The Hawks acquired Jamal Crawford to score. He held up his end of the bargain, scoring more frequently and more efficiently than in any of his previous nine NBA seasons. Joining a good team for the first time in his career, specifically one that institutionally de-emphasized the importance of perimeter defense, Crawford found a context that made his obvious strengths more valuable than his equally obvious weaknesses were costly.
Crawford's 2009-10 saw him set new career highs* in each of these categories.
*Crawford averaged 18.6 points per 36 minutes in both 2007-08 and 2008-09, made 45.2% of his 2PTFGA in 2005-06, 36.1% of his 3PTFGA in 2004-05, and posted a TS% of 54.5 in 2008-09.
Much as he did with Flip Murray in 2008-09, Mike Woodson asked Crawford to focus on scoring and was rewarded for the decision. When playing as the lead guard, Crawford had little responsibility for setting up his teammates and, when playing off the ball, Crawford had no real responsibility other than to knock down open shots his teammates created for him. This deployment saw Crawford post career low assist and turnover rates.
Crawford's previous career lows occurred in 2004-05, his first season with the Knicks, when he shared the backcourt with Stephon Marbury.
It's a testament both to Crawford and how he was used that he was almost certainly a net positive for the Hawks despite him being a terrible defender. How terrible was Crawford? Arguably worse than Mike Bibby. Crawford was less likely to steal the ball or draw a charge or grab a defensive rebound than Bibby.
Long, athletic, and not lacking in effort this past season Crawford simply lacks any useful defensive instincts. Whereas Bibby can (very) occasionally mitigate his lack of mobility by reading a play and breaking it up, Crawford, when his team does not have possession of the ball, tends, quite literally, to stand and watch. At the (potential) end of an offensive possession, he watches a shot until it goes in or is rebounded, frequently causing him to be out of position in transition defense. In the half-court defense, he's rarely in position to help defensively and tends toward stasis once an opponent's shot goes up, neither blocking out nor in position to grab a rebound that doesn't fall directly to him. Not coincidentally, the Hawks allowed 5.3 more points per 100 possessions with Crawford on the court than when he was off the court, the worst differential on the team.
Vital as Crawford was to Atlanta's offensive success he was equally liable for the team's defensive limitations. The next Hawks coach isn't going to make the team much more effective defensively without better defensive players on the perimeter. Crawford will turn 30 during the 2010-11 season. He's coming off a career year (for which he was lauded) and has an expiring contract. Given that he's managed the team's cap space in such a way as to have severely limited his options this summer, Rick Sund has to explore Crawford's trade value.
That isn't to say that Crawford should be traded. 11 months ago, Jamal Crawford, owed $19+ million over two years, was worth only Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton's expiring contract. I suspect he would be worth more in exchange this summer, but Crawford's one-year, on-court value to the Hawks so far surpasses the value of the package the Hawks gave up to acquire him that the potential market for his specific skill set may be too soft for the Hawks' liking.
Still, a willingness to capitalize on Crawford's career year to acquire a player or players that better complement, both long- and short-term, whichever Hawks remain to be built around would be an encouraging sign for Hawks fans who want the team to compete for a championship. Crawford's skill set is limited and one worries about the recent tendency of the Hawks' organization to become commit such resources to their role players (Bibby, Marvin Williams, Mario West) as to limit their options to improve the team.