Wizards guard Jordan Crawford overcomes slow start, relishing his opportunity


Jordan Crawford, left, recently scored 20 or more points in seven consecutive games. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)
April 15, 2012

Away from the court, Jordan Crawford walks with slouched shoulders that match his too-cool, laid-back demeanor. But that might actually be a result of the mountainous chip that he carries.

Crawford has often had to deal with being overlooked or forgotten — from high school to AAU to college — and the slights have fueled his confidence and relentless desire to prove that he not only belongs, but deserves to be respected on the floor.

But when the Washington Wizards’ season began, that desire got him in a little trouble when he didn’t get an opportunity that he felt he should’ve had a chance to earn. Coming off a solid finish last season as a rookie, Crawford started at shooting guard the first two games for the Wizards, but felt as if he was merely keeping the seat warm until Nick Young regained his conditioning after re-signing with the team during training camp.

“It wasn’t my job at all. I didn’t get a chance to lose it,” Crawford said. “You could all kind of see that I was just holding a position. It wasn’t that they really wanted me to start. That was more disappointing than anything, the fact that I came in wanting more and I was trying to show them that I can bring some winning here, too.”

Another topsy-turvy campaign in Washington is ending with Crawford playing a role similar to the one he had envisioned when he arrived for training camp. He is a focal point of the Wizards’ offense, leaned upon for his playmaking and scoring ability, and making shots as he said he’s being doing “since I popped out.”

Crawford has led the team in scoring since the all-star break and has been given an increased workload since the trade deadline deal that shipped Young to the Los Angeles Clippers. He recently became the first Wizards player since Antawn Jamison more than two years ago to score 20 or more points in seven consecutive games; a feat that is hard to accomplish, no matter how terrible the team is.

“I don’t know if this is exactly how I want it,” Crawford said, cracking a smile. “I want to be racing for a playoff position or something, but it’s all right. I’m playing with confidence, the coach is giving me a lot of nice plays that fit my strong point. It’s been fun.”

Crawford has scored in double figures in 16 of the Wizards’ last 19 games and is averaging 17.7 points and three assists since the all-star break. The production is similar to last season, when he had 16.3 points and 3.9 assists after the break, with Young missing most of that time with a knee injury.

But each quality performance has also raised more questions about his future role with the organization and whether he is a long-term option as John Wall’s back-court mate. The 6-foot-3 Crawford is a volume shooter and admittedly takes some head-scratching shots, with defenders contesting or early in a possession. Coach Randy Wittman is constantly on the second-year guard about his shot selection.

“It’s not a bad shot until you miss it. That’s how it always is,” said Crawford, who is connecting on 40.6 percent of his field goal attempts this season. “I probably do take bad shots, but in a sense, we kind of need some of those shots I take. I can always improve on it and I will.”

The Wizards (14-46) are assured another high lottery pick in the NBA draft and will likely look to address their need for perimeter scoring if they are unable to win the No. 1 overall choice and take Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. The draft is stocked with several scoring swingmen, including Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Florida’s Bradley Beal and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes. The Wizards could also seek an upgrade in free agency.

Crawford let his frustrations about backing up Young show near the end of an early game in Atlanta, when he got limited minutes and closed out the game pulling up from ridiculously long distances for shots that failed to even hit the rim. He was put back in a reserve role the next game in Milwaukee. “I didn’t handle it the best way,” Crawford said. “You got to learn.”

He credited the counsel of veteran Maurice Evans for helping him snap out of his early funk, turn around this season, and eventually yank back the starting job even before Young was dealt. Evans has been around Crawford since they were teammates in Atlanta. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder and that helps drive him to be player that he is, it also can be viewed negatively and hurt him,” Evans said. “I try to challenge him. He accomplishes the difficult things and makes those look easy — scoring 20 points in a row on a back-to-back is difficult in this league. Accepting criticism from a coach or from a player, be it right or be it wrong, is a colossal challenge for him at times. When I paint the picture for him, he becomes receptive.”

If placed in the same situation after another strong finish, Crawford said he would be better prepared. “I ain’t going go into next season like I did last season, hoping for something,” Crawford said. “You don’t know how long you’re going to get to start or play a lot of minutes in the league, for your career, so I’m just looking to take advantage.”

Wizards notes: Eighth-year guard Roger Mason Jr. will miss the remainder of the season because he is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair a broken left index finger. . . .

Washington also announced it has signed James Singleton for the rest of the season.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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