Originally sent to Boston as an unknown in the Rajon Rondo trade, Jae Crowder quickly became a favorite of the TD Garden faithful, as he helped the team make an unexpected run to the playoffs last spring. His most memorable moment came when he drained the game-winning three-pointer against Toronto, which secured the Celtics the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference:
After being swept by Cleveland in the first round, uncertainty hung over Crowder's place in the organization, as the 6-foot-7 forward entered restricted free agency. Many C's fans, like myself, figured management would get a deal done quickly with the 24-year-old, who averaged 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 57 games for Boston last season.
But as Crowder starts to look for real estate around town, the question remains on what his ceiling actually is? Did the Celtics overpay for a wing that has a questionable three-point shot, and hadn't averaged more than 20 minutes per game before arriving in Beantown?
The most common comparsion to Crowder is DeMarre Carroll, who recently signed with the Toronto Raptors, and whose game is similar to Crowders'. Both are hard-nosed defensive players that give you stuff on the court that may not show up in the box score. Of course both players rock the same hairstyle, which may be a reason why people call Crowder a "poor-mans DeMarre Carroll".
Carroll, who has a more polished offensive repertoire, averaged 31 minutes a game last season for the Atlanta Hawks, who were the Eastern Conference's best team in the regular season. His numbers were very respectable, pouring in 12.6 points, while cleaning the glass for 5.3 boards per game.
If given those types of minutes, could Crowder put up similar stats? The C's energetic forward played 24.2 minutes per game after arriving from Dallas.
According to basketball-reference.com, Carroll's averages, per 36 minutes, were 14.5 points, 6.1 rebounds on 49 percent from the floor, including 40 percent from beyond the arc. Crowder has very similar numbers, per 36 minutes, putting up 14.0 points, 6.9 rebounds. The shooting stats are where the two differ substantially.
Crowder's 42 percent from the field is manageable but his 28 percent from long distance is a problem. Luckily, for Crowder's sake, coach Brad Stevens seems to encourage his players to attempt the three-pointer, even if the percentages aren't in his favor.
Keep in mind though, that Carroll is 28-years-old and has improved his three-point shooting in the last two seasons. When the former University of Missouri product was playing in Utah two years ago, he was clanking the rock from downtown, shooting only 28 percent himself. So by that logic, and if Carroll and Crowder are so similar, there is still hope for Crowder to get in a groove from past the three-point line.
Maybe the real answer regarding Crowder's ceiling isn't comparing him to another player, but focusing more on his situation with the Celtics. He is going to get more minutes than he ever has in his career under Stevens next season, and has the green light to shoot when open. He will also bolster a very strong starting defensive unit which should include Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Amir Johnson. Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have continuously preached defense first, a factor that will only keep Crowder on the court for longer periods.
Crowder still has a lot going for him, despite his questionable numbers from three. His defense will improve even more with the addition of Johnson protecting the paint:
Unfortunately you can't ignore Crowder's inability to hit the three-pointer. Can he improve his numbers from deep? Who knows? The key for Crowder could be to cut down his attempts from beyond the arc. He shot a nice clip of 50 percent on two-point field goals last year. Before coming to Boston, the three-year veteran was shooting 35 percent from deep, but only at 1.5 attempts, compared to 3.0 with the C's.
The Celts forward, will be out to prove the doubters wrong, who say that dishing out $35 million to an unproven player is a high risk. The $7 million Crowder is making per season for the next five seasons will look like chump change when the contract ends and he is in the prime of his career at 29-years-old, as the salary cap sky rockets. Carroll, for example just inked a four-year, $60 million deal in Toronto.
In the end, expect Crowder's stats to elevate with a full training camp, and season under Stevens' tutelage. As far his ceiling? Who really can pinpoint it right now? Will he ever be an All-Star? Probably not. Fortunately after his nice payday this week, the one ceiling he has to worry about is what kind of house he wants to purchase in the Boston area (barring any trade) to comfortably live in for the next half decade.