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Q&A: Jamal Crawford on Clipps, Sonics, Top Defenders

Basketball Insiders

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Jamal Crawford of the L.A. Clippers was recently a guest on the Basketball Insiders Podcast. Alex Kennedy and Michael Scotto interviewed Jamal and the Q&A can be found below. To the listen to the podcast in its entirety, click the play button above.

Question: Let’s start off talking about this season. You and I, in the past, have talked about the continuity that this Clippers team has. Not many teams have a core that’s been together for so many years. Where is your guys’ chemistry level at now and how comfortable are you guys playing with each other this point after so many years?

Crawford: “I think we’re very comfortable. Obviously, with injuries, it’s part of the game and you hate to see it, but we just have to hold down the fort until everyone gets back. With the chemistry we have with our core guys, we’re very familiar with each other. We’ve been through all kinds of wars together, all kinds of battles together, we know where each other are supposed to be on the court, we know how to communicate with each other, and I think all of those things are important. The first part of the season, we started off great. We had everybody healthy. The last few weeks we’ve had some injuries, especially our two top guys, so we’re just trying to hold down the fort until they get back to keep that chemistry rolling.”

Question: When you guys are fully healthy, you have Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and yourself, and you have deeper bench now. When you put all of those components together and you look at the Western Conference with the Spurs and the Warriors’ star-studded quartet that everybody talks about, where do you feel you guys fit in that mix when you’re fully healthy?

Crawford: “When we’re fully healthy, I think we’re just as good as anybody. I really believe that. Obviously, the Spurs are the gold standard and have been for the last 15 years, Golden State has had a tremendous run the last few years, and other teams are on the rise as well. But, when we’re healthy and right and playing at our very best, I feel like we’re built to play against anybody. We believe that as well. We just have to continue to go out and prove it and prove it when it counts and, obviously, that’s the playoffs.”

Question: Obviously, you’ve been Sixth Man of the Year multiple times and everyone knows what you can do off the bench. Austin Rivers was brought back too. But you guys also made some additions such as Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights. How good is this bench now? In the past, Doc Rivers always wanted to stagger the starting players and it seemed like there were very few guys on that bench that he could trust, outside of yourself and Austin. Now, having so many guys that can contribute, how much easier is it for you and how good is this bench?

Crawford: “Well, the bench is as deep as it’s been, obviously, and I think you have guys who all have had success on some level in the NBA. Guys are very competitive and, to be honest, we have a lot of scorers in that group. We have myself, you have Austin, you have Raymond, you have Mo, and then you have Wesley [Johnson], Brandon Bass, those guys do a good job of filling whatever role is needed that particular night. But, the first four guys are much more offensive minded. I think that’s a plus because, for me, it’s not just about me being Sixth Man of the Year again or being the main focus. I think more so in the past, it was me attacking off the bench and that was pretty much it. Now, I’d say we’re attacking as a group, when fully healthy, and I think that that’s dangerous for teams to scout against.”

Question: You obviously know a thing or two about putting the ball in the hole. Just recently, you passed Jason Kidd for number 78 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and I know that you’re a historian of the game. I’m going to take you away from the Clippers a little bit and just ask you more of an individual question. When you look at your career, how would you summarize your accomplishments to this point and has your career turned out better than you would have thought it would on your first day in the NBA?

Crawford: “When you first come into the NBA, you feel like you can conquer the world, so to speak. Everybody wants to be a star, everybody wants to go back to their neighborhood like, ‘You see what I’m doing out there?! I’m a star among stars,’ because, obviously, the NBA has the best players in the world. For me, I felt like, being a lottery pick going to a team, I thought I could play right away. To be honest, I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready physically, I wasn’t ready mentally, I had a lot of maturing to do. I didn’t play much my first year. Second year, going into that year, I was working out with Michael Jordan, tore my ACL, hurt my knee, so I basically missed that year. The third year I came back and we drafted Jay Williams from Duke and he had a lot of hype and was a really good player there, coming out as one of the top college players, so I had to wait my turn there. Then my fourth year was when I got steady, steady minutes, where I knew I was going to play a certain amount every single night, and my game started to grow. By my eighth or ninth year, I think the ninth year, I said, ‘Okay, I’m tired of losing, I’ll be a sixth-man.’ So, that’s not how I projected my career to go, but I think it’s turned out to be very unique, it’s been very cool and it’s obviously still going. It’s not what I thought it would be, but it’s been better in some ways as well. I think it’s been very, very unique. I think it’s been one of the most unique careers for sure.”

