Jordan Crawford drove up the floor and knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing. He then sliced through defenders and kissed a running right-sided floater off the glass. Crawford also received a pass at center court and accelerated for a wide-open jam.
Relax, the NBA season hasn’t started. Crawford, however, put on a scoring clinic during a pre-season showcase in China.
“I had about 30,” Crawford said via text message.
In case it flew under your radar, Crawford, a former NBA veteran who turns 26 years old today and registered 268 appearances for the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, now suits up for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.
“They’re telling me to take over in crucial points of the game, but I’m not focused on just scoring,” Crawford said. “I really just want to win the championship. It’ll be easy averaging 30 points per game, but NBA teams will value me more if I win a championship, rather than put up big numbers every night and lose.”
The ultra-savvy scoring guard agreed to a five-month, $1.4 million deal and his season debut takes place on November 2, against the Sichuan Blue Whales and its star Ron Artest a.k.a. Metta World Peace a.k.a. The Panda’s Friend.
If there’s something to learn from Crawford’s thus far short-lived experience in Asia, it’s that he’s matured a great deal while making a lot of cash and breaking a bunch of ankles. Oh, he also lives in a castle.
“During the offseason I didn’t think I’d sign in China. I thought I would get a good deal in the NBA, but I was overlooked,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders from his three-story mansion in Urumqi, the largest city in China’s western interior.
It was only after speaking to his older brother Joe Crawford, a former Kentucky star, and a pair of Chinese league studs in former NBA players and California legends Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter, that the former Hawks draft pick opted to test his skills overseas.
“I knew some players who came over here from the NBA. I work out with Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter all the time, so I learned a lot from them. One thing I heard were stories of Stephon Marbury and his success in China,” Crawford said.
Crawford won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor last season with the Celtics, averaging 13.7 points and career-high of 5.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds before being traded to Golden State.
Despite taking a back-seat to the Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, his per minute stat-line with the Warriors was impressive. Crawford registered 8.1 points in 14 minutes of action including an electrifying 41 points in 41 minutes in a 116-112 victory over the Denver Nuggets. He saw limited game time during the playoff series versus the Los Angeles Clippers, including a DNP. Yet, the former Xavier alumnus provided a spark in Game 7, scoring 12 points in 12 minutes.
In China, the Xinjiang locker room constantly preaches championship. Former NBA big man Andray Blatche along with several domestic national-team talents have joined forces to go deep into the CBA Playoffs.
“Other than Dray (Andray) and myself, the team paid a lot of money for Chinese players,” Crawford said. “We have a few national-team guys and our captain played point guard in the previous Olympics.”
There is an ongoing misconception of the China league import rules. Crawford was kind enough to enlighten us and explain the new implemented regulations.
- Non-Chinese players can’t be on the hardwood simultaneously for all four quarters.
- Out of the first three quarters, non-Chinese athletes can only share the floor for two quarters.
- Throughout the fourth quarter, only one import player can be inserted into the game for each respected team. Thus, non-Chinese hoopers will alternate for each other down the stretch.
One of Crawford’s current Chinese backcourt rivals is two-time CBA ring holder and local modern-day idol Stephon Marbury. He shared some great insights on how China takes pride in the 37-year-old former NBA All-Star.
“(Marbury) is like a God out here,” Crawford said. “He has his own statue and stars in his own movie – ‘I Am Marbury.’ He’s also trying to be the coach for the Chinese national-team. I want to accomplish something crazy out here as well.”
Playing in China offers NBAers the ability to return to the league once the season has ended. It’s something Crawford hopes to complete around March.
“I’d like to join a playoff team and become part of an organization that would take a chance on me,” Crawford said. “Whichever NBA team I go to will land a Chinese fan base so it’s a marketing strategy as well. I’m not in China just to get back into the NBA, though. This isn’t a one-and-done thing. I want to build a brand and help the next Chinese generation transform into the best possible era. I’m open to coming back to China next season too if that’s how things play out.”
Crawford opened up further with Basketball Insiders in this Q&A:
How long did you mull over signing in China?
Crawford: “It took about a month once the contract talks started. I learned what my NBA market value was and my agent and I agreed that it wasn’t consistent with my abilities or the contributions I made on the NBA teams I played for. So ultimately, the decision to go overseas was based on the math.”
Which NBA teams offered deals?
Crawford: “Teams wanted to wait till training camp. There were talks of one-season veteran minimum deals. My history with the Washington Wizards concerned a lot of teams. I was traded to D.C. during my rookie season and I was very passionate about playing professional basketball. I worked very hard to show everyone from the coaches to the players to fans that I wanted to win and I could help our team win even when other players were injured or didn’t believe they could win. Some of the decisions that were made and how I expressed my frustration with those decisions led to a big misunderstanding in D.C. and I ended up with a bad reputation, but I’m working to change that.”
Which NBA organization had serious interest in you?
Crawford: “The Sacramento Kings wanted me, but I wasn’t comfortable accepting the backup role there. I’m a hard worker who loves the game and I felt I had something more to offer than what they were looking for from me at the time.”
What were your offseason expectations?
Crawford: “I went into the summer shooting for a multi-year contract with a team that could see me as a part of their future. I thought I demonstrated that I could help an NBA team make a big impact in the league. I don’t just want to BE in the NBA. I love what I do and I’m always ready to compete hard to give my team the win. If you ask NBA players about me, you’ll get the same answer. My resume speaks for itself.”
Describe practices with Xinjiang.
Crawford: “We practice twice a day, but it’s not that hard. Practices are around an hour and a half. In the first session we’d come in at 09:00 AM, put up a lot of shots and go through a couple of plays. During the second practice from 15:30-17:00 PM, we play a lot of five-on-five or four-on-four. We really hoop for the most part.”
How do you fit in talent-wise?
“Oh man. I’ve been pulling a lot of crazy moves in practice. No disrespect but the players here are not exposed to the same level of talent Americans bring on a day-to-day level. Overall, we have some good players and the season is two weeks away so it’s getting serious.”
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.