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Can Allen Crabbe be more than just “Basic Cable?”

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Charles Maniego takes a look at where the Nets stand as free agency nears its end. This is Part I. Saturday, we’ll look at the Nets lack of length.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

When the Brooklyn Nets signed Allen Crabbe to a $75 million offer sheet last summer, Sean Marks and his staff were banking on improvement.

Crabbe, a career bench player, had proved his worth as a deadeye shooter. In the 2016-2017 season, Crabbe showed more of the same consistent production, but his game pretty much remained the same.

When the Nets traded for the contract – and player – they had targeted in 2016 a few weeks ago, it signaled their continued commitment to Crabbe, how much they believe in him.

How limited was Allen Crabbe’s game in Portland? Former teammate Mason Plumlee nicknamed him “Basic Cable.” Crabbe, jokingly, only had three channels – catch and shoot, pull-ups and layups.

Crabbe knows all about the criticism and addressed it at his press conference.

“In Portland they had two great guards but sometimes you have to make a move for your own career and I feel like this is going to be the best place for me,” he said in a response to a NetsDaily question. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

The numbers support the basic cable moniker. While Crabbe did provide some much needed spacing whenever he saw floor time, around 70% of his shots came from beyond 16 feet, per basketball-reference. 55.7% of his shots were of the catch and shoot variety, per NBA.com/stats. While Crabbe did shoot a scorching 46.2% from three out of catch and shoot situations, his game was limited to being a perimeter threat.

Additionally, 96.8% (not a typo) of Crabbe’s field goal attempts came with three dribbles or less. He averaged only 1.5 assists per 36 minutes, and assisted at a career-low 6.1% in 2016-2017. Was Allen Crabbe one-dimensional last season? You decide.

In their Season Review, Eric Griffith of Blazer’s Edge called Allen Crabbe’s 2016-2017 season disappointing, due to the massive contract Crabbe signed – and which Portland matched. Crabbe’s lack of growth in the 2016-2017 season was juxtaposed with the season of Meyers Leonard, a player much maligned by Trail Blazers supporters. Griffith said Crabbe “escaped serious criticism,” and later pointed out that Crabbe was “just a body on the court who maxes out at ‘do no harm.’”

Even dating back to his NBA Draft scouting reports in 2013, Crabbe’s smooth perimeter stroke – and lack of much else was highlighted. DraftExpress said the following in April 2013…

“Crabbe struggles to create off the dribble for either himself or his teammates. He doesn't do a great job using his off hand or changing directions with the ball, and generally looks out of his comfort zone after more than one or two straight line dribbles. He shows some ability to shoot off the dribble, mostly in the form of pull-up jump shots as defenders close out on him or after one dribble to his left. His lack of perimeter ball handling ability limits him greatly in this regard, though.”

On the defensive end, Crabbe’s metrics and eye-test evaluations were far from encouraging as well. Griffith commented on Crabbe’s defense, saying,

“Crabbe was downright terrible off the ball. He regularly missed rotations, got hung up on screens creating mismatches, or flat out blew an assignment.”

Crabbe’s uneven defensive effort was concerning, as he even struggled to defend bench players. He does possess the length and adequate lateral quickness to at least contain offensive players. But despite the team’s offensive prowess, the shaky defense of the entire Trail Blazers team led to them barely making the Western Conference playoffs.

He addressed the defensive issue at the press conference as well, saying he and iKenny Atkinson spoke about it a year ago at the time of the offer sheet.

Seemingly, Crabbe has been the same player since college – a fantastic, even elite shooter without much else in his offensive repertoire. Still, his defensive effort lacks as well. While every NBA team covets high-level shooting, Crabbe’s contract (made in Brooklyn) and lack of growth led to some disappointment for Portland in 2016-2017.

Expanding In All Aspects

The acquisition of Allen Crabbe shows the continued belief of Sean Marks, Aktinson and the rest of Nets management in Crabbe’s improvement.

“His role will expand here,” Marks said. “I’m excited to see him with our coaching staff, especially with Kenny and the development pieces here. That was one of the reasons we talked about him last year.”

On the offensive end, Crabbe was drawn to Brooklyn in 2016 due to a larger role (and $75 million.) Kenny Atkinson’s open-minded offensive philosophy was appealing for a player that succeeded in a limited role. While his status as a starter may not be set in stone just yet, Crabbe is still likely to draw more attention on the offensive end. Almost by default, he is the Nets’ best perimeter shooter. He shot 11 percentage points higher from three than the Nets did as a team last season, 44.4 percent to 33.8 percent. The rest of his game is still untapped.