Question: You’ve been one of the most successful sixth men in NBA history. I think a lot of guys that take on that bench role point to you and say, ‘I want to have that kind of impact.’ As you look around the league, who are some of the up-and-coming sixth men that people should have an eye on? Who are some guys who have stood out to you as being talented sixth men who may be able to take the torch from you whenever you’re done winning all of these awards?

Crawford: “I think some of the younger guys. I think Will Barton is a really good player. I think he’s up and coming for sure. I think Brandon Knight, I think he’s going through a transition with the role right now because, obviously, he’s been starting his whole career. I think he could be a really good sixth man. Obviously, Lou Williams has been a perennial great sixth man for years – he’s won Sixth Man of the Year. I think Eric Gordon, this year, has been phenomenal. I think they’re really featuring him when he comes off the bench, they’re really going to him. I feel like he is like I was in Atlanta my first year. Joe Johnson was our best player and he’s a perimeter player just like James Harden is for Houston, but [Gordon] is their second guy, he’s the second leading scorer. So I think there’s a lot of good sixth men out there and I think, right now, you see more people buying into that role. I think it’s kind of cool to be a sixth man now and that’s cool in itself, to have that kind of effect. Everybody wants to start, but I think it’s important to understand the bigger picture. Also, a lot of good sixth men can go somewhere else to start and now they’re closing games as well.”

Question: In years past we’ve seen guys like James Harden, when he was with OKC, get to the NBA Finals. Manu Ginobili was a guy who’s come off the bench and won a title. For you, if you were able to win a championship at some point during your tenure with the Clippers, coming off the bench, do you think that that’s something you really need on your resume, in a sense, to really justify that coming off the bench was the right way to go about trying to win a title?

Crawford: “I’m comfortable in my own skin from the standpoint that I don’t really need it to validate anything, but it would be really, really cool. That’s the pinnacle, winning a championship. That’s what you play for and I feel like, for me, that’s the most important thing and, really, the only thing left in my career to accomplish. The time of trying to be an All-Star, I think those years are in the past. I have a bigger goal now and that’s to try and win a championship. To win a championship, knowing that feeling, I won a championship in high school and that’s my best basketball memory. Knowing how that felt, I think winning one in the NBA would be 100 times as cool. That’s definitely what we’re playing for.”

Question: I’m curious about this so I want to ask you. Whenever the whole DeAndre Jordan saga was going on, there was a lot of talk about Chris Paul and his leadership. I think Chris is one of the best leaders in the NBA, he’s not afraid to bark at anyone, he holds guys accountable, he’ll grab your jersey, etc. But I think, during that period, there was some talk about Chris maybe being too intense and needing to change his leadership style for certain players. Have you seen any kind of change in Chris’ leadership? Does he approach certain players differently now and was that a learning experience for him? Or is he still the same Chris that we all know?

Crawford: “He’s the same Chris. I think, as you get further in the league, you evolve. For him, he’s definitely evolving, he’s trying to do whatever it takes to win every single night. But he knows that’s his style of leadership and we know and understand that and respect it, but he also has a certain patience with him as well about getting his message across. In the heat of the moment? Yeah, he may grab your jersey, he may yell at you, but it’s all coming from the same place of just trying to win. It’s not anything to embarrass you, it’s not anything to put you on front street or anything like that. It’s about him saying, ‘Look, we need to get this done.’ And he doesn’t mind if you do it to him either, so that makes it fair all the way around.”

