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Jamal Crawford's Play Has the Hawks on the Rise In the Eastern Conference

The Atlanta Hawks are playing some of their best basketball of the season having won five in a row and nine of their last ten games. With Chicago and Orlando both losing last night, Atlanta finds itself just percentage points out of third place in the Eastern Conference. While there are many reasons for the Hawks improved play of late, one of the biggest contributions has come from reigning sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford.

Crawford's game is certainly on the upswing after getting off to a slow start. When compared to last season, Crawford is scoring a little less this season seeing his average dip from eighteen points per game to just under seventeen points this season. His shooting percentages now closely mirror last season's career highs. Jamal is shooting 45% from the field and 38% from long distance. Those numbers, like last season, are significantly higher than his career numbers of 41% from the field and 35% from three point range.  Crawford's assist totals are also up from 3.0 to 3.6 per game over last season. 

Using John Hollinger's advance stats to further compare, Jamal's true shooting percentage is up slightly to 58.0 over last seasons 57.3 and his assist ratio is up significantly to 18.1 from 14.7 last season.  Crawford's usage rate is down slightly from last seasons mark of 24.4 to 23.0 this season. Jamal's PER for last season was 18.50 and is at 17.85 currently this season. Hollinger projected Jamal to have a PER of 16.02 which would be more in line with his career numbers. 

Through 40 games this season, Jamal has been able to duplicate most of his career high averages of last season in which he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award. If there is a negative it is that he has missed six games already this season with a variety of ailments most recently being a balky back. 

In his last six games, Jamal has been on fire averaging 27.2 points per contest. He is shooting 51% from the field in those last six games. Over those six games Jamal is hitting on 46% of his three point shots. 

As Crawford heats up, perhaps so does his trade value. Jamal is still without a contract extension for next season after stating during training camp his desire to resign in Atlanta. The Hawks have shown little interest in getting an extension hammered out instead choosing to lock up Al Horford with a 60 million dollar deal earlier this season leaving the club with little financial wiggle room after last summer's Joe Johnson signing. Sam Amick of FanHouse wrote a story back on January 5th saying that Crawford was finally at peace with his situation and his play was starting to improve because of it. 

"It's weird, because honestly at first I just wanted a place I knew I could call home, but unfortunately (an extension) didn't work out," "But now, I'm excited about my future and whatever the summer will bring. ... Now I get a chance to pick where I want to go."

While Jamal may not figure in the Hawks future, he is currently a huge part of the present. While it has been long thought that Atlanta might seek to trade Jamal before February's trade deadline, the recent good play by the team may suggest otherwise. Even without a lot of personnel turnover in Atlanta there was a lot of change this past summer. When Mike Woodson was not offered a contract by the club neither were his isolation offense or switching defensive strategy. In its place are long time Woodson assistant Larry Drew, a new motion offense, and a less switching more straight up approach on the defensive end.

Early on all of the change seemed to be a tough fit for Jamal but lately it looks like the team is starting to gel. Perhaps all of the injuries that the Hawks suffered early slowed the process. Now after suffering some disappointing losses early, the Hawks are starting to rise up the standings and contract extension or not Jamal Crawford has been a big part of that success.