On December 18th of 2014, shock waves were felt all around the NBA landscape. One of the biggest trade chips of the past few years was finally moved. You know him as Rajon Rondo, the 2008 championship winner, four time all-star, assist mystro and one of the last old school, pass-first point guards in the NBA. Rondo was traded from Boston to Dallas in what was considered to be a steal for Dallas. Just as I predicted on my old blog (read here!), Rondo ended up being a flop in Dallas. He didn't mesh well on a team that already contained primary ball-handlers and was in constant disagreement with Rick Carlisle.
To secure Rondo's services, Dallas parted ways with Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright, a first round pick and Jae Crowder. Many assumed that the real asset to be gained from Boston's point of view here was Brandan Wright, a center who was shooting historically high percentages and fit the need of a rim protector for Brad Stevens' defense.
As it turned out, Wright was a complete and utter flop. He averaged a mere 3 points and 2 rebounds, didn't start in any of his 8 apperances and once Stevens found no use for him in the rotation, Ainge discarded him for a pick in a deal with Phoenix.
The Celts also cut bait with Jameer Nelson who was simply a salary filler in the Rondo deal.
This left the Celtics with just picks left from their Rondo haul - their biggest trade chip. All of a sudden, even though Rondo had been struggling, it had appeared that Boston's return in the trade had not nearly met Rondo's value. They had multiple picks and expiring contracts from the Lakers, an offer from the Rockets and the Knicks were also said to be involved in discussions. So, why didn't Ainge take any of those offers? Well as it turns out, those draft picks weren't the most valuable thing in that trade. As it turns out, the man that many overlooked, Crowder, has turned out to be the best asset of all in that trade, including Rondo.
In Dallas, Jae Crowder was never given much of a chance to shine. While his first two seasons were solid, the signing of Chandler Parsons robbed Crowder of playing time. It also robbed Dallas of the perfect compliment to their record setting offense at the start of last season. Crowder's great defensive ability, versatility, athleticism and developing offensive game would have made him the ideal fit next to Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki and co. But when Mark Cuban saw the opportunity to get a guy that used to be the best point guard in the league, he sacrificed Crowder and put all of his chips into the Chandler Parsons basket.
Many would say that Crowder never shone through on the Mavs and if they knew he had the ability to be as good as he is now, they would've kept him and maybe would've looked to include Parsons in a trade instead. But Crowder never got a real opportunity. He only averaged 15 minutes per game in his time with the Mavs. He only started in 24 games, not a single one after they signed Chandler Parsons.
So without a real opportunity under his belt, Crowder was shipped to Boston. He was a relative unknown, expected to fall somewhere near the bottom of Brad Stevens' crowded (get it) rotation.
Instead, Crowder got his chance to shine. He started 17 of his 57 games, played 24 minutes per game and showed real potential all season long. His defense was especially impressive. Crowder, along with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley have quickly become one of the best defensive combos in the entire league. Crowder's ability to guard three positions, his toughness and natural instincts came in very handy down the stretch for a Celtics team that became a playoff squad, despite their intentions to tank prior to the season. Crowder was a massive reason why this way of thinking changed.
This season however, Crowder's taken it up another notch. His defense has been superb, in fact he was leading the league in steals for the first 10 games or so. Crowder has also given the Celtics options to go small, where in the new and ever evolving NBA is becoming more important than ever.
Where Crowder has really given the Celtics more than they bargained for has been offensively. Crowder is averaging 14.4 points per game, on 45.6% shooting, including 36% from three. That mark of 36% is 8% higher than his time with the Celts last season. He is also making nearly two of them per game, which for a guy that was touted as being nothing more than a young, defensive stopper in his time in college and with the Mavs is incredible.
The great thing is from the Celtics' point of view is that Crowder just keeps improving, even within the season. In the last 13 games, Crowder is averaging an amazing 17.5 points, on 50% shooting. He is quickly becoming a viable two way threat and one that the Celtics can count on night to night. This brings me to the topic of this article, which is that I think Jae Crowder is easily the most underrated player in the whole league.
It's pretty clear, just by a quick scroll through Twitter, that many people still view Crowder as the raw youngster in Dallas who was just a throw in for the Rondo trade. Not many have realized that Crowder is already one of the best two way threats in the association. This might be an exaggeration, but he is on a Kawhi Leonard/Paul George/Jimmy Butler trajectory. Remember, it's just his fourth season in the league. He is improving every single game, he is a great defensive player and now with an expanding offensive repertoire. The sky's the limit for Crowder, especially when he has one of the best coaches in the league guiding him through his career.
If you want proof he is underrated, just look at his contract. He was signed to a 5 year, $35 million contract last year and since he was restricted, it seems like no one really made an offer to snatch him away. Now look at some other free agents from last year. How about Al-Farouq Aminu of the Portland Trail Blazers, a player who is shooting 40% from the floor, not nearly as versatile, probably not as good a defender and offers no where near as much potential, is getting paid half a million dollars more per year than Crowder. Or how about DeMarre Carroll. Carroll got paid $60 million over the course of 4 years. That's double the amount of money Crowder is getting paid per year. Granted, Carroll is a better defender, with lockdown ability and proven playoff experience. But, his offensive game is no where near that of Crowder. Carroll's 11.7 points per game leave much to be desired, as well as his 38.8% shooting. So if you're going to make the argument that Crowder isn't underrated, just remember that even general managers don't think he's better than Al-Farouq Aminu or DeMarre Carroll.