Of all of the unexpected developments in a season gone awry for the Washington Wizards – from John Wall’s continued absence because of a stress injury to his left knee, to Nene’s continued role as a reserve a month after returning from plantar fasciitis – none is perhaps more astonishing than the team basing its offense on the scoring and playmaking ability of shooting guard turned point guard Jordan Crawford.
The injury-induced experiment, prompted when Wall’s intended backup, A.J. Price, broke his hand, has been both an arduous and exciting adventure and recently placed Crawford in exclusive company. During the Wizards’ 100-95 overtime loss to Atlanta on Tuesday, Crawford had his second career triple-double and became the first player in franchise history to record at least 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and one turnover in the same game.
Since turnovers became an official stat in 1978-79, only five other players have reached those benchmarks in the same game: Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Baron Davis, Latrell Sprewell and Antoine Walker. Crawford nodded his head approvingly this week when he heard about the rarity of his performance.
“And nobody was surprised. Nobody really gave me any credit for it, either,” said Crawford, who has been known to walk with slouched shoulders because of an extra large chip. “It’s normal when I do it.”
As he returns to his hometown of Detroit to take on the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich., on Friday, Crawford has no plans to let up. “I want to do more. I'm not satisfied with it,” Crawford said.
Entering this season as Bradley Beal’s backup at shooting guard, with the primary objective of generating offense as a sixth man, Crawford filled that role respectably and has emerged as the leading scorer on the league’s lowest scoring offensive team. He is also the only player on the roster who has scored at least 20 points more than twice.
“Jordan is a scorer,” said Hawks Coach Larry Drew, who had Crawford for the first few months of his rookie season in Atlanta. “When he has the ball in his hands you’d better make sure there is a defender near because he will let it go.”
Crawford is averaging career highs in scoring (15 points), assists (4.6) and rebounds (4.1) and is one of 10 players in the NBA averaging at least 15 points, four assists and four rebounds In his six games as starting point guard, Crawford is averaging 17.5 points, 6.3 assists and 6 rebounds, but the Wizards have had some gruesome offensive performances, scoring 80 points or fewer in three games.
Crawford has also averaged 4.2 turnovers, committing a season-high seven in a 90-83 loss on Wednesday to Orlando.
“It’s a work in progress. It’s different when you're playing the two spot than it is when you’re playing the point,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “When you're at that spot you have to be able to run the offense and especially the start of the second half the start of the game. Ball movement, play, touches for everybody. It can’t be where he just comes down relaxed and gets shots.”
Though Crawford played some point guard in high school, he admitted the new role presents several challenges. “I mean, it’s tough because we struggle to score. And me being at the point causes me to give up opportunities a couple times to get everybody else involved. I think I'm handling that good.”
Crawford knows reputations are hard to shake, but he is taking a shot at changing how he is defined. He can do more than score.
“I can pass easily, but I'm such a dominant scorer that people think I can’t pass,” he said. “They got to start watching the game.”
He is the same player who repeatedly called his own number to hit a flurry of three-pointers to lead a failed rally in a recent loss against Golden State, but was willing to look for Earl Barron to take and make the shot that forced overtime against Atlanta, ignoring that Barron had missed his first seven shots.
Crawford is conscious of the criticisms that he is an unconscious gunner and has become more guarded and defiant because of it. He responds by pulling up deeper from beyond the three-point line or taking more pull-up jumpers in transition. But his teammates understand that on a team with few offensive options, Crawford’s fearlessness is necessary.
“I don’t want to take anything from Jordan at all,” swingman Martell Webster said, “because his confidence contributes to this team.”
“Jordan’s always going to keep fighting,” Wittman said. “He might not always take the best shots, I might scratch my head and look to the ceiling sometimes, but I do know he’s going to compete. He’s going to try. That’s who he is.”
Crawford is also not going to handle defeat very well. The losses have been a strain for the last-place Wizards (3-20), but Crawford said he refuses to let them crush his spirit. “Every day is a new day. When we go into games, we have a chance to win close games,” he said. “We don't think we’re going to lose at all. We think we going to win. No matter how many times we lose, every day we think we going to win the next one.”