After missing out on Allen Crabbe in 2016, the Brooklyn Nets got their man back in a trade earlier this summer.
Allen Crabbe has the Brooklyn Nets to thank for the contract he got last year. Portland matched Brooklyn’s four-year, $75 million offer sheet. Crabbe is now averaging $18.75 million annually, and, as a result, everyone across the NBA landscape has huge expectations for the former second-round pick.
A standout year in the 2015-16 season only helped to raise those expectations. After barely cracking the rotation during his first two campaigns, Portland coach Terry Stotts looked at Crabbe, and he responded, putting up 10.3 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the field as a 23-year-old.
He was the sixth man who would give the second-unit their scoring punch while Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum were on the bench. Portland went on to finish 16th in reserve scoring in 2016 with 34.9 points a night.
Crabbe had the same role this past season. His minutes rose a bit to 28.5 a night, and he improved his scoring slightly to 10.7 points per game. But in a shocking turn of events, the Blazers bench scoring plummeted to just 30.6 points a night. That ranked just 27th in the NBA, ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves.
While Crabbe’s individual performance improved slightly, given his contract, he underperformed.
I don’t like superficiality. Crabbe didn’t play as we hoped, but the lack of volume is why his numbers look the way they do. On a per game basis, Crabbe was getting 8.2 looks and boasted a usage rate of 14.9 percent. Those two metrics were fifth and 12th on the team, respectively.
According to Synergy, Crabbe nailed 42.3 percent of his midrange shots and 60.9 percent of his attempts inside the restricted area. A lot of those buckets were assisted. Crabbe is going to be a scoring option for the Brooklyn Nets, not a secondary ball-handler. He experienced that in Portland. However, Lillard and McCollum love to create off the dribble, and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson is trying to institute an offense reliant on passing and motion. That bodes well for Crabbe.
He’s immediately going to be a threat on the perimeter. The Nets need a shooter of Crabbe’s caliber because they attempt an unhealthy amount of threes—31.6 a night, to be exact. Their confidence isn’t the issue. Their conversion rate of 33.8 percent is. Luckily for the Nets, Crabbe finished second in the NBA with a 44.4 percent clip from downtown, trailing only Kyle Korver.
Brooklyn was able to put up points because of volume, but they were about as efficient as a car with three square wheels. And while Crabbe appears to be just a three-point shooter on the surface, his game isn’t limited to launching long balls.
Crabbe shot 46.2 percent on catch-and-shoot threes and 43.7 percent when left open, according to Synergy. The Nets last season led the NBA in drives a night with 35.2 but fifth from the bottom with a catch-and-shoot clip of 36.7 percent. Now, one of two things is going to happen: Brooklyn gets easier looks around the rim, or the slasher finds Crabbe on the perimeter for an open jumper. It falls on the defense to pick, and then on the attacker to make the correct read.
Since Atkinson is running more motion in his offense, there are going to be more chances to score while moving without the ball. Crabbe can do that. He didn’t cut often in Portland, but he still managed to fall in the 80th percentile with 1.41 points per possession. Crabbe’s size contributes to him being a lethal cutter. At 6’6″, he’s a big guard or an average-sized forward, depending on where he plays.
He took advantage of Lillard, McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic requiring so much attention and just calmly slipped back door. It was rare for that to happen with no previous action, but the Blazers did an excellent job of having Crabbe set a screen on a guard’s man, and then he’d slip and have an uncontested layup. If the defenders switch, the big can just throw it over the top.
What’s more prevalent is Crabbe beating his man in semi-transition. The Nets love to get out and run, so there are going to be a fair share of those kinds of plays.
On a conventional fast break, Crabbe is still an outstanding target. He had an effective field goal percentage of 64.4 last season and fell into the 81st percentile, which—statistically—made him a better option than Lillard and McCollum. That’s not true, of course.
However, it’s more than serviceable for a secondary scoring option. What it does to the rest of the offense isn’t easily quantifiable. When you have players that go downhill, the spacing is crucial. It worked with Portland. It’ll work in Brooklyn.
The most eyebrow raising, head-scratching stat I found during my digging? Without a doubt, it’s that Crabbe averaged 1.31 points per possession as the roll man. That puts Crabbe is in the 94th percentile. I don’t get it. It literally doesn’t make sense to me. Of course, I don’t mind it now that he plays for my favorite team. Crabbe isn’t the primary option when it comes to screen-setting, but he utilizes that range of his.
Remember, it’s a tiny sample size. In fact, just 13 possessions. Regardless, it’s something to experiment with. The Nets have already tried Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in pick-and-roll sets so why not swap one of them with Crabbe? It’d be something to use every so often to give the defense a different look.
On the surface, Allen Crabbe looks like a one-dimensional offensive player. His circumstances in Portland weren’t the best, and he did everything with the chances they gave him. With his new team, I expect to see Crabbe reach his full potential and show a kind of versatility that got overshadowed by the Blazers’ bigger-named players.