As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. This morning's trio: Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Steve Blake.
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Follow Jamal Crawford on twitter at @JCrossover.
There's a particular school of thought in the NBA that Jamal Crawford willingly embodies. Best described in the classic Darcy Frey novel "The Last Shot" (for my money the best basketball book ever written), the thought is simple. In the NBA, they pay you to score. Not to shut players down, not to rebound the ball, not to pass. They'll see fit to spread a bit of currency your way if you do things like that, but they won't pay you for it. There's a fundamental difference in the minds of the young and downtrodden between making a bit of money and "getting paid." When you simply make money, you're struggling. Every day is a grind. You know that you're always on the precipice of one injury, one bad week at the job, one passing sign of weakness. Something that saps you, and makes the money stop. You're working hard, to make money. You struggle.
But again, there's the rub. If you can score -- and score at an elite level -- you'll make bread in the NBA. That's why Stephon Marbury's father seemed to scold him when he focused too hard on defense, and passing, and making the team better -- Stephon Marbury was not raised to be an all-time player, nor was he raised to be the player of a generation. Marbury was raised to be a player that got paid. He was raised to be a player that was flashy beyond reason, and dominant in the minds of those who watched him even if he wasn't quite there on the courts. Jamal Crawford? He doesn't do it quite as well as Marbury, certainly. But he's a man who gets buckets -- or, at least, has a reputation for it. He's a guy you can "count on" for 15-20 points per game, even if he gives you nothing else of value on the floor.
And by extension, Jamal Crawford gets paid.
Really though, Crawford's current situation -- in which he's now slated to make $25 million dollars over the next four years, in a contract that takes him til the age of 36 (an age at which only 18 players in the history of the NBA have put up 15 PPG), is a perfect example of just how well that school of thought can lead a man. Scoring -- whether inefficient or not -- is the most obvious statistic a player can accrue. "The team with the most points wins the game." So, the player who scores the most is the most helpful, right? Well, not necessarily -- in Crawford's case, what he brings to the table as a scorer (while formerly considerable) is almost entirely balanced out by what he takes away. He's not quite as bad of a passer as most people think -- over his career, he's averaged around 4 assists per-36-minutes over his entire career, and his rebounding (while anemic) is no more anemic than the average NBA shooting guard.
No, Crawford's issues lie off the stat sheet -- his problems are mainly rooted in his defense, which is godawful. Simply atrocious. He doesn't rotate, doesn't stick to his man, doesn't really seem to care. His other issue is that he's been extremely inefficient the last two years, and especially last year, where he shot under 40% despite using a career-high 24% of the Blazers' possessions when he was on the court. And he was able to parlay that into a four year, $25 million dollar contract. As I said. Jamal Crawford typifies the type of thinking that Marbury's father endorsed heartily -- don't get into the NBA to make money, get into the NBA to get paid. Crawford gets paid. And, well... will continue getting paid for the next four years, at least.
A few interesting facts about Crawford. While this certainly isn't a record, it's still kind of crazy: in his 12 years in the league, Crawford has played for six teams and fourteen coaches. This doesn't count the Clippers and Vinny Del Negro -- it's quite likely that the number of coaches passes 16 or 17 by the time he hangs up his cleats. Pretty wild. He's got one of the best crossover dribbles in the NBA, and if you simply were rating players by the style of their highlight reels, Crawford would probably rank pretty high up there. He's the NBA all-time leader in four point plays, having passed Reggie Miller back in 2010. And finally, sort of breaking the trend of appending stories asking you to examine how nice a player is, I'd be remiss if I didn't link to one of the rare examples of a player who may very well not be. After all. Takes kind of a jerk to sue a landlord over $20,000 when -- according to the landlord -- he completely destroyed the house. Not totally sure of its veracity, and he does seem like a decent dude in interviews. But if that story is actually true? Lord almighty, Jamal. Muzzle the dogs of war a bit better next time, alright? Cool.
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Follow Matt Barnes on twitter at @matt_barnes22.
I'll say this for Matt Barnes -- he did all the right things last season. After a wholly forgettable 2011 campaign with the Lakers, Barnes took his lumps and came off the bench with aplomb to start the season, for a short while appearing behind both Ron Artest and Devin Ebanks in the Lakers' rotation. This didn't cut off his enthusiasm, though, and after suffering through several knee problems in 2011 that completely sapped his game, Barnes got into shape and came back about as strong as ever. He was a highly effective rebounder from the wing this season, posting the 2nd-highest rebounding percentage of his career. He shot 33% from three, which sounds pretty awful in a vacuum, but was actually a bit above the Lakers' overall team average, around 31% -- Barnes was at least a slightly better option than the awful options the Lakers mostly had to deal with. His defense was a bit different than it used to be, but it was still high energy and still quite effective.
