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ANALYSIS: Is Allen Crabbe Sean Marks’ biggest mistake?

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Allen Crabbe had 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting vs. the Clippers Saturday, including 3-of-6 from deep. It was easily his best performance of the season. But it will take a number of games like that to convince Nets fans and others that trading for Crabbe was a smart move ... and not Sean Marks big mistake.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Marks has done some good —some would say wondrous— things for the Nets in the nearly three years since he took over as GM, but Allen Crabbe is starting to look like his biggest mistake. Criticism that he didn’t get enough for Crabbe, a frequent refrain last season, has been turning to a more strident call, that Crabbe isn’t ever going to match the money Marks gave him.

Of course, Marks was dealt a cruddy hand in February 2016 with no draft picks, limited cap space and few assets to turn things around on arrival. Thus, he was forced to be creative in how he acquired talent, like tendering big offer sheets to somewhat marginal restricted free agents and hoping that their teams wouldn’t match. (Both Crabbe and Tyler Johnson have publicly stated they were surprised at the Nets generosity ... $75 million for Crabbe, $50 million for Johnson.)

Problem is that teams did match on the offers given Crabbe and Johnson as well as those provided Donatas Motiejūnas and Otto Porter Jr. At least two of those teams ultimately had buyer’s remorse. They regretted matching because they soon realized they had limited their flexibility, clogged their cap space. No one was more motivated to act than Portland.

So, Marks turned back to Portland for a second bite at that Crabbe apple. After Crabbe had finished the first year of his 4-year, $75 million deal, the Nets GM made an offer the Blazers couldn’t refuse. He snagged Crabbe in a salary dump trade – one in which he took back Crabbe and gave up only Andrew Nicholson who was then owed $20 million over three years. (The Nets had taken on Nicholson’s deal in another salary dump that rewarded them with the 22nd pick in the 2017 Draft, which turned into Jarrett Allen.)

However, according to Zach Lowe, he passed up a first-round pick to acquire Crabbe.

The Nets chose Allen Crabbe over acquiring another first-round pick in a salary dump, and that bet looks like a bust.

No details, but that’s a tough one to swallow.

Marks didn’t ask for a draft pick or young asset and he saved the Trail Blazers $60 million in salary, taxes, etc. He liked Crabbe, a 41 percent three-point shooter in Portland, and though he would fit perfect in Kenny Atkinson’s pace and space offense.

Not quite. Or not yet.

Despite setting the franchise record for most three-pointers (201) in a season, he’s been disappointing for the money they’re paying him. Even with his numbers on Saturday night Crabbe is shooting 29 percent from three and 27 percent from the field, averaging a total of seven points in 23.7 minutes.

He lost his spot in the starting lineup to Joe Harris, who is currently second in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage.

Crabbe is also shooting 30.6 percent in spot-up situations, 23 percent after at least one dribble and 13.8 percent on pull up jumpers.

He’s way below the league average in several areas, as his shot chart shows:

Too much red, too little green.

It’s been tough to watch, particularly because we’ve seen what Crabbe is capable of when he finds his rhythm. So, sure, the Nets can say he’s contributing elsewhere but he isn’t out there to rebound the basketball and make some steals. He’s out there to hit his open threes. That’s what got him the money he’s making.

Again, it’s early and a very small sample size of 16 games, but this script is all too familiar. He hurt his left ankle in preseason, the same one he hurt early last year ... and in Portland the year before. Ankle pain was one of the main reasons for his early season woes during the 2017-2018 season, when he shot just 35 percent from three in the first 32 games of the season, then dropped off further in January, shooting a mere 30.7 percent. Ouch.

He hoped things would change this year.

“I didn’t really get to have much of summer [to prepare for this season], and with injuries, I missed some games this year,” said Crabbe. “I definitely will have that in the back of my mind when I’m setting my goals before each and every season, to break my record,” Crabbe said. “That is something that I look forward to breaking each and every year.”

There’s no saying what’s going to happen with Crabbe the remainder of the season. He picked up his play last season and shot 39 percent from January 1 to the end of the season. And as previously mentioned, he finished with the most 3-pointers in Nets’ history with ease.

But this isn’t what you pay more than $18 million a year for. He has a player option after this season and it’s safe to assume he’s going to opt-in. Unloading his contract will be very difficult as things stand.

That’s star money and Marks isn’t getting star quality from Crabbe. It may even have hurt his rep, Lowe hinted.

All the fawning over Marks’ rebuilding of a broken franchise resulted in some snickering among rivals: For all the losing, and all the savvy trades on the margins, what exactly do the Nets have in high-end talent? Do they have one guy who would start on a good team?

Despite the disappointment (so far), the Nets show no indication that they have given up on Crabbe. “I trust him. I love him as a player,” offered Atkinson Wednesday before the loss to the Miami Heat.

In the short term, Crabbe will have to make up for the loss of LeVert and on Wednesday, he expressed confidence that things will turn around, “At the end of the day, it’s basketball. I know that it will click and that it will come around, I just have to keep firing those shots away.” Crabbe said.

Long term, of course, the question is will Crabbe’s production match his salary.

One thing unlikely to change is the Nets’ use of RFA offer sheets. In fact, in Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast with Marks two weeks ago, Woj revealed that the Nets “discussed” tendering offer sheets to other players beyond the four players we know about.

Nor did Marks dismiss the possibility, despite how the player’s team reacts to being forced to pay up. “It’s definitely not a pleasant process. However, that’s the nature of the beast,” said Marks.

So it’s unlikely the Nets experience with Crabbe will change that strategy. Still, at this point, one wonders if they will be more discriminating. Giving a player like Crabbe, who had only started 24 games in four years, $75 million, has turned into a big risk.