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Is Allen Crabbe (finally) ready to break out?

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

No move Sean Marks has made is as controversial as his trade of Andrew Nicholson for Allen Crabbe last July. It’s not that anyone laments the loss of Nicholson, now playing in China. He was the price the Nets had to pay to acquire the 22nd pick in last June’s draft, which produced Jarrett Allen.

It’s that Crabbe, the 6’6” small forward, hasn’t lived up to his billing ... or his contract ... since he arrived from Portland. That deal, based on a Nets offer sheet tendered in July 2016 pays him superstar money: $19.3 million this season, then $18.5 million in each of the next two years. A player known for his career 40 percent 3-point shooting percentage, he had been wallowing around 35 percent all season long, often slipping well below that in stretches. Marks has been criticized as well for not demanding a pick from the Blazers for taking on an inflated contract. But the Nets GM, at least publicly, has not expressed any second thoughts.

Then, on Wednesday and Saturday, Crabbe exploded. In two games, he scored 62 points and hit 14-of-32 attempts from deep. How extraordinary have these two games been measured against the arc of Crabbe’s career? In those two games, he set or tied career highs in minutes (44 vs. the Pelicans); points (34 vs. the Pistons); field goals made (13 vs. the Pistons); field goals attempted (24 vs. the Pelicans); 3-pointers made (eight vs. the Pelicans); 3-pointers attempted (18 vs. the Pelicans) and even offensive rebounds (two vs. the Pelicans)

His 19 points in the fourth vs. Detroit were also a career high for a quarter as were his 27 points after halftime in that same game.

In a particularly telling comment after the Pelicans game, Crabbe said “I should’ve been playing like this since Day One. It’s just something new. … The last two games, not playing with a conscience, not thinking, just go out there and hoop.”

One reason why he hasn’t, he told reporters after the Pistons game is that he’s not used to having the greenlight.

‘I look at all the other guys in the league who go out and get big numbers every night,” Crabbe said. “Those are the guys that don’t have a conscience. That’s what I have to work towards doing. I have to understand that’s what they’re allowing me to do over here.”

You’d think by now he’d know. It’s been his coach’s mantra all season: Be aggressive, Allen. After the Detroit game Kenny Atkinson said it again.

“I hope it releases Allen because that’s the Allen we want,” Atkinson said after Crabbe’s career high 34 points in Detroit. “Just more aggressive, more assertive. And if that means he’s going to take a few bad shots a game, we’re OK with that. With his size and how fast he gets his shot off, I just loved how he played tonight.”

The Nets faith in Crabbe has not wavered since they tendered him a $75 million offer sheet in July 2016 which the Blazers matched. With their luxury tax mounting and their wins dropping, Portland’s ownership had buyer’s remorse and offered him around. The Nets, their interest undiminished, offered Nicholson. Done Deal.

And when he wasn’t playing well, particularly in the month of December, Atkinson said he and Marks still liked what their thinking in going after him, not once but twice. “Sean and I were high on him when we first signed him; we’re obviously high on him when we [traded for him],” said Atkinson early in the season.

Crabbe has improved other aspects of his game while his shots haven’t been falling. His rebounding is up to 4.3 per game and he had his best single game with eight back in November. He never averaged three in Portland. His defense has been improving. And he’s become more outspoken as well.

“In the second half, we got ourselves into a big hole again, and we owe it to our fans not to get blown out like that,” Crabbe said after the Pelicans game. “We didn’t play like we, as an organization, want to play in the first half. Coach didn’t even come in and yell at us. He said, ‘Y’all figure it out and get it together.’ I feel like we had a good effort in the second half, but you can’t keep playing catch-up all the time.”

Now, two games is a very, very small sample but his 3-point shooting in the last two games, 14 for 32, is 43.8 percent. That is still below the 44.4 percent he shot for the entire season last year. The issue is aggressiveness, being willing to take all those shots.

Marks and Atkinson expected a lot from Crabbe when they 1) signed him to that $75 million offer sheet in July 2016 and 2) traded for him in July 2017. If he can reward that faith the rest of the season and win a few games along the way, that would be a good thing for him ... and them.