WALTHAM, Mass. — Jordan Crawford dropped into his defensive stance, looked back to see whether a pick was coming, then stared directly at Rajon Rondo, waiting for the Boston Celtics all-star point guard to make his move during a full-court scrimmage near the end of Friday’s practice.
Crawford has taken advantage of the injured Rondo’s absence to prove he can be a playmaker for a contending team. He has changed perceptions about his game, though he contends it is the same as it was during the two seasons he spent with the Washington Wizards. But with Rondo cleared to practice without restrictions on his surgically repaired right knee and edging closer to a return, Crawford soon will move off the ball and into a reduced role. When asked whether he could handle the change, Crawford shrugged.
“I have to,” Crawford said. “It’s going to happen. I can’t avoid it.”
Crawford went through a similar transition last season with the Wizards, but his inability to accept a lesser role after John Wall returned from injury and the emergence of Bradley Beal expedited his exit. The Wizards shipped Crawford to the Celtics in February for a minimal return, accepting a salary dump over a potential headache. While Crawford believes the trade “had to happen,” he disputes the notion he couldn’t coexist with Wall and Beal.
“It would’ve been fun playing with them two,” Crawford said as he prepares to face Wall, Beal and the rest of his former teammates Saturday at TD Garden. “It was never a competition thing. It’s the nature of the business. The reason why I wasn’t as comfortable as I should be is because we wasn’t a good team. I could see if we a good team and we fighting for something, then that’s the right move to make.”
Crawford was also disappointed by how quickly he went from averaging 19.1 points, 6.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds last December to hoping for spot minutes once Wall returned. He responded by taking questionable shots, pouting on the bench, complaining in practice and on the team bus and famously posting his stats on Twitter. “You’re quick to forget in the NBA,” Crawford said, then added, “I should’ve been more professional with it.”
The 25-year-old Crawford has put together his most efficient NBA season, averaging 13.9 points while posting career highs in assists (5.5), rebounds (3.3), field goal percentage (43.6) and three-point percentage (35.5).
Crawford faced the Wizards once before, scoring six points in April as a seldom-used reserve on a veteran-laden Celtics team built for the postseason. The Celtics went through a dramatic transformation over the summer, parting ways with Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
With Rondo out and new Coach Brad Stevens giving him the ball and some freedom, Crawford has the chance he long desired for a surprising Celtics team that leads the Atlantic Division at 12-15. Crawford said he isn’t motivated to prove anything in particular to the Wizards.
“I don’t really look at it like that. I think they knew what I was capable of — everybody in that organization. I don’t think anybody was surprised,” Crawford said. “I been the same. Now it’s the fact that we’re winning. I’m with a better organization. I take pride in getting better every summer. I’ve definitely learned, and that came from all the experiences that I had.”
Crawford already has had six games with at least 20 points, three games with at least 10 assists and one triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Cleveland. He was honored earlier this month as Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging 23.3 points on 61 percent shooting with 6.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds in helping Boston win three games.
“You never know what will happen in the NBA,” said Crawford, who will be a restricted free agent next summer. “You kind of got to go with what’s given to you. You can’t control a lot of stuff. I didn’t know I was going to get the opportunity, but I stayed with it. It’s a job. You got to come to work and be professional.”
Stevens, in his first season as an NBA coach after a successful run at Butler, was familiar with Crawford’s game after facing him at Xavier and watching Wizards games to see his former player, Shelvin Mack. He has connected with Crawford because of his love for the game and will frequently trade text messages with him.
“I’ve known what he was capable of doing. Didn’t realize when I got here that he was as good of a ball handler as he is,” Stevens said. “He’s listened. He’s been very coachable. He likes to think about the game. He’s always watching basketball. Jordan is probably looking for a game at the Y tonight. I like that. I like guys that love to play.”
Crawford said having a coach who has confidence in his talents has made a big difference. “Coach does a great job explaining to us what he wants from us every day, and we went from there. You can’t be a point guard playing against your coach and the other team. If the coach is comfortable with you, you got somebody riding with you, somebody that got your back and somebody that, even if you’re wrong, he on your side.”
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