Last summer, the Portland Trail Blazers committed a combined $145 million to reserve wings Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe. Though the fit/overlap between the two players skillsets was questioned, the signings made sense - in Turner, you had money to spend that soon wouldn’t be available regardless, and in Crabbe, you wouldn’t want to lose an asset for nothing, even if it meant overpaying.
Nearly a quarter of the way through the 2016-17 season, we can see how these decisions are shaping out for the team. Much has been written about Turner and his early season struggles and, frankly, they haven’t been entirely surprising. He’s not a natural fit on this roster and, logically, has had to learn how to adjust.
Over the last week, Turner has seemingly started to turn the corner by playing more freely, pounding the ball less, and making quick reads - and putting up nearly 14 points on 50 percent shooting in the process. This is clearly fantastic news for Turner, the team, and Blazer fans.
Even with his improvement, however, the Blazers still have a bench problem and, increasingly, it starts with the other half of Portland’s $145 million duo - Allen Crabbe.
Last season, Crabbe was a revelation for the team. Though not featuring a multifaceted offensive game, Crabbe proved his ability to stick the spot-up jumper while showing physical tools that might allow him to blossom into a fine “three and D” player. Over the summer, it was noted that Crabbe had worked to improve his offense off the dribble, a noted point of weakness in prior years. Many thought that this would be the year that Crabbe broke out into a more prominent role.
So far, it hasn’t shaken out that way.
Let’s take a look at Crabbe’s performance last year vs. the first 19 games of the 2016-17 season:
Notably, you’ll see that his minutes are up a tick from last season, but his shooting percentages are down across the board. This is troubling for a player who’s built his stock on being an effective spot-up shooter. On its face, some of this could be attributed to Crabbe’s improved ability to take his man off the dribble occasionally, but the numbers show that he is actually taking catch-and-shoot attempts 52.6 percent of the time, up nearly 4.5 percentage points from last season.
Crabbe has actually nearly abandoned the dribble-drive in favor of bombing away from beyond the 3-point line, taking almost exactly half of his attempts from distance. Now, obviously this wouldn’t be a problem if he were connecting at a 40 percent clip like last season, but clearly he’s not.
Sometimes players just start slowly. We’re not quite a quarter of the way through the season, and there is still plenty of time for Crabbe to go on a torrid streak that brings his levels up closer to what the Blazers hoped for when they matched Brooklyn’s restricted free agency offer this past offseason.
However, I think at least part of the problem is him learning to fit with Turner.
Crabbe and Turner typically sub in at the same time in the first quarter, usually for Maurice Harkless and CJ McCollum, and with Turner alternating with Damian Lillard as the primary ball handler in these lineups, Crabbe is not getting the looks that he is used to.
E.T. is a quite capable ball handler and distributor, but he doesn’t have the same “gravity” that guys like CJ and Dame do - the ability to draw extra defenders a step or two toward them while they have the ball. Turner does an adequate job drawing the defense toward him in the midrange, but it isn’t leading to the same volume of wide-open jumpers that Crabbe saw last season.
Particularly troubling is Crabbe’s falloff from the corners. Last season A.C. hit 43 percent of his corner 3-point attempts. This year so far, he is cashing them in at an abysmal 26 percent rate. Some of that may be that he’s a little more tightly guarded on the perimeter this season due to his reputation as a spot-up shooter, but that doesn’t account for that level of drop-off.
With Turner finally starting to heat up, Crabbe has seen decreases in his minutes and production - putting up just over six points a game on 32 percent shooting from the field over his last five outings. While Turner notoriously has the worst +/- in the league at -9.2, he has played at a -2.2 level over the last five games. Crabbe has still played at a -8.2 level over that same time frame - falling to an overall -6.3 that lands him just four spots ahead of Turner for last in the NBA.
Crabbe can still turn his offense around, but he needs to be creative in finding ways to be effective when his shot isn’t falling. If he is to emerge as a third or fourth scorer for this team - hat tip to Harkless here - Crabbe needs to recognize when his outside shot isn’t falling and trust the dribble-drive that he developed over the summer. In preseason and early on this year, it appeared to be a relatively effective counter when he was willing to use it. Scorers find a way to score, and Crabbe has yet to develop that killer mentality that allows him to impact the game even when it isn’t simply coming to him.
Hopefully, Crabbe only appears passive because of his smooth, effortless style of play - after all, you don’t get to be called “Cool Breeze” by looking like you’re playing every possession like Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough - but he desperately needs to find a way to make more of an offensive impact than Portland is currently getting. If Turner is able to continue finding his comfort zone and start putting up respectable numbers, soon the focus of the team’s bench struggles will shift and be squarely on Crabbe’s shoulders.
Let’s hope he can rise to the challenge.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
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