Is Jae Crowder the NBA's most improved player?
When I saw Jae Crowder was traded to the Boston Celtics, I was ecstatic. I loved him at Marquette as he relentlessly harassed on defense and punished the other teams on offense including my own Syracuse Orange. My roommate and I joked that he was going to be the biggest part of this trade, but we had no idea this would happen.
It's been just over a year since that Rajon Rondo trade saw three Dallas Mavericks sent to Boston, and while the headliner at the time for the Celtics was Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder has emerged as arguably the most impactful player of the bunch. The 25-year-old forward was almost invisible under head coach Rick Carlisle in Dallas, averaging 4.6 PPG 2.3 RBG 0.8 STL, but since the trade to Boston, Crowder has become an extremely prevalent part of this Celtics squad.
So prevalent that Crowder is the only Celtic to have started every single game for Boston this season. With that, he is also putting up career numbers on offense and defense. Heading into his homecoming in Dallas Monday night, there was plenty of conversation regarding his unprecedented improvement and current stats. But best of all? The league is starting to notice his ascent from unknown to All-Star talent.
In a recent Bleacher Report post of their All-Star ballot that they base on talent and statistics rather than legacy (see: Kobe Bryant), Crowder grabbed two votes. The guys who received the same amount of votes as him? Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving.
Now, Bleacher Report isn't a huge deal, nor are two votes, but the voters for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award are broadcasters and sportswriters within the NBA community, and Crowder is putting together an incredible resume that people are starting to notice. Even ESPN writer Zach Lowe had him as a possible All-Star on his own ballot as he argues Crowder could be the C's best two way player. And why not? Crowder boasts numbers in the top 25 in ESPN's real plus/minus metric, he's top 20 in RPM wins, top 15 in steals per game, and he's sitting among some of the biggest names in the league in those several advanced metric categories.
Brad Stevens has even been blown away by Crowder's insane development:
This comes in the midst of Crowder beginning to dominate games. The forward has scored 20+ points in three of the last five games, and he sank three clutch free throws Monday night against his former team to force OT. In a relatively quiet game for Jae, he stepped up and did exactly what the Celtics needed on the road to extend the ballgame.RE: Jae Crowder's improvement, Stevens says, "He just keeps adding to [his game]. He’s even played some point…He’s really improved his game"— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 14, 2016
That's what a star does, and Jae has undoubtedly improved from a quiet contributor a year ago to an All-Star caliber forward. We'll have to wait and see who wins the NBA Most Improved Player Award, but my money is on Crowder.
Topher Lane is on Twitter, @Topher_L. Photo credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images, Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images.