Allen Crabbe started the 2014-15 campaign by appearing in only 2 of the Portland Trail Blazers' first 7 games, playing a total of 3 minutes. After a nondescript 2013-14 season it appeared that the second-year shooting guard/small forward out of Cal was in danger of becoming a long-term benchwarmer for the Blazers.
Crabbe’s role changed quickly when coach Terry Stotts called on him to make a surprise start in place of the injured Nicolas Batum on Nov. 11 against the Charlotte Hornets. He would play 22 minutes, collecting 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in the process. Despite the relatively pedestrian stat line Stotts would start Crabbe in Batum’s place for the next 3 games.
During his time in the starting lineup Crabbe acted as the perfect "plug and play" replacement for Batum by limiting mistakes, playing fundamentally sound defense, and performing within the offensive system so as not to disrupt the cohesiveness of the regular starters. Crabbe’s style stood in stark contrast to alternative backup small forwards Will Barton, who brought energy but often failed to play within the team’s system, and veteran Dorell Wright who performed best for the Blazers as a power forward.
At that time Stotts told the Oregonian:
[Crabbe] doesn't necessarily create a lot of offense or doesn't do a lot with the ball on offense, but he plays well off the ball and runs the court. I think he plays well off of other guys and he doesn't need the ball. Also defensively, what he's consistently shown for a year and a half, I thought that has translated as well.
Crabbe’s performance in his 4 starts earned him a more permanent role in the rotation. From November 11 to January 8 Crabbe would appear in 28 of 29 games and play more than 10 minutes in nearly all of them.
As described by Blazersedge’s Evans Clinchy, Crabbe held on to his spot in the rotation ahead of the Wright and Barton by sticking to fundamentals such as not being overly aggressive on offense, good defensive footwork, and knowing when to shoot the ball. Those features are all on display in this highlight reel of his play against the San Antonio Spurs:
Unfortunately for Crabbe and his fans he would fall out of the rotation soon after. He only appeared in 15 of 39 games from January 10 to April 4. He snuck back into the lineup from April 6 onward, but it was clear the Blazers were punting the regular season at that point.
Crabbe played 39 minutes combined in Portland's first 2 playoff games against the Memphis Grizzlies, starting the second game, but was generally ineffective. In the final 3 games of the series Stotts opted to play a very-injured and almost equally ineffective Arron Afflalo and emerging CJ McCollum instead of Crabbe.
Crabbe ended up losing his rotation minutes because his high water mark did not approach the top, or even average, performances of other reserve wings. The overall skill and length of Wright, energy of Barton, and improved play of McCollum overshadowed Crabbe’s consistent-but-unspectacular style. Exhibit A: Despite 21 outings with 15 or more minutes and 5 approaching 30 minutes, Crabbe failed to score in double figures in a single game this year.
Despite that, Crabbe improved across the board in overall production. He played in 51 games compared to only 15 last season, and his minutes doubled from 6.7 to 13.4 per game. He also averaged 3.3 points, 1.4 rebounds, .8 assists, .4 steals per game – increases all. The only decline on Crabbe’s statistical resume was a dip in three point shooting from 41% to 35%. His WS/48 also increased from .037 to .088, his ORTG went from 100 to 108 and his DRating from 110 to 105. These advanced stats were possibly buoyed by his time playing with starters in key situations rather than exclusively in garbage time.
Unfortunately for Crabbe, his per 36 numbers were flat or worse (points 11.9 to 8.9, rebounds: 3.2 to 3.8, assists: 2.2 to 2.1, steals: .7 to 1.0, blocks: .4 to .8, turnovers: 1.1 to .8). These numbers do nothing to dispel the picture of a benchwarmer/role player.
Crabbe is slated to earn minimum salary next season and the Blazers have until July 31 to decide if they will waive him or include him on the roster. He will play on the Blazers’ Summer League team this July.
Crabbe’s Future in Portland, somewhat paradoxically, might be more stable because of the instability surrounding him. His minimum salary has little impact on the salary cap. He has shown that he knows and fits Portland's system. Given the uncertainty whirling around Wesley Matthews, Arron Afflalo, Dorell Wright, and Nicolas Batum (contractually and otherwise) Crabbe's low-cost consistency may be of value. On the other hand, it is unclear how Stotts and General Manager Neil Olshey view Crabbe’s ceiling. If they believe he will only show marginal improvements he becomes replaceable--through waiver or trade--no matter what the price.
In closing, here’s a top Crabbe highlight from this season: