Why Jae Crowder is even better than you think
Jae Crowder defies a lot of conventions. He’s listed as a 6-6 forward, but he’s taken the second most 3s on Marquette. In one possession on defense you’ll see him hedging up top on the perimeter and then grabbing the defensive board down low. He’s a junior college recruit, but he’s beloved by his coach and one of two emotional rocks on a team that just had a heck of a week — winning in Madison, Wisconsin and defeating Washington on a last-second shot at Madison Square Garden.
“That’s my guy,” said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams after the game at MSG. “I’ll roll with that cat no matter where he goes.”
After only playing 24 minutes and scoring two points against the Badgers due to foul trouble, Crowder came back and hit the biggest shot of Marquette’s young season, a three on the final possession against the Huskies that gave the Golden Eagles the lead for good. Crowder, who had spent much of his 33 minutes battling the Washington front court after starting center Chris Otule went out of the game with a knee injury, came off a screen and got a wide-open look for the dead-on game-winner.
“I just cause matchup problems because I can defend the five and their fives can’t defend me,” Crowder said.
Looking at Crowder’s peer group through similarity scores reveals a number of unique players that defenses struggled to guard. One of the similarities that Ken Pomeroy brings up former Richmond forward Justin Harper as a match for Crowder. Harper’s ability to step out and shoot the three-point shot, even at 6-10, made him into the 32nd pick in the latest NBA Draft.
It’s that combination of proficient shooting that makes players like Harper and Crowder, so valuable in the collegiate game. And while Crowder isn’t quite as big as the former Spider, he’s a deadeye shooter with an abhorrence for turnovers and the ability to get a hand on the basketball while guarding a dribbler.
To dig into this a bit deeper, I looked at BCS conference players from the last 10 years that grabbed at least 160 defensive rebounds, made at least 40 3s and swiped at least 40 steals in a season as Crowder did during the 2010-11 campaign, and appears to be well on his way toward bettering this season. Just 10 guys came up.
The list: Kyle Singler, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Kevin Durant, Terrence Williams (twice), Lazar Hayward, Wes Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Ryan Gomes and Maarty Leunen.
Talk about some heady company. Most of those guys don’t even need an introduction to the casual fan. It goes to show you just how much a player with Crowder’s skills can impact a college basketball game.
Crowder though is even more unique. In fact, he’s so different for a forward, that one of his closest comparisons for this young season according to Ken Pomeroy is Missouri guard, and All-America candidate Marcus Denmon, who is 6-3.
Two seasons ago at Howard College Crowder was named the 2009-10 NJCAA Player of the Year and a First Team All-American. If he keeps this up during his senior season he’s going to join Denmon in the conversation for an NCAA All-America nod.
Of course for Crowder to earn the award he’ll have to pick a position. But that’s going to be difficult considering the Swiss Army knife role he currently plays for the Golden Eagles, especially defensively. When someone like Otule goes down due to injury Crowder goes down into the box and they go smaller. If there’s a guard that’s killing Marquette – however unlikely that is with Darius Johnson-Odom and Vander Blue patrolling the perimeter – Crowder can step out and hedge on screens without Williams having to worry about his big not having the quickness to recover on a drive to the hoop.
And then, when everyone least expects it, he slips out to the right corner and breaks your heart one last time.