During the preseason I wrote an article about how Jae Crowder was on the verge of becoming an elite defender. When I was writing that, I was thinking that if he improved his three-point shooting, Crowder could become a quality 3-and-D player. At the time, I had no idea that he was on the verge of a breakout year.

Leading up to the 2015-2016 season, I don't think anyone knew what Crowder's ceiling was. Was he just an energy guy off the bench who played above-average defense? Or could he improve his offensive game enough to be an impact player on both ends of the floor? With the first half of the NBA season under his belt, Crowder has firmly solidified the fact that he is much more than a traditional role player. He has launched himself into the upper echelon of dual threat players in the league.

Via Dan Feldman of nbcsports.com:

Crowder has emerged as more than just a hustle player in Boston. His two-way excellence quietly puts him in a special class. He’s one of just nine players with a Real Plus-Minus of at least two on both ends of the floor.

Whether you put much stock in RPM or not, Crowder has had a noticeable impact on the Celtics on not only the defensive side of the ball, which we all knew he would coming into the season, but on the offensive side as well. Although his offensive RPM is significantly lower than superstars like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, his defensive RPM is higher than Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love and only slightly lower than James'.

Most notably, Crowder has used his incredible work ethic to improve every aspect of his offensive game. He is averaging 14.6 points, shooting 36.1 percent from three-point range, grabbing 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals, all of which are career-highs. Crowder is also playing a career-high 32.5 minutes after being elevated to the starting lineup to start the year. He is being asked to do a lot more on both ends of the floor and he has embraced the new responsibility and proved that he is more than just a capable wing player.

We knew that last season was a low point for Crowder in terms of three-point shooting and we hoped that he would bounce back and become a threat from beyond the arc. What I certainly didn't expect was that Crowder would turn into a force driving to the basket and in the mid-range game. He has proved to be an extremely reliable finisher at the rim, shooting 66 percent in the restricted area. Crowder also shoots 44.1 percent from mid-range. Almost every area of his offensive arsenal has been improved upon to a career level this season.

Crowder has combined his enhanced offensive game with his already established defensive prowess and has started to draw comparisons to a poor man's Draymond Green, according to Feldman:

I’m usually first in line to scoff at Draymond Green comparisons. Green’s combination skills is incredibly rare. Not every undersized forward can just be him.

But Crowder shares similarities. He’s strong and tenacious enough to defend bigger players in the post, even if his height lends itself to perimeter defense (where he also performs well). He shoots well enough to spread the floor. Crowder doesn’t pass nearly as well as Green, but he keeps the ball moving.

Looking for a poor man’s Green? It’s Crowder – and that’s a compliment I wouldn’t bestow on anyone else in the league.

While his improvement across the board are, and rightfully so, the reason for more national media attention, so too is his leadership and out-spoken nature. People around the country are starting to associate Crowder, along with Marcus Smart, with the tough, rugged style of defense that the Celtics play. His intensity rubs off on his teammates and, although not to the same level as Kevin Garnett, has emerged as the heartbeat of this young team.

So what is Crowder's ceiling? We have seen that he has the commitment necessary to improve any glaring deficiencies he has, but how good can he actually be? Can he make the jump to a consistent 20+ point scorer? Or is a 15 pts/6 reb /2 stl split with stellar defense his maximum impact?

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP Photo
Follow Connor Casey on Twitter @Connor_Casey5

Connor Casey 1/21/2016 03:50:00 PM Edit
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