Los Angeles Clippers: Jamal Crawford’s Heating Up

March 2, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) moves to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
March 2, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) moves to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

After a slow start to the season, Jamal Crawford is back to his old tricks right when the Los Angeles Clippers need his offense the most.

On Mar. 20, Jamal Crawford will turn 36.

If you didn’t know any better and judged him from his recent play, you’d think Crawford was no older than 26.

As the NBA season heads into the twilight of the season, the Los Angeles Clippers’ sixth man extraordinaire is heating up. Crawford is averaging 17.5 points per game over his last 15 games, up from the 13.9 points he’s averaging for the season.

Since Blake Griffin was sent to the sidelines for injuries in late December, the Clippers’ offense has been placed on the shoulders of Chris Paul. Paul has played masterfully and has kept the Clippers offense running smoothly in Griffin’s absence, but the offense can become a bit too reliant on Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan pick-and-rolls.

This is where Crawford’s been most valuable for the Clippers. While Crawford gives great effort on defense, the truth is that he makes his impact on the offensive end, where he is one of the best one-on-one players in the league. Over Crawford’s career, there has been criticism that he’s a better one-on-one player than an actual NBA player, but there is a place for someone who can create offense out of nowhere like Crawford can.

The Clippers’ offense right now revolves around picks set by Jordan for either Paul or Redick to start the offense. While those plays often end up with a good look, it’s always helpful to have other options offensively.

One of the things the Clippers miss with Griffin in street clothes is a player to go to in isolation. Griffin ranks fourth in the NBA in points per possession (1.09) on isolation plays among players who have played at least 30 games and had at least 50 isolation plays this season.

Crawford has continued to come off of the bench to provide scoring when Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan take a breather, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been playing the minutes usually reserved for a starter. Since February, Crawford is playing 30.3 minutes a night, giving the Clippers the scoring threat they need to keep the offense humming.

While Crawford isn’t Griffin offensively, Crawford has done a great job of replacing some of his isolation plays to give Paul, Redick and Jordan a break. Crawford’s tied for ninth in the NBA in isolation possessions (200) and is producing much like stars do. His 0.98 points per possession on isolation plays rank higher than every player with more isolation possessions except for Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant. To be clear, Crawford is more efficient on isolation plays than James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George and Russell Westbrook.

Crawford has always made a living thriving in isolation, but it’s had an increased importance without Griffin. Crawford has always been closing out more games recently as a small forward, and his isolation plays at the end of games have helped the Clippers create offense when they need it most, like in their Mar. 2 win over the Thunder.

For most players, this shot would qualify as a lucky one, but Crawford has been one of the best in the league throughout his career at making these type of tough shots. In the same game, Crawford had a basket in isolation against Kevin Durant that was a big help in the Clippers closing the 85-68 gap they faced entering the final quarter in an eventual 103-98 win.

Crawford was one of the main reasons the Clippers gave the Warriors issues in their most recent meeting on Feb. 20, which resulted in the Warriors winning 115-112. Crawford played more minutes than any Clipper and scored 25 points in defeat.

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When Blake Griffin started missing time, it was hard to believe that the Clippers would be able to operate at the same level without him, but Crawford has done a tremendous job at filling in as the next man up to give the other players a rest on the offensive end.

Many have criticized Crawford for his low field goal percentage (career percentage of 41.0) given his trigger-happy nature, but there is a place in the NBA that values the type of offense that Crawford can provide. Isolation ball has almost been erased from the NBA game and is nowhere near as prevalent as it was 10 years ago, but there will always be a place waiting for a player like Crawford who can beat his man off the dribble and get some points.

More hoops habit: NBA: 20 Players Turning Their Seasons Around

As Bill Russell once told another player who defied his age with his youthful play, Kyrie Irving Uncle Drew in the great Pepsi commercials, “…this game has always been and will always be about buckets.”