Time for another Blazer’s Edge Mailbag! If you missed our video primer for pick and roll plays over the weekend, you can check it out here. Today’s question covers Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Allen Crabbe, a wonderfully efficient player who seems to lack the volume scoring gene. Let’s explore.
Crabbe's True Shooting is 59.9%, a stat in which he leads the team, and is ranked twenty first league wide. Last year he shot 39% from the arc, and this year he is north of 43%, which is a team best and good for 3rd in the league. However, he is only getting eight shots per game and right around three 3PA. He is ranked 97th in the league for 3PA, and is bookended by Sergio and Marc Gasol. This doesn't seem great nor the best use of an elite shooter playing twenty eight minutes per game
With Dame and/or CJ drawing so much defensive attention, and Nurk drawing double teams down low, why is it so hard to get Crabbe more looks? Is it simply because he is a catch and shoot guy and there nothing more that can be done?
The stats you cite are from late March, when you submitted this question, but the concern has been ongoing since Crabbe starting getting real minutes last season. We’ve seen some amazing outbursts from him: 30 vs. Detroit back in January, 25 last week versus Minnesota to name a couple. The Blazers are 18-9 in games where he attempts 10 or more shots. But he’s registered 8 or fewer attempts in a game 44 times this year. He’s put up 4 or fewer triples 52 times.
Crabbe’s shooting percentages (47% from the field and 44% from the arc at the time of this writing) make your eyes pop. His per-minute scoring averages don’t live up to the hype. Mason Plumlee scored at a greater rate. The reasons for this are complex. Some of it is systemic, some is just Crabbe.
The most obvious explanation is that AC is traffic jammed like I-205 on a Friday night. You’ll remember he signed an offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets last summer. Had the Blazers not matched him, he would have been in shooter’s heaven. Exactly one of Brooklyn’s top 5 players in field goal attempts is a guard: Jeremy Lin. He’s a point guard—not Crabbe’s position—and he only accounted for 11 shots per game. You have to go down to Joe Harris, 6th on their FGA chart, before hitting a shooting guard. Harris only averaged 7 shots per game. In Brooklyn Crabbe’s scoring opportunities wouldn’t be low-hanging fruit, they’d be a fruit basket delivered to his door by Fed-Ex along with a thank-you note and foot massage.
Instead Crabbe got to rejoin a Portland lineup with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as the primary scorers. Neither one is selfish but they’re both ultra-talented guards who make a living manufacturing shots. On top of that the Blazers signed Evan Turner, a ball-handling scorer who duplicates Crabbe’s position. Remember Lin averaging 11 attempts per game in that last paragraph? Portland guards at or above Crabbe’s rotation level average a combined 46 shots per game. He’s stuck in an elevator with Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, and Plastic Man. He still gets to push the button, but not often.
Crabbe’s skill set doesn’t help him out of the situation. If he dribbles more than twice and it’s not in a straight line, he’s probably in trouble. Since he’s surrounded by ball-dominant guards that style doesn’t hurt him much. He’s a nicer fit than Turner. But the fact remains: Crabbe isn’t about getting his own shot; he has to take the shots he’s given. He’s at the mercy of offensive reads and game situations in a way that his fellow guards just aren’t.
This is not to imply the Blazers are keeping the ball away from Crabbe. Far from it. They play better when he’s available as an outlet and is hitting shots. They’d like to see him succeed. But how often can they set him up? Pretend you’re coaching the Blazers and you’re going to run a play where a big man sets a screen to create a primary guard scoring option. Are you going to set that screen for Crabbe or are you going to run it to free Lillard or McCollum? 9 times out of 10, the answer will be the latter. You get more choices off of their action than you do off of Crabbe’s. You will see Crabbe get open off of screens or because the defense is too busy putting out fires in the lane but those are secondary and tertiary events in the offense, not the prime event. Naturally Crabbe is going to see correspondingly fewer shots.
Crabbe’s own outlook may play a role as well. His aggressiveness has been questioned during stretches of the season. At times he appears to pass up open looks. He looks better and gets more praise when he’s active and shot-hungry. But the lack of consistency may go beyond just a personal decision or character trait. This may not be something he can turn on at will.
Crabbe has developed into a great shooter percentage-wise, but he grew up as a scorer. Rhythm, volume shots, the offense relying on him...these are part of his DNA and they’re all but absent in Portland. It’s easy to tell him to take 15 attempts a game but that still won’t translate into 35 minutes and the ability to time his looks or play into a flow. He’d be heaving twice the shots in the same amount of minutes, in essence turning into a self-centered bench gunner. That’s not his style. He’s cut out to be a complete player in a starting role; he’s stuck in a rotation that won’t allow him either. Shooting 47% on more limited attempts is a great compromise, but it’s still a compromise.
Put a NASCAR driver on a Motor Speedway and you expect to see everything he can be. Put a NASCAR driver on the freeway and you settle for him getting to work on time with style. That’s basically what Crabbe is doing...quite well, at that. Perceived lack of consistency is going to be part of that package though.
Frankly I don’t see this issue going away short of an injury or trade involving one of the guards surrounding Crabbe. He will never look bad in Portland but he won’t get the chance to prove he’s more than a situational-shooting reserve either. Maybe he is; maybe he’s not. Until we find out, the assessment of him will be equal parts affirmation and “What If?” That’s not a bad way to spend your career, especially if your team wins big. Plenty of guys do worse. But the questions will remain. You wonder when the alchemy of other teams and Crabbe himself pondering them will make his departure viable. Until then, Blazers fans will just have to enjoy him for what he is and what he’s allowed to be.
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