The NBA offseason made headlines on Tuesday night when it was announced the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 unprotected first-round pick.
Most will focus on the big names in the deal. Irving is a four-time all-star and one time all-NBA team selection, and Thomas was a fringe MVP candidate this past season. But Crowder might be the biggest difference maker in the swap, and fits perfectly with what Cleveland tries to do on offense.
Overall, Crowder took a big step forward offensively last season. The 26-year-old set a career high in true shooting percentage (61.3 percent) and was solid from behind the arc, hitting more than 46 percent of his three-point attempts from the corner, helping boost Boston’s offensive rating from 103 to 112.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, roughly the difference between the offensive output of the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans last season.
The corner three is a staple of the Cavaliers’ offense — they led the league in corner three-point shot attempts (734) in 2016-17, 147 more than the Miami Heat, who were second. They create these shots because they are one of the most efficient. Players made more than a third of all shots (38.7 percent) from this area last season, producing 1.16 points per attempt, second only to shots from the restricted area (1.22 points per attempt).
And if you are open in the corner, LeBron James is going to get you the ball. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, James set a record for most assists on corner threes last season (162), 66 more than anyone else had in 2016-17. That will play perfectly with Crowder’s ability to hit the open three off the catch-and-shoot, where he scored 1.35 points per possession last year, placing him in the top 20 percent of the NBA.
He’s also a great addition to the two other three-point shooters Cleveland already has on the roster — Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith, who hit 55.7 and 47.5 percent of their corner three-point shots, respectively, last season.
Defensively, Crowder shuts down perimeter shooters. He contested 7.1 shots per game, almost four of those (3.6) behind the three-point line, which would place him fourth and first, respectively, among Cleveland’s defenders.
We are dealing with small sample sizes here, but Kawhi Leonard was 1 for 4 from three-point range against Crowder last season; James was 1 for 3; MVP runner-up James Harden was 0 for 4; and Kyle Lowry was 0 for 3. Those are four elite players who struggled against Crowder during the regular season and he also held opponents to 36.9 percent shooting from the field when classified as the primary defender last season.
|2016-17 regular season||FG% against||eFG% against|
In addition, he was excellent at holding spot-up shooters at bay, allowing a mere 0.76 of a point per shot attempt, good enough to put him among the top 5 percent of NBA defenders. That’s key against a team like Golden State, which uses the spot-up shot most frequently when in its half-court offense.
Crowder isn’t going to win any end-of-season awards or find his name in the record books, but his presence gives the Cavaliers a solid three-and-D player who had a positive impact on both sides of the ball for Boston last season, with enough hustle to bring Cleveland one step closer to another NBA championship.