Question: Jamal, who were some of the better leaders that you’ve had as a teammate over the course of your career and guys that helped make their teammates better?

Crawford: “I would say Chauncey Billups is great. I would say Malik Rose is great. I think Allan Houston was great. I’ve had so many great teammates, so I don’t want to forget anyone. I thought Rick Brunson was great, early in my career, Charles Oakley, all those guys. I don’t want to leave anybody out. There’s some great, great people. Grant Hill was unbelievable. Paul Pierce is great right now. I’ve had some great teammates, especially great veteran guys that had high levels of success and that won championships, leading the way over the years.”

Question: Now, you’re a guy who is known for scoring the basketball. As Michael mentioned, it seems like you can embarrass anyone and get to the basket. Who are some of the defenders that you’ve had the toughest time against? The guys that, when you’re matched up against, you’re like, ‘Damn, this is going to be a little bit more difficult.’ Are there certain defenders that stand out like that?

Crawford: “Oh yeah. I think Tony Allen is a great defensive player. I thought Doug Christie was a great defensive player. Bruce Bowen. Kawhi [Leonard] is obviously a great defensive player. I think Garrett Temple is an underrated defensive player. I just mentioned two guys we’re about to play against, but I’ve got to be honest. (Laughs) Avery Bradley’s a really good defensive player. There’s some really good defenders out there, but, especially now, with the rules, it’s more team defense. If guys can funnel you this way or shade you that way, they know the help is going to be there and the Spurs are one of the best teams at doing that.”

Question: Jamal, you’re also known as a guy who can handle the rock. I’m curious, from your perspective, being that you’ve been in the league for a while, who are some of the better ball handlers that you’ve seen, along with yourself, that could get a shout out from myself on ‘Crossover of the Night’ on Twitter?

Crawford: “Absolutely Kyrie Irving. You have Chris Paul, you have Steph Curry, you have Tyreke Evans. I think Isaiah Thomas has a mean handle. Deron Williams, over the years, has had some crazy handles. Kemba Walker is an underrated ball handler. There’s a lot.”

Question: Jamal, last question for you. We’ve talked a lot about this, how you want Seattle to have an NBA team. You’ve done a good job of bringing NBA players to your summer pro-am out in Seattle and I know this is something that’s important to you since you’re from Seattle. I know [Seattle Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson has gotten involved as well. How great would it be to see Seattle have a team before your career is over and, if that’s the case, could you see yourself possibly suiting up for Seattle as a way to end your career?

Crawford: “Well, I think getting a team back there is so important. When I was a kid, watching Gary Payton, watching Detlef Schrempf, watching Shawn Kemp, Vin Baker, they helped mold me and make my dreams a reality. I could go down to the stadium to watch those guys, and I could interact with them. Gary Payton was coming to my high school basketball games, so it made my dreams a reality, I could work out with him. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I can work out with Gary Payton! When I go back to high school, I should dominate.’ It just gave me a level of confidence. Now, with these kids not having that, the closest they get a chance to see a Kevin Durant or a Blake Griffin or a Chris Paul or a Kyrie Irving is on TV or on NBA 2K. To see these guys in person is [huge]. That’s why I always ask the kids every year at my pro-am, who do you want to see? Then I try and go [get them to play]. I hate asking anybody for anything but, for these kids, I’ll ask any of these players to come. Most of the players have, honestly, volunteered and said, ‘I would love to come out there,’ so it makes it a lot easier. Kids come out every single weekend, and it’s a packed house. They’re seeing some of their favorite heroes right there in front of them and they’re interacting with them, they’re talking trash to them, giving them a smile, whatever it might be – that’s a moment that will stick with them forever and I know that because I was that kid when I was 15 or 16 years old and I still have those memories. That’s why we do it. Hopefully, the team gets back in Seattle. Right now, all I see is L.A. You never know how things work out, but I just hope I’m still playing by the time a team comes back there.”

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NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man

Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.

In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.

Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.

“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”

In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.

He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.

“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”

It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.

“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”

Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.

While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.

“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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