After painfully observing countless years of futility from their home team, Golden State Warriors fans are finally being rewarded with one of the Dubs’ best seasons in recent memory. Following a year in which they took the league by storm and became the darlings of the NBA playoffs, the Warriors are right back at it this season, sitting at 26-18 with the sixth seed in a very competitive Western Conference.
Yet the Dubs have not been without flaws. The biggest weakness the Warriors have had to address has been the deplorable play of the bench, a unit that ranks next to last in the entire league in points scored per game. While they boast one of the most effective starting fives in the NBA, the bench has consistently entered games in the late-first and second quarters and squandered leads, digging holes for the starters. While the Warriors have been able to mask their bench woes with the spectacular play of Western Conference All-Star starter Stephen Curry and the rest of the starting five, the inability of the second unit to put points on the board does not bode well for a deep playoff run. All championship contenders must have great benches to maintain leads when the starters rest or provide a necessary spark when the starters struggle. The Warriors have not had that all season, and it has shown when Steph, Klay Thompson or David Lee have off-nights.
The Warriors management has not been negligent about addressing the issue however. Last week, general manager Bob Myers was able to swing a deal to net the Dubs a capable scoring guard in Jordan Crawford for the ineffective Toney Douglas.
Jordan Crawford has always been a standout scorer. At Xavier University, he led the Atlantic 10 in 2009 in scoring with 20.5 points per game. While he admittedly entered the draft too early into his college career, Crawford was able to turn his career around after a slow start. After an ineffective rookie season in Atlanta, he was traded to the Washington Wizards, where he starred after John Wall went down with a season-ending injury, recording two triple-doubles. In three years on the Wizards, Crawford averaged 14.7 points per game. After those three years, he was traded to the Celtics. In his first season in Boston, he was buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Paul Pierce. However, he blossomed this season under Brad Stevens, becoming a much more effective all-around player, averaging 5.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds along with 13.7 points per game.
While he starred in Boston, it is safe to say we have yet to see him do the same here in Golden State. It is always difficult for a player to acclimate to a new team, particularly in the middle of the season. Additionally, Crawford has been put under a lot of pressure to instantly alleviate the Dubs’ second-unit scoring issues seemingly overnight.
Playing-time-wise, Mark Jackson has yet to play Crawford extensively. In his four games with the Dubs, he has played 15, 13, 13 and 15 minutes respectively. J-Craw will eventually need more minutes to really make a significant impact for this team, but that will likely take time, as he is still adjusting to a new system and new teammates. As he acclimates himself with his new team, I expect him to start playing 20-25 minutes per night.
In an ideal world, Jordan Crawford would take on the responsibilities Jarrett Jack had last season — being the first scoring option off the bench, running the second unit, and being a threat during crunch time to take the pressure off Curry. In his first four games with the Warriors, curiously enough Jackson has not played him in this role at all.
Crawford and Barnes are usually the first two off the bench, replacing Thompson and Iguodala at the end of the first quarter. To open the second quarter, Jackson throws out a bench lineup that consists of Crawford paired with either Thompson or Iguodala in addition to the rest of the bench players. This situation is the one Crawford should help.
Facing second-stringers, Crawford is easily capable of putting up points against mediocre competition and running a second-unit that has looked stagnant all season long. I like the idea of playing Thompson/Iguodala in that unit along with Barnes; this way, Crawford has some help as he creates offense for the second unit while giving Curry a breather.
Crawford has certainly looked somewhat timid so far in this role. This timidness is understandable, as he has looked more comfortable with each game as he gets accustomed to his teammates’ tendencies. As he takes the reigns of running the offense for the bench unit, he will allow for Curry to rest more, he will open up more scoring opportunities for players like Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights, who have struggled mightily this season scoring without a playmaker feeding them the ball.
What I would like to see Mark Jackson start doing is playing Jordan Crawford at the point with Curry playing off-guard more in the second half. Steph has had a heavy burden placed on his shoulders in being the sole distributor on the team. While Iguodala has helped somewhat in that regard, Iggy is a forward and hasn’t been the distributor and playmaker Jarrett Jack was last season. With the ball in his hands more than last season, Curry has committed more turnovers, and his shooting percentages have dipped due to teams sending double teams at him when he has the ball. Ideally, if Crawford could come in during the second half and handle the ball, Curry could be a much more efficient and effective scorer while playing off the ball. He has proven to be deadly coming off screens and being a catch-and-shoot scorer. This method would allow for Curry to be a more efficient scorer and to be less turnover-prone, another startling issue the Warriors have had this season.
Jordan Crawford has yet to be the true impact player off the bench so far in his Warriors’ career, but his play recently has led me to believe that will change. He is obviously a gifted scorer, which will improve the Warriors’ dismal bench production. Eventually, he will take loads of pressure off of Curry, and that can only be beneficial to the Warriors down the stretch as they prepare for another deep playoff run.