The Cavaliers swapped All-Star point guards with the Celtics in a blockbuster trade that shocked the basketball world. But of all the other pieces in the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade, don’t forget about Jae Crowder.
Boston, after all, was reportedly unwilling to include Crowder in any deals for both Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Now, one of the league’s toughest perimeter defenders and spot-up shooters will compete for a championship next to LeBron James in Cleveland.
This is a big addition for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers get one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters
Crowder shot nearly 40 percent from three-point range with the Celtics last season. That ranked in the top 15 among players to average at least five three-point attempts per game, a clip higher than All-Stars like Thomas, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, as well as bona-fide snipers Eric Gordon and Devin Booker.
Crowder is also used to playing without the ball in his hands.
Spot-up jump shots accounted for more than a third of Crowder’s total offensive possessions last season, according to NBA.com stats. He made those shots with an effective field goal percentage of 56.3 — a number that also accounts for the value of the three-point shot — and shot 41 percent on catch-and-shoot threes.
Crowder will find plenty of spot-up opportunities playing alongside both Thomas and LeBron James, who command double teams with their gifted scoring and playmaking abilities. The only Cavaliers to shoot a better percentage than Crowder on catch-and-shoot threes last season were Channing Frye and Kyle Korver.
Cleveland also averaged nearly 34 three-point attempts per game last season — the second-most in the NBA behind only the Houston Rockets — and 10.3 of those attempts came from the corners. Crowder shot better than 45 percent from both corners, including a 47.4 percent clip from the left side.
Cleveland also gets one of the more versatile defenders in the NBA
If the Celtics didn’t want to trade Jae Crowder for George or Butler, it’s for this reason: Few players in the NBA have the physical makeup to defend LeBron.
Crowder is one of them.
Let’s be real: Nobody is stopping LeBron one-on-one. He’s the world’s greatest player for many reasons, his freakish blend of size, speed, and strength chief among them. But Crowder at least has the frame, grit, and hutzpah to try.
As a result, he helped hold James to an 11-point game on 4-of-13 shooting in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series against the Celtics was the only series The King didn’t average more than 30 points.
Crowder’s defensive impact extended beyond his matchups against LeBron. In fact, with him on the floor, Boston outscored opponents by an average of 7.8 points per 100 possessions. With him on the bench or sidelined, the Celtics got outscored by nearly four points per 100 possessions.
That’s almost a 12-point turnaround by losing a guy widely considered a role player.
In landing Jae Crowder, LeBron has found his new Shane Battier
For years, LeBron has doubled as his team’s best playmaker and defender; when you’re the best in the world, there’s a responsibility that comes with it. Now, at least on the defensive end, James has some help.
Cleveland added a legitimate 3-and-D player by adding Crowder. Now, they can deploy the feared “spread” lineups featuring LeBron and four shooters without sacrificing much on the defensive end. That lineup can feature any four of Korver, Frye, Love, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Jose Calderon, or Richard Jefferson next to James.
Crowder’s availability will be critical in matchups against the Celtics, defending Gordon Hayward so LeBron can conserve his energy. He will also be vital in providing different looks for the Warriors, defending Durant, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and even Draymond Green.
Yes, Isaiah Thomas was the key to the trade. And yes, the Nets’ pick — projected to be a high lottery selection next summer — is equally as attractive an asset for the Cavaliers’ post-LeBron future.
But for Cleveland’s current championship aspirations, Crowder’s versatility as a knockdown shooter and multi-position defender helps them right now. And once he and Thomas get past the awkward stage of joining forces with LeBron after he knocked them out of the playoffs, Cleveland — which also added Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon, and Cedi Osman this summer — looks a lot more versatile than it did two days ago.