Thursday, December 1, 2016
This is the three-point era. NBA teams are utilizing versatile players and small ball lineups to attempt a higher percentage of three-pointers than ever before.
Due to the sharp increase in threes, some even believe that a four-point line should be implemented. This truly is the era of Steph Curry.
As teams rely increasingly on the three-point shot, the importance of defending the three-ball increases accordingly.
But closing out on perimeter shooters requires extraneous effort. It takes a special kind of player to consistently protect the three-point line.
Jae Crowder is special. In addition to locking down opposing scorers on a nightly basis, he currently leads the league in three-pointers defended with 4.9 three-point contests per game.
Charlotte’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ranks second in the category with 4.7, while Al Horford is a distant second-best on the Celtics with 3.3 per game.
Despite faltering against an underrated Detroit Pistons team last night, the Celtics have a 7-3 record when Crowder plays. His focus and determination facilitate defensive stops, which transition into fast break opportunities.
Furthermore, Crowder's unique blend of size, quickness and toughness makes him crucial in limiting opponents’ offensive production.
When Crowder went down with an ankle injury, the Celtics' physicality waned and they lost five out of eight games.
Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart may be relentless when it comes to harassing opposing ball handlers, but they lack the height to cover sharpshooting forwards and centers.
To overcome recurring size discrepancies, Crowder claims that the Celtics "have to get a little more nastier on the defensive end," to prevent opponents from feeling comfortable.
Crowder was understandably frustrated after the Pistons outrebounded the Celtics 52-33, while Boston uncharacteristically yielded more than 100 points for the third consecutive game.
But the energetic 6’6’’ combo forward is doing everything he can to combat the problem, utilizing his energy and versatility to defend both the perimeter and the post.
Crowder's passionate defensive play partially explains his +35 plus-minus rating for the season, which is second-best on the team. Only Horford has a better rating, with an astounding +59.
But in addition to defending three-pointers, Crowder is knocking them down.
Crowder has converted 38% of his three-point attempts this season, noticeably better than his 34% mark last year. He is astonishingly one of seven Celtics players shooting at least 37% from beyond the arc.
In contrast, only Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko accomplished that last season.
Shooting percentages typically fluctuate over the course of a long season, so while the Celtics have demonstrated flashes of brilliance, they clearly still have room to improve.
Nevertheless, fierce competitors like Crowder enable the Celtics to contend against the league's top teams.
As the Celtics continue to progress from early season injuries, they will develop into a dynamic and cohesive unit that challenges the Eastern Conference elite.
Crowder has grown into a veteran leader and a lockdown defender for this young Celtics team.
Watch for him to set the defensive tone early on Friday night, by putting the clamps on Rudy Gay, leaving DeMarcus Cousins to fend for himself when the hapless Sacramento Kings come to Boston.