We're Sorry. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Probably not after his trade demand over his lack of a contract extension, but that still doesn't hide the fact that the team has turned what should have been valuable component into an afterthought and even a weakness on many nights. Last year's Sixth Man of the Year Award winner has been turned into a back up point guard that is a defensive liability which doesn't have a whole lot of value in the NBA.
When I think about a "Sixth Man" I automatically think of Vinnie Johnson because to me he helped set the standard. A player that came off the bench with only one intention and that was to put the ball in the basket. Or another example would be Jamal Crawford last season. Some would call those players selfish but the ones that were effective were the ones that were on teams that looked to exploit those players strengths. Last season Jamal was Atlanta's Vinnie Johnson. He came into the game and he looked to score. When he was scoring it over shadowed many of his shortcomings, but there was never any question that he wasn't constantly on the attack.
Jamal had a career year last season in terms of shooting percentage and has reverted this season back closer to his career numbers. That still doesn't suggest that the Hawks have helped the situation any. When Jamal comes into the game now he is asked to distribute usually as the back up point guard. When he does get shooting guard minutes he is asked to coexist in a structured offensive system. As this team's sixth man that is not his best role. While it was important coming into this season for the Hawks to make changes to their philosophy both offensively and defensively, the Hawks should have left Jamal alone.
Yes I am doing the unthinkable and advocating Woody ball for Jamal Crawford. You bring Jamal in with nothing but scoring on his mind and you tell him to attack, get baskets, and get to the free throw line. Sure you coach him up to play defense but that is never the priority. The great thing about the sixth man is if it isn't working and he misses say his first five shots then you yank him out and you try it again in the second half. The point is, that player should never be a facilitator of any kind. He is a scorer because he is the sixth man and that is what sixth men do. The problem with Woody-ball last season was that nothing changed when Jamal came in. Isolations were the game plan. I don't want a return to four quarters of isolations, I just want them to use Jamal in a way that he can be successful. Put him in position to succeed and don't ask him to do something that he can't do.
You might say well that goes against the whole concept of the rest of the team. Think back to the countless times this season that the Hawks elected to go with the entire second unit on the floor at one time. Do you really want to be running a motion set so that some of those less offensive players can get shots? No of course not, you want to maximize your team's ability and those other players will score because the defense has to adjust to stop the sixth man that is constantly on the attack.
Jamal's best month this season was in January when he averaged 18.6 points per game while shooting 42% from the field. Throughout that month, Atlanta would spread the floor and let Jamal attack usually off of a high pick and roll. It was effective yet they have spent much of the rest of the season trying to make Jamal into a point guard who operates in the confines of the motion offense. Using Jamal as a point guard and putting the harness on him just makes his defensive shortcomings that much more apparent. Atlanta is basically asking him to be something he is not. It isn't his fault, it just simply isn't who he is.
Coming into this season, Jamal's expiring deal should have been one of the most valuable trade chips in the league. He was the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and was an 18 point per game scorer off the bench last season. No the plan was never to give Jamal a contract extension and the Hawks drafted his apparent replacement in Jordan Crawford before trading him away for Kirk Hinrich. That still doesn't give them a reason to destroy Jamal's value. By miscasting him as a point guard, Jamal's contract wasn't moved at the trade deadline and will provide nothing but salary relief when it comes off the books this summer.
It is yet another example of not maximizing the talent on hand within in the team and not turning Jamal into something of value if he wasn't in the long term plans. Anyone that has read my game recaps of late know that I have been critical of Jamal's play and for him being on the court at the end of games. That is because I am tired of watching him try to be something that he isn't. Going into the playoffs, this team needs the Jamal of last season. Not the one that is attempting six to eight shots over his 30 minutes of action. Coach Drew talks often about getting Jamal back on the attack. Giving him extra minutes and telling him to be a point guard isn't the answer. Giving him minutes and telling him to be Jamal Crawford just might be.