Quite predictably, Jamal Crawford couldn't muster back-to-back career years. Without the freedom Mike Woodson granted him to focus on scoring (and nothing but) Crawford turned back into the player he'd always been. Crawford's 2009-10 season was a remarkable gift that provided a surprisingly substantial return on the $19 million the Hawks paid him over the last two seasons. (As did the 123 points he scored against the Magic in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.) Make no mistake, the 2010-11 regular provided a lengthy look at a typical Jamal Crawford season.
Even as he went about winning the Sixth Man of Year award, the conventional wisdom regarding Crawford held true -- he's useful when his shots go in; he's useless when they don't. Given his limitations as a decision-maker when given the responsibility to decide between shooting or passing and his complete inability to rebound or defend, Crawford's value rests entirely on his scoring rate and his scoring efficiency. He was slightly above the league average in both respects last season:
Given that the Hawks played 4-on-5 whenever the other team had the ball or a shot went up* when Crawford was on the court, he needs to be more than a slightly above average scorer to justify his cost. To put Crawford's 2010-11 offensive contributions in perspective, he used an offensive possession 18.8% more often than did Al Horford, resulting in a scoring rate just 7.6% higher than Horford. The concerns about Horford's limitations as a scorer are legitimate. Minus whatever alchemy Mike Woodson used to transform Flip Murray into a useful NBA player, Jamal Crawford, who is only a scorer, was hardly more productive (and far less efficient) than Al Horford in his efforts to put the ball in the basket.
*Though, perhaps due to the likelihood that Crawford would shoot the ball when in the game, the Hawks posted a higher offensive rebound rate when Crawford was on the floor each of the last two seasons. Unfortunately, the increase in their opposition's offensive rebound rate was equal or greater.
During the 2009-10 season, Rick Sund deserved credit for acquiring Crawford while giving up just Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton's expiring contract, Mike Woodson deserved credit for playing to Crawford's strengths, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams deserved credit for mitigating Crawford's weaknesses and Crawford deserved credit for making a lot of shots. During the 2010-11 season, it became abundantly clear why Golden State would choose not to pay the last two years of Crawford's contract.
Over his two seasons in Atlanta, the Hawks got more value from Crawford than anyone could have anticipated. Looking ahead, the team does not appear to be in a position to spend much on a player who shares many of Joe Johnson's limitations, while being older and inferior, a player whose presence would only further stunt the development of the franchise's lone remaining young, cheap asset. Barring a trade, Kirk Hinrich figures to fill the role of the overpaid veteran guard who provides a narrow utility. Hinrich, theoretically, could better complement Johnson and Jeff Teague than Crawford.