Sure, Chris Paul gets all the headlines as the big new acquisition for the Suns but that trade seems like it was months ago now. But it’s the second big acquisition that could make a big difference too.
After the Phoenix Suns upgraded from Ricky Rubio to Chris Paul, team need shifted to the swing forward positions. When the Suns were at their best last season, they employed either Kelly Oubre Jr. (the top regular season lineup in net rating) or Cameron Johnson (one of the top starting lineups in the Bubble) as the nominal power forward around Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton.
Neither Oubre nor Johnson has the stones to hold up in the paint for long stretches when the opponent goes a little big, so the Suns really needed a swing forward with some heft. Many immediately thought of the garbage truck named P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets, who used to bodyguard Booker back in the day.
But the perfect fit for the most effective Suns lineup is a thicker swing wing who can defend the league’s heftier mobile forwards — such as LeBron James, for example — while on the other end is unconscious in taking spot-up threes, and even one-dribble-side-step threes to force the defense.
Enter Jae Crowder, whose nicknamed “The Beast”. Crowder, 6’6”, weighs 235 pounds which would have been the stonesiest non-center on the team last year. None of Oubre, Mikal or Johnson checks in over 210. Crowder brings exactly what Tucker does and is even more of a catch-and-shoot threat than Tucker would have been.
Crowder is not the best shooter — his % is lower than any of those guys at 34% last year — but averaged over six threes per game. The volume and unconscious threat of him taking those shots forces the defense to defend him out there, opening up the lane for Paul, Booker and Ayton. Interchanging Crowder with Cam J allows the Suns to always have a dangerous outside threat at the four.
And Crowder performs in big moments. He has started 51 of 72 playoff games, averaging 29 minutes per game, 11 points, 5 rebounds and 6 three-point attempts.
Again, a great 5th starter for any team and absolutely perfect for this Suns lineup.
Let’s hear what others had to say about Crowder signing with the Suns this past week.
John Hollinger - The Athletic
Best Fit Award: Jae Crowder, Suns
Armed only with their mid-level exception and needing a tough stretch 4 to complement the ball skills of Chris Paul and Devin Booker and a cohort of stringy wings, the Phoenix Suns hardly could have done better than nabbing Jae Crowder on a three-year deal. It helped that Miami, as noted above, wasn’t looking to do deals that went beyond a season, which essentially left Phoenix competing only with a few cap room teams. Wisely, they didn’t overreach on the 30-year-old Crowder with a four-year deal, but kept their exposure to three.
Crowder isn’t a great shooter actually, at 34.0 percent career and 34.3 percent between Memphis and Miami last season, but getting opponents to guard you at the line is half the battle. Because he flings 10 triples per 100 possessions, opponents do, and that makes him a plus floor-spacer. Defensively, his physical toughness lets him take strength assignments that Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson can’t handle. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands because all his shots are catch-and-shoots, so he won’t be in the way of Paul and Booker at all. He just fits here.
The Suns had a low-key really good week in free agency, marred only by the bizarre signing of Damian Jones. The low-cost addition of Langston Galloway (quietly really solid last season in Detroit), retention of Jevon Carter and Dario Saric on reasonable deals, and the Crowder signing supplemented the obvious show-stopper of the Chris Paul trade. The Suns haven’t been to the playoffs in a decade, but everything is lined up to emphatically end the streak this year.
Khaleel — Bright Side
Our own Khaleel previewed free agency back in September, looking for veterans with significant playoff experience who could help the Suns take that next step in 2020-21.
I don’t think Jae gets the credit he deserves. You hear talk about Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and all the youth and shooters in Miami but his shooting and defense is a huge reason why they are where they are. At 6-6 and 235 pounds, he can play either forward position very well and has a lot to give to a team.
He’s made the playoffs in 7 of his 8 seasons in the NBA and isn’t slowing down. Still very good on the defensive end, Jae has also been lights out from range in these playoffs as he’s netted 35 threes on 41.7 percent shooting.
Crowder would help these Suns immensely as he could fit right in as the starting power forward and would provide more value than just his game. He could be a mentor for the likes of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson and would help them quite a bit in their development.
Crowder oozes Heat Culture — Hot Hot Hoops / SB Nation
From his first game with Miami — a road loss to the Portland Trail Blazers — Crowder showed himself to be an embodiment of Heat culture. And he immediately turned into a great 3-point shooter after putting on a Miami uniform. After shooting 29 percent on 5.9 3-point attempts with the Memphis Grizzlies prior to the trade, Crowder shot 44.5 percent on 6.4 attempts from deep with the Heat.
Reportedly, the Heat wanted Crowder back for bigger money ($14 mil) on a shorter deal (1 guaranteed + 1 team option) to keep their options open next summer. That’s the same kind of deal that Goran Dragic and Myers Leonard took, as the Heat mostly ran it back with their Finals team as much as possible for a bigger free agency run next summer.
The Timeline - Sam Cooper
Would you rather just watch film of Crowder’s defensive skills? Here you go!