Impact of the Crowder Trade in One Chart

February 13th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

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Last Thursday’s three-team trade between the Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Sacramento Kings generated a range of reactions among Jazz fans. The deal sent Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson out of Salt Lake City and brought back Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose, who was released shortly thereafter. Many fans enthusiastically anticipated Crowder’s tough all-around game adding to the current roster, and his early contributions as arguably the team’s most impactful player off the bench has fueled this perspective. However, others are still nervous about losing Hood’s scoring punch or Johnson’s isolation prowess and iced blood in the clutch.

The enthusiasm is warranted far more than the anxiety and for more reasons than Crowder’s strong first  games. The optimism should be predicated upon understanding this trade wasn’t about replacing Hood and Johnson with Crowder. What this trade really does is redistribute Hood’s playing time to Royce O’Neale and Alec Burks while slotting Crowder into Thabo Sefolosha’s place as the tough veteran defender who can play either forward slot. 

Seen in this light, the following chart illustrates why fans have much reason to see this trade’s proverbial glass as half full: 

Here are some common concerns about the trade and how this chart answers them:

#1: We’ll miss Hood’s scoring!

Maybe. But not for certain and not as much as it might seem. 

It’s true that Hood is a better shooter than O’Neale or Burks. This is illustrated by his strong effective field goal rate1 despite being a volume offensive player. But note that this only denotes a more accurate shooter, not a more efficient scorer. True shooting percentage, which takes free throws into account when looking at an offensive player’s scoring efficiency, shows Burks in a much better light, and O’Neale has been a more efficient scorer than Hood this season. While neither player will fill exactly the same role Hood had in terms of shot volume, expect these two players to soak up many of Hood’s shots. It’s unlikely the team’s scoring will suffer much, though where they get bench points may well shift toward more layups and especially free throws rather than three-point shots.  

#2: Why is Sefolosha even part of this discussion? He wasn’t part of the trade!

To understand why Dennis Lindsey brought in Crowder, you have to understand something: the Jazz believe they can rely on O’Neale and Burks to fill Hood’s gap, but they really had no one to fill Sefolosha’s after his season-ending injury. Utah was 4.8 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents with Sefolosha in the game this season, and that was before Utah went on it’s longest win streak since 2009. Even with the team struggling mightily, they outscored their opponents with Sefolosha on the floor.   

The lanky Swiss veteran provided a unique combination of defensive prowess, basketball IQ, lateral mobility and open court speed, solid three point range, and – this is key – ability to guard at least three positions, including sliding up as a small stretch four. Jonus Jerebko couldn’t do all that nor can Derrick Favors, the team’s other options at power forward. 

Crowder can. He’s exactly the same player-type as Sefolosha, only just entering his prime at 27. In trading for Crowder, Lindsey wasn’t looking to replace Hood’s contributions. He trusts he already has pieces on the roster to do that. He was looking to cement a Sefolosha-type piece of comparable quality beyond this season – and he managed to do so on a bargain contract.

#3: But Crowder looked awful in Cleveland!

He was notably less effective than he was in Boston. But then, the flaming midden that was the Cleveland Cavaliers took Isaiah Thomas from a top-five MVP candidate to a player now destined to battle LA’s rookies for a starting role. Similarly, George Hill looked a shell of what he provided the Jazz last season coming off the bench in Sacramento. When players with stellar reputations struggle in dysfunctional franchises, it’s most reasonable to consider those struggles an outlier produced by the situation rather than indicative of the player’s ability.

Crowder was one of the league’s best three-and-D players in Boston where he benefited from a brilliant coach (Brad Stevens) and strong, professional culture. Before that, he notably outperformed expectations as a second-round pick of Dallas, where he also benefited from a brilliant coach (Rick Carlisle) and strong, professional culture. 

The Jazz are one of the few franchises in the league that can match both the qualify of coach and cultural stability that has helped Crowder to thrive in the past. There’s good reason to believe it will rejuvenate him, as his first few games have proven.

#4: Iso-Joe was awesome last year! Why isn’t Johnson part of this conversation?

Because he’s nearing 37 years old, Utah was outscored by 3.1 points per game with him on the floor this season, and he had a minus-7.7 net rating with the Jazz, both metrics far and away low marks on this year’s roster. Johnson was GREAT for the team last year but was a liability this season and his game will only continue to deteriorate. Moving on from him not only respects his wishes to finish his career on a team of his choice but will help the Jazz be competitive now and in the future.

#5: Even if this trade doesn’t hurt the Jazz, it doesn’t make them legitimately better. Right?

I think it does make the team better. Maybe not hugely so, but to a notable and important degree.

The O’Neale/Burks combination is better than Hood in nearly every way: defensively, on the glass, ball handling, passing, and even in terms of consistent offensive efficiency. The team loses some three-point shooting and maybe something in the pick-and-roll and in isolation sets, but at least some of that will transfer to players such as Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell, which is a likely bonus.

Plus, Sefolosha made a major positive difference for the team earlier this season. There’s every reason to believe that adding Crowder in a near-identical role should have similar effect.

In combination, there’s a likely chance the Jazz improved the overall impact of their backcourt and front court with this trade.  

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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  1. Don says:

    So can we play both Thabo and Crowder next year, or are we better off keeping only one?

    • Clint Johnson says:

      That’s a very good question, one that I’m wondering about myself. I think the emergence of Royce O’Neale may make having both on the roster redundant. Neither are big enough to play the four except in very small lineups, so a bigger stretch four like Jerebko is still needed. What the team does with Exum plays into this as well. Personally, I really like the idea of keeping both but I’m not certain the playing time will be available to make both satisfied with that.

  2. Pingback: SC7: The Still-Somehow-Criminally-Underestimated Joe Ingles + Six Other Jazz Topics | Salt City Hoops

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