Essentially viewed as expendable extras in Atlanta, Jordan Crawford and Maurice Evans have become major contributors since arriving in Washington in the Kirk Hinrich deal nearly six weeks ago. Their opportunity came as the result of an unfortunate wave of injuries that wiped out Nick Young, Rashard Lewis, Trevor Booker and Josh Howard, but the Wizards have benefited from having to lean heavily on the Hawks’ scraps. Despite the Wizards’poor record since dealing Hinrich at the deadline, the trade has worked out tremendously for the team with Crawford and Evans helping it establish a new, scrappy identity.
“What it’s done, it’s almost rejuvenated us,” Coach Flip Saunders said of the deal. “That we brought in a young player that can create his own shot in Crawford and really has no fear in how he plays; brought in a solid upfront player in Mo, who is a great defender and gives us great leadership and is a very aggressive player, plays with a lot of energy. Those guys, their aggressiveness, they are happy to be playing. They’ve given us a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that’s carried through the rest of the guys. For the most part, they played better.”
Crawford and Evans will both have an opportunity to face their former teammates when the Wizards host Hinrich and the Hawks on Saturday at Verizon Center. By coming to Washington, both players have been given the chance that they wanted but understood that they would never receive in Atlanta.
Crawford scored just 67 points in 16 games for Hawks (44-35), a playoff team that was crowded at shooting guard and had little use for him. But since replacing the injured Young, Crawford has been unleashed with the Wizards, given the ultimate green light and responded by averaging 21.4 points on 20 shots in 15 starts. He has scored at least 20 points in 10 games, including a career-high 39 points against Miami and a triple double with 20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against Cleveland.
“They knew what I could do and what I was capable of. Out of anybody, they not surprised with what I’ve been doing,” Crawford said of the Hawks. He said having to sit on the bench for most of his rookie season was a challenge. “Every game it motivates me. But it’s a business. Even though I was young and it was my first year, I wasn’t tripping on it. It was definitely hard.”
He admitted that he is looking forward to reuniting with his good friend Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, whom Crawford said offered “big brother-type” advice and support. “It means a little bit, but I don’t want to take it upon myself to have an awesome game just because it’s the Hawks,” Crawford said. “They was [almost] family. I plan to kick with them in the summer. But it’s going to be a battle, nothing friendly. I’ll say what up to them before the game, but it’s all business.”
Saunders acknowledged that Crawford’s production has been somewhat surprising. “We knew that in the draft last year, we really liked him,” he said. “During the draft, as coaches and GMs, and everyone, you’d call people. I have a lot of contacts in college, when I talked to Tubby Smith. Tubby told me, ‘Jordan Crawford, he might be the best guard in the draft. I don’t care where people are rated, I’ve played against him twice.’ He recruited his brother at Kentucky. He said, ‘The way this kid is, he’s an unbelievable competitor.’ He had a great NCAA tournament. We thought he was going to be good, but to come in and average 22 and almost five rebounds and five assists as a starter, you’re talking about elite, top five guys in the league if you can do that.”
Evans saw his role get smaller in his third season in Atlanta, to the point that he almost became an afterthought. But he has served an important leadership role for the Wizard, providing defensive intensity and hustle while knocking down corner three-pointers. He has started nine of his 23 games and scored a season-high 23 points in a loss to Golden State.
“I think, for me, personally, I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunity,” Evans said. “It’s been like that throughout the course of my career. Nothing’s really been easy. To go from a playoff team to a team that’s really struggling, was probably nothing new for me. I just tried to come here and play hard from day one. And I’m fortunate that I did have an opportunity to get some minutes.”
Evans said he realized that his role could get diminished in Atlanta with the direction the franchise was taking. “Initially, I went to Atlanta, in year one and two, I was asked to do a lot. When people’s jobs are on the line, the rotation shortens up and then you pay Joe $126 million and you know how that goes.”
Hinrich only played 48 games for the Wizards, but if he has played an integral part in the franchise’s rebuilding efforts. He arrived from Chicago with French big man Kevin Seraphin before the NBA draft and his exit to Atlanta brought in the additions of Crawford, Evans, a 2011 first-round draft and a $6.2 gift from Mike Bibby. The Hawks have struggled since making the deal, going 10-12 and turning a draft pick that was in the early 20s into one that appears to be headed for the late teens. Hinrich is the gift that keeps giving.
“We hated getting rid of him, we really enjoyed him,” Saunders said.
But the Wizards appear to be doing okay.