If there’s hope for the Knicks this year, its name is Jamal Crawford, the six-foot-five guard who was team president Isiah Thomas’s prize acquisition (from the Chicago Bulls) during the off-season. The idea is that Crawford, a fifth-year pro who played just one season of college ball, will take the pressure off point guard Stephon Marbury and give the team a reliable second threat on offense. Thomas considers him a protégé, a player after his own heart. But how good is Crawford, really? A scout from an opposing team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, helped us assess his skills.
He came into the league with a questionable rep, owing in part to a physical altercation with a coach in college. He picked up basketball relatively late in his adolescence, so his mental grasp of the game isn’t particularly nuanced, and his judgment on the court is often lacking. But he’s only 24, and there are signs that he’s learning. “You see him paying attention during timeouts,” says our scout, “and he’s making a big effort with Steph. He’ll need to keep that up.”
With his very long arms (a six-ten wingspan) and lighting-quick crossover dribble, Crawford may be the best Knick at creating his own shots. Now if only he were better at actually making them. His motion lacks fluidity, and his shot selection is often poor. Last year, he hit less than 40 percent from the field, including a paltry 32 percent from three-point land. “The Knicks are going to be a perimeter team again, as they’ve been since Ewing left, and teams are going to be happy to let Jamal fire away, until he shows he can produce.”
Though quick on the offense, he plays what Knicks analyst Walt Frazier calls “matador D”—he lets opponents go charging past. He lacks the footwork to stop penetration, and he’s not strong enough to hold off a good post-up player. Says the scout, “You’re going to see him get lit up a lot, and then he’s going to want to make up for it on the offensive end, and that could be trouble for the Knicks.”
Crawford missed most of the 2001–2 season because of a knee injury. He seems fully recovered, given that he played in all of the Bulls’ 80 games last year, averaging 35 minutes an outing. But with Allan Houston’s creaky joints, Crawford is going to have to remain healthy for the Knicks to compete.
Four years on a terrible team can have unpredictable effects on a young player, but Crawford proved himself a solid citizen in Chicago, and Knick observers were impressed by his boisterous preseason cheerleading. Still, he lacks the fiery intensity that Latrell Sprewell once brought to the Knicks. “You’re not going to see Jamal diving into the crowd for loose balls.”