Allen Crabbe signed a 4-year, $75 million contract this summer. Implicit in that contract was assumption that Crabbe, a 24-year old career back-up, would improve significantly in an expanded role and justify the massive deal.
Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers and President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey, Crabbe did not exactly live up to his massive deal. His 2016-17 stats stayed nearly identical to his 2015-16 stats:
The 44 percent shooting on 3-pointers was the one offensive bright spot for Crabbe who, otherwise, barely cracked double figures in scoring (10.7 points per game) and contributed only 1.2 assists per game.
The lack of offensive production, outside of 3-point shooting, could have been forgiven if Crabbe had stepped up his game on defense.
But he didn’t.
Defensive advanced stats suggested that Crabbe is glaringly bad. Among Blazers players, he had the worst defensive rating on the team, third worst defensive box plus/minus (behind CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard), and worst defensive real plus/minus.
The eye test supported the poor defensive stats – Crabbe was downright terrible off the ball. He regularly missed rotations, got hung up on screens creating mismatches, or flat out blew an assignment. On the ball, Crabbe occasionally used quick hands to grab a flashy perimeter steal (creating the illusion of defensive activity), but was otherwise uneven containing ballhandlers. Blazers coach Terry Stotts seemed to agree - Crabbe rarely drew difficult defensive assignments for extended periods of time.
No clear explanation has been offered for Crabbe’s stalled improvement, but he did strongly imply that he desired a starting role early in the season. Paradoxically, Crabbe had every opportunity to become the Blazers’ starting small forward but did not play himself into the role. Stotts cycled Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, and Maurice Harkless into the starting frontcourt spot but no player excelled. If Crabbe, who would have been the best fit to start with Lillard and McCollum, had played well on a regular basis, it’s not hard to imagine him establishing a stranglehold on the starting job.
To make matters even worse, Crabbe needed surgery shortly after the season ended to repair an injured fifth metatarsal.
Compared to some of his teammates, specifically Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe has escaped serious criticism for his poor play this season. This is largely because Crabbe effectively rendered himself invisible. As already noted, Crabbe's lack of defensive effort and/or ability forced Stotts' hand, allowing AC to guard the weakest opposing wing for long periods of time. Meanwhile, on offense, he would have been happily at home with Martell Webster/Nic Batum's Nate McMillan-era role of “go stand in the corner.” He very rarely did anything other than shoot open shots or dribble in a straight line toward the hoop. Passing? ha. Rebounding? lol.
It's easy to avoid any criticism when a player is so rarely involved in any plays. It may not have been intentional, but it's a great defensive mechanism for someone who underplayed his contract so dramatically.
Meyers Leonard, on the other hand, always found himself closely involved in the game, partially by virtue of his size and position, and partially because he was putting himself into a position to make a difference. The problem for Meyers was that being involved meant his flaws were exposed on a regular basis - he had the opposite strategy of Crabbe's invisibility and he suffered for it.
Many times he helped on defense and got burned on an alley-oop while Crabbe, Lillard or other wings stood flat footed and stared instead of rotating or doing ANYTHING. Eventually, Leonard was being blamed for his mistakes as well as mistakes that could have been laid at the feet of all five players.
Consequently, Meyers garnered hate because he was always involved in plays and in a position to make a difference, but the “difference” was negative. Whereas Crabbe actively avoided making a difference - and by extension didn't make mistakes.
The corollary is that Leonard could (theoretically) be a game changer, while Crabbe is just a body on the court who maxes out at "do no harm."