against the Heat, Dwyane Wade offered up a backhanded complement of sorts, when he gave Crawford “some credit” while noting that he got to take “free shots.”
“He shot the ball well,” Wade said. “He’s a scorer, he played with a lot of heart, he’s a tough kid, but it’s a little bit different when you’re playing for something than when you’re not.”
Wade had a point, because Crawford was in an ideal situation for a player with no conscience. And if the Wizards add more talent this summer, through the draft and/or free agency, and raise the expectations, Crawford will find himself in more pressure situations. Shot selection and discipline will have to take some precedent over simply being aggressive.
And Crawford believes that the Wizards will be better next season, based on how the team closed out the year.
“It’s not guaranteed we’re going to be good, because you got to put the work in, but the pieces we got, the coaching staff we got, I think it’s up from there. We can be very good. We can do a lot of special things,” Crawford said. “We need vets to look after all these young players that don’t know how to win. We already got a great coaching staff. If we work harder and understand we can be good. We can make the playoffs off that.”
For now, Crawford was just ecstatic that he was allowed to go down shooting against Wade, LeBron James and other players of their ilk. “I was very anxious. I tried to do the best that I could,” he said. “It was definitely one of the top things I went through, because this is the NBA. I always wanted to be on the court with great NBA players every night and I got a chance to do that. Couldn’t ask for much more.”
Crawford said the reason he was able to perform the way he did in Washington was because he never lost confidence in his talents. He added that he made not have gotten the chance without the trade. “I needed it, because I didn’t know when I was going to play. It’s not guaranteed I was going to play in Atlanta next year. I thank God everyday for giving me this opportunity for what I was going through in Atlanta.”