Crabbe’s best bet to expand his game is to use the threat of his perimeter shot to expand his game. He is neither the most explosive nor the quickest athlete, but if he can draw defenders in via the threat of his shot, he could add more wrinkles to his game.

Non-ball dominant shooters like Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick and Kyle Korver grew their game by reading defense coverage, and not just shooting with every touch. Each of those players may not be the flashiest penetrators or creators, but their understanding of closeouts, overplays and rotations allowed them to use the threat of their shooting to fuel the rest of their game.

In the 2013 pre-draft process, Crabbe’s game was compared favorably to Klay Thompson’s, who was still an unfinished product at the time. Thompson’s offensive growth stemmed from an increased confidence in attacking off the bounce, and cuts off-ball with conviction. If Crabbe can add some creativity to his drives, it could put defenses in a tussle. With increased attention from defenders, Crabbe may see a decline in efficiency. Basic Cable will need to add more channels.

Here’s some of what Crabbe has shown so far off the dribble. Above, he attacks a Gerald Henderson closeout and takes it middle for a floater. Crabbe’s go-to weapon off the dribble is the floater or runner, choosing to shoot on the move before meeting the defense at the rim. The shot itself looks good, and Crabbe shot a decent 44.0% from the area just inside the free throw line.

Crabbe drives – with conviction – right into the teeth of the Utah Jazz defense. Of course, playing against the less spry Boris Diaw could make any player look like John Wall (I love Boris Diaw, by the way.) But judging from his footwork, Crabbe knew exactly what he wanted to do. As soon as he caught the ball, he made his move. Last line of defense Derrick Favors was too occupied wrestling a Bosnian Bear to effectively slide over and stop the zipping Crabbe.

Again, Crabbe uses a pump fake to get Kevin Durant to lean over and open up the lane. He finishes with a finger roll off the glass just before JaVale McGee’s long arms swat the shot. Of note is the action to receive the pass. Crabbe got open on the wing via a flare screen from Meyers Leonard. A flare screen is a popular action that the Nets have used at times. But instead of C.J. McCollum and Meyers Leonard spurring the action, imagine D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov setting up an open Crabbe on herringbone hardwood.

This past season, Kenny Atkinson enabled players to experiment with attacking off the dribble. Everyone from Isaiah Whitehead to Quincy Acy was given the green light to attack off the bounce, to mixed success. Surely some of Crabbe’s post-practice “vitamins” will be work to grow more confident off the dribble. Dribbling and finishing through contact could be the main areas of improvement.

Defensively, Crabbe’s wingspan (6’11”) and understanding of rotations could catalyze at least some improvement. His main flaw on the defensive end was mostly a lack of focus, and a hesitance to contact at others. That may be said for the entire Trail Blazers team, of which Crabbe posted the worst defensive rating of the group.

Above, Crabbe is simply beat by Will Barton, standing nearly upright on the perimeter. He doesn’t try to recover, leaving Barton to Meyers Leonard. That leads to the defense collapsing and Crabbe left in the dust.

While the play above leads to a turnover, Crabbe’s hesitance to contact is on display. He stutter steps around a Nene screen, leaving James Harden into a downhill run. Crabbe avoided contact completely, and again left the job of defending the perimeter player to the big man in the paint.

Part of the Nets’ improvement post-All Star Break was their defensive uptick. Not only was the defense more cohesive, but players were defending with greater effort. Sean Kilpatrick, notably a poor defender for the early portion of the season, hustled around screens and defended with more discipline.

In Summer League, the Nets were at their best when embracing contact in pick and roll, with players like Isaiah Whitehead bulldozing around screens or switching effectively to contain perimeter attacks. If Allen Crabbe wants to be a full-time starter, his defensive effort has to at least be average.

More a salary than a dump

Unlike previous salary dumps, Allen Crabbe wasn’t acquired with additional assets in mind. Crabbe is the asset, a 25-year-old the Nets had targeted and tracked for the past two seasons. His shooting and spacing are welcome additions to one of the perimeter shooting-happy teams in the league. Crabbe’s development on the offensive end could be the most noticeable impacts of a larger role in Brooklyn. Even if his offensive game remains static (which is not necessarily a be a bad thing), a renewed defensive effort would be an improvement after a lackluster 2016-2017.

Allen Crabbe’s nickname as a Portland Trail Blazer may have been Basic Cable, but as a Brooklyn Net, he and his coaching staff may be looking to go premium.