Jae Crowder is the Most Improved Player in the NBA


There has been a lot to like when watching the Boston Celtics this season. Head coach Brad Stevens has the team playing above .500 basketball, and we are seeing what a year of chemistry can do for the players. Stevens has proven himself to be a coaching magician when it comes to getting the most out of his players. I think the biggest jump has been made by a forward that all of Boston calls “bae”. Jae Crowder has smashed expectations of him to the point where he might receive some hardware for his troubles. I believe that Crowder is well on his way to winning the most improved player of the year award.

It’s been a little over a year since Crowder was part of the Rajon Rondo deal (Dec. 18), and he has to believe it was the best thing ever to happen to him. Not only has he received a chance to start, but he has taken advantage of that opportunity. His hard work and determination has shined to the point where he’s become a fan favorite in the Hub. The reaction the Boston crowd gave him when he injured himself out of the playoffs was proof enough. Typically the fans in Boston can be critical, and for a player who only averaged 7.7 points last season, this kind of admiration wasn’t expected. Because of his defensive intensity and ability, fans believed the Celtics found a diamond in the rough. Who would’ve thought that it was Crowder (and, for the Mavericks, Dwight Powell) that were the centerpieces for