This week, Allen Crabbe looked like the player the Nets offered $75 million in 2016 and then traded for in 2017. For the first time in his career, the 6’6” shooting guard scored 20 or more points in consecutive games, 20 on Monday vs. Toronto and 20 on Wednesday vs. Detroit. Making the Pistons outing more impressive, even in light of the blowout, was that he had been listed as “doubtful” prior to starting.
Crabbe seemed to have gotten his shooting mojo back. In the two games, he combined for 13-of-22 shooting, including 9-of-15 from deep. Those are big numbers in a small sample, but after a disastrous December, Crabbe has picked up the pace in the New Year. He’s shooting 47.6 percent overall and 45.7 percent from deep in five games.
And he’s shooting with confidence and not just from three-point land. In the Toronto game, he scored the tying basket with a drive to the hoop with 9.3 seconds left — and according to the NBA’s L2M report should have gotten an and-on, but didn’t.
The $19.3 million man seems to be justifying Kenny Atkinson’s faith in him. In late December, a month when Crabbe shot only 30.7 percent, the coach talked to Brian Lewis about Crabbe’s problems and gave him a vote of confidence.
“Listen, he’s struggling a little bit,” said Atkinson. “I feel like he’s getting decent looks. I thought he attacked the rim [vs. Indiana], which I liked. Maybe that can get him going a little more, getting to the rim.
“I don’t think he’s driving close-outs as well as he should,” added Atkinson who wants Crabbe to be more of a well-rounded offensive threat. “They’re closing out on him. He’s got to dribble, and he did it — he did it driving. Listen, the guy’s a 42 percent career three-point shooter. We’re going to keep trusting him and trusting it.”
Well, actually, it’s 40 percent, which is still elite in the NBA and he did finish second in the league last season. There’s been no reporting about whether Atkinson sat down with Crabbe at the beginning of the year and told him to be more aggressive, but it sure looks like someone did. And he has proven clutch. Not only did he tie the Raptors game in regulation Monday, but he played a critical role in the Nets win against Minnesota. Free throws from Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll in the last 34 seconds gave Brooklyn the one-point win in that game.
His defense seems to have improved in the New Year as well. After a solid game vs. the Magic on New Years Day, handcuffing Evan Fournier and leading the team with three blocks, Crabbe announced, “I’m low-key tired of hearing people trying to question my defense,” said Crabbe after the win over Orlando. “Coming over here in this new role, there’s a lot of expectations now. I don’t want to be the liability.”
So now what? In a few games — no one is saying when — D’Angelo Russell will return, creating a logjam at the 1, 2, and 3. In DLo’s absence, both Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert have made big strides. It looks like Dinwiddie and Russell will start.
“I’m comfortable with that,” Atkinson said earlier this week. “We’ll make the decision when it presents itself, but I’m comfortable with it.”
Atkinson also has said LeVert will be a big part of the mix. Not to mention Joe Harris, who has also shot better than 40 percent this month. The mechanics of this are likely to require some creative lineups and roles which have yet to be laid out. Or someone could get traded.
Crabbe, of course, is used to this. In Portland, he played with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Minutes were an issue. Still, if he can keep up his shooting and defense, there will be plenty of minutes.