That is, until the playoffs. On the 64th day of a 66 day regular season, Barnes sprained his ankle. For most players, that would be a harmful injury -- it counts double for a player like Barnes that's not a fantastic set shooter and relies greatly on constant movement and hustle to back his game up. Thus, the season ended poorly -- Barnes turned in one of the worst playoff performances I've ever seen anyone play, and accomplishing a statistical oddity I didn't even know was possible in an 11 game run. Somehow, Barnes managed to post a higher turnover percentage than three point percentage in this year's playoffs. He turned the ball over on almost 20% of the possessions he touched in the playoffs -- conversely, he shot 12% from three on 31 shots in 11 games. Really. It was bad. It was awful. More than either, though, it was sad. It's always sad when a player comes back from injury and has an excellent season that gets ultimately forgotten and buried when it too is cruelly derailed by injury.
Off the court, Barnes is quite a bit more soft spoken and reasonable than most casual fans would expect. I've heard numerous friends refer to him as something of a thug. I don't think that's true. Barnes seems to me a relatively interesting, average person -- there's nothing altogether more "thuggish" about Barnes than a lot of my friends other than a few more tattoos and a few more million dollars. Well, okay, a LOT more million dollars. Still. If you've ever wanted to get a sense of what Matt Barnes is like, I'd entreat you to watch this fascinating interview where Barnes dishes on poor experiences he had with former coach Mo Cheeks, the influence his children have had on his basketball journey, and the Jeremy Lin phenomenon. Barnes has had his issues -- legal troubles in particular -- but he seems like a really decent guy. You don't need to like him, but it isn't hard to respect a guy as honest and open as Barnes. The Lakers probably won't bring him back, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not hopeful someone does.
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Follow Steve Blake on twitter at @steveblake5.
The other day, at HoopSpeak, a writer I very much respect in Ethan Sherwood Strauss posted one of the more interesting pieces I've read in a while. In it, he posits a somewhat dark reversal of the common narrative around NBA fans. Strauss retells the story of Ricky Rubio's draft night, where he served as Rubio's conduit into the draft and American NBA fandom. He considers Rubio's reactions to the throngs of fans and adoring hordes and comes to the conclusion that contrary to feeling any sort of love for his fans, the experience was more telling for Strauss in how thoroughly it seemed Rubio despised his fans. And for good reason. They weren't simply adoring fans -- they were scary people, all of whom were grabbing for him and screaming at him and giving him undesired and wholly conditional love without knowing a thing about him.
Rubio may have grasped the fundamental contradiction at the root of sports fandom. We grant our players unconditional love -- that they neither need nor ask for -- with the understanding it could turn to abject hatred at any time. By that same token, Strauss argues, Ray Allen may not really give a damn about the Boston fans who now pillory him in the public square and burn his jersey, as though his time with the Celtics meant nothing. The love is, as Strauss states, wholly conditional. It wanes and wavers with every missed shot just as much as it grows with every clutch play. A player can make a game-winning three one day and find himself with free beers from everyone in the city only to be public enemy #1 less than 5 days later after a missed free throw to lose a game. It's a fickle love, and one that just as easily can turn to abject hatred. If the players start to care about it, they'll be hurt that much more when the love inevitably vanishes into the abyss.
Why is any of this relevant to Player #15, the Lakers' Steve Blake? Because perhaps even more than Ray Allen, Steve Blake's recent months may serve as a more telling example of the dark recesses of fandom Strauss tapped to inspire his musings. Yes, Boston fans were insane -- they burnt Ray's jersey, called him a traitor, and essentially dragged his name in the mud over a simple decision. Steve Blake, however, did no such decision. He made no real mistake -- it is not Blake's fault that Mike Brown plays him in horrible lineups at shooting guard where he stands not a chance at success. He was never really the savior Laker fans wanted, and while he's underperformed his contract to some degree, was anyone really thinking Blake was going to be a revolutionary piece that fixed all of the Lakers' ills? Regardless of whether they did or not, nothing really explains or excuses the actions of a small cohort of Laker fans, who not only threatened Steve Blake with death threats on twitter after he missed a late-game three against the Thunder, but fans who tracked down Blake's wife and sent the death threats her way too.
Steve Blake missed a shot in a beautiful game. He did not hurt a soul, nor did he do anything wrong -- he took a very high percentage open shot that, up until that one, he'd been making extremely consistently throughout the entire year. This prompted several Laker diehards to threaten to end a man's life, and while they're at it, track down his wife and kill her too. I don't really think Blake's overall game matters that much -- what matters is that people realize just how insane that concept is, and how fickle the love fans grant their sports teams can be. Had he made that shot, those same people would've been tweeting him with love and support that lasted a day or two, at the least. He'd get interviews. Might've made an extra million or so. Instead, Laker fans everywhere took out their loathing on a man who neither wanted nor cared for their vitriol, and instead of going home a hero Blake and his wife had to go home scared at the hyperbolic depths a fan's disturbed expectations could lead them.
Is that not a fickle, tainted love? If it isn't, I don't really know what is.
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next batch. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. If several people tie, I'll post everyone who tied. This post's shout-out goes to commenter Federico, who got 2/3 of these players correct. Great job, and thanks for the props! We appreciate them.
- Player #16's namesake might very well be George Harrison's favorite food.
- I think Player #17 starred in the semi-hit CBS show "Numb3rs." I enjoyed that show more than I should have.
- "Yes, you'll have to have them all pulled out / after the [Player #18] truffle."
More will be posted early this evening.