Vol. 2 , Iss. 2: Shooting In A Crowd

Jae Crowder had two very different seasons last year in Miami & Memphis, so how do we make sure Phoenix get the significantly better version?

It’s Getting Close…..

The 20/21 NBA Season is fast approaching and I am pleased to report that we hit the subscriber goal I’d set before Game 1. So thanks to all of you who shared the last few Issues and got more folks on board. A special shout-out to those who donated, as it’s going to allow me to subscribe myself to a few paid resources that will hopefully make the Newsletter content even better.

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Let’s talk shooting…..

Much like the 2019/20 NBA Season, Jae Crowder had himself a tale of two halves. Ask a Grizzlies fan and they’ll tell you he was trash. But quiz a Heat fan and you’ll hear about what a treasure he was. You know how the saying goes.

Here’s the thing though. There are certain non-negotiables you can always come to expect from Crowder. He will bring a certain intensity to the court that you can always count on. It’s just shooting. It all comes down to how often Jae can take the round thing and make it go through the other other round thing.

Don’t listen to me though. Let the Head Coach of our Phoenix Suns fill you in.

“I love his versatility. I love his toughness. Every time you look at the teams he’s played on, he’s always playing. We liked the fact he improved his shooting last year when he went to Miami. I can’t wait to spend some time with him to see what he changed, because his shooting numbers went up.” - Monty Williams on Crowder.

So did the Miami coaching staff miraculously tweak Crowder’s form midway through the season after being traded, resulting in the turnaround? I highly doubt it and here’s why.

Instead of informing Monty of a change to how he shot the ball, I’d expect Crowder to tell his new coach it all came down to when he shot the ball. While it’s incredible that he went from a near career low of 29.3% from deep to a clear career high of 44.5%, it’s even more shocking how different his shot profile was.

Context matters, who would have thought.

Jae didn’t just decide to flip the switch after tanking in Memphis. To start with, the Heat took his attempted threes from the corners versus above the break to a career high. In addition to that, Miami made sure Crowder got far more catch and shoot opportunities over pull up jump shots. A situation he is far more comfortable in.

The Grizz just had both of these ratios way too far out of whack.

Here’s where it gets really interesting though.

Crowder might inform his new coach that he’s far more comfortable spotting up in the corners where possible but it’s almost guaranteed Monty won’t hear him say any of the following…..

  • “I had to create nearly 30% of my own shots in MEM and I hated it!”

  • “Over 78% of my total shots were from 3 in MIA and I get why”

  • “I really struggled in MEM due to a career high of 15% frequency with a tight defender and career low of 18% frequency with a wide open look”

  • “I thrived with MIA because of a combined 69.2% frequency either open or wide open and it made me an even more confident shooter in tighter situations too!”

Why don’t I expect Jae to quote any of that?

Well, partly because I just don’t expect him to know the numbers were that stark even though I’m sure he felt it on the court. But also because it’s just not in our human nature, let alone an NBA players nature, to admit the results are better when the challenge is easier.

And this is where I get to my first of many references on why Jae Crowder should start (because Issue 1 last week wasn’t enough) with the Suns. While it may come across as an oxymoron, the challenge is easier when Crowder starts. While he started most games on the Heat and Grizzlies - one combo was with Adebayo-Dragic-Robinson-Butler, while the other was Morant-Brooks-Jackson-Valanciunas.

The results are far less shocking when you look at the process.

Say it with me again. CONTEXT MATTERS.

For the remainder of the Newsletter, we are going to focus on how Phoenix can unleash Jake Rowder (Jae Crowder’s hot shooting alter ego) on the entire NBA.

You’ve read the stats. You’ve seen some quick Memphis clips versus our beloved Suns. You’ve had the word context rammed down your throat.

Now it’s time to start to imagine Crowder as one of us. More importantly, how the Suns can create the same looks to hopefully generate the same results.

And just to be 100% clear, as a member of the 20/21 Suns starting unit.

Notice how the Heat lineup above had a far better mix of shooters AND play-makers, compared to Memphis relying quite a lot on Morant? Well imagine how the dual threat of a Chris Paul/Devin Booker handoff, combined with the gravity vacuum Deandre Ayton rolling down the lane creates - is going to result in wide open corner looks for Crowder.

Or how about a high Pick & Roll between Paul and Ayton? Booker spacing on the wing will often take the oppositions best defender out of the equation. And then you have Mikal Bridges and Crowder camped out in the corners. The defense will generally be forced to tag Ayton on the roll, even more so now with the threat of CP3s mid-range game. Pick your poison.

So by what method do they choose to die by? How about Mr. Crowder, with the catch & shoot dagger, and in the library…I mean, the corner. A truly deadly combination.

Now I can already hear you all the way from Melbourne, Australia.

“Big deal David, you worked out that Crowder is good at hitting open shots. Really shocking stuff”. And I hear you. But please indulge me for a moment, as we get into the second reference to Crowder starting this coming season.

Those closest defender figures again for Crowder in Miami, this time with the attempts per game and efficiency:

  • “Open” (4-6 feet): 2.9 attempts from 3 and shot 43.6%.

  • “Wide Open” (6+ feet): 2.7 attempts from 3 and shot 45.1%

And now how that compares to both Kelly Oubre and Bubble Cam Johnson, who Crowder would seemingly usurp in the starting lineup:

  • Oubre shot 32.4% on 2.7 “Open” 3PAs & 37.4% on 2.2 “Wide Open” 3PAs.

  • Johnson shot 37.4% on 1.8 “Open” 3PAs & 42.2% on 2.8 “Wide Open” 3PAs.

For Phoenix to bring the Heat out of Crowder, they will need to start with generating similar looks. Something I’d feel fairly comfortable with in a starting lineup that was able to almost achieve the same for Oubre/Johnson and has now added CP3 on the ball.

Similar playbook here - off ball shooting threat + big man gravity + smart cutting = buckets. Have I ever told you how freaking good Mikal is as a cutter? One day soon I’ll dedicate a whole Newsletter to it. For now, watch as he ‘hammers the nail’. That’s a deep cut for you Newsletter Day 1s.

We will talk about it more in a second but should Crowder not start the season as a starter, then there are still ways to find him in some comfortable situations.

One of those would be an All-Wing lineup with Ayton. Look out for Side PnR to be a real feature of Monty’s offense this coming season, the most deadly of which will be Book/Ayton being watched by Crowder, Mikal and Johnson from the weak side.

It places the defense in the unenviable position of choosing between helping on the two-man game or staying glued to their man. Not only unenviable but inevitable too. Whichever path you choose, you are almost certainly staring back at an open look.

But here’s where I get back to Crowder being in an even better position if he’s getting those looks with the starters. That’s the third direct starter reference so far, for those counting at home.

What if the Side PnR is Paul/Ayton this time and Book is also out there wreaking havoc with off-ball movement? Well even when Crowder’s shot isn’t falling, it’s his willingness to shoot that keeps the defense attempting to run him off the line. When you have another threat out there like D-Book (we don’t dare say Devin), Crowder has always been willing to move the ball on for an even better shot.

Quick aside to address the giant elephant in the room - Crowder likely either had Covid 19 or took some time to pass the safety protocols. We don’t really know. What we do know is that he’s had less practice time with the team than others. With real games just a few days away, this puts a serious dent in his chances to begin his stint in the purple and orange as a starter. Those of us on “Crowder Must Start” Island are shocked but not rocked. After all, inhabitants of said island remain big fans of Cam Johnson. This is less about Cam and more about wanting to ensure the Suns get the best version of Crowder they can.

Now back to regular Newsletter programming…..

Shooting in a crowd, Jae doesn’t live up to his name.

Despite that though, there are a lot of ways to ensure Crowder keeps up the hot shooting streak from Miami. Does that make him a good bad shooter or a bad good shooter? Honestly, I don’t know and I honestly don’t know if I care either.

What I do care about is Phoenix uncovering the secret recipe Monty Williams sounds so keen to talk to Crowder about and ensuring the $30 Million investment over 3 years remains a good one.

As you probably hear loud and clear by now, I think that starts by pouring a large portion of starter minutes into that secret potion as a base. That’s the secret ingredient that unlocks the rest and I just can’t see it coming from a majority of minutes with the reserves.

What follows - a generous helping of assisted buckets, his fair share of catch & shoot opportunities, a heap of corner threes, lots of wide open shots and of course….more than a dash of winning.

“He'll be able to show them how to do it….he's proven over his career that he contributes to winning and that he's willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win. If that's playing 38 minutes and attempting two shots -- he's a winner. He has that amount of grit that he's developed from just nine years of real, good, real high-level basketball.” - James Jones on Crowder.


Overtime…..

I’m sure most of you have kept up with everything Suns in the last little while but here’s what I’ve been checking out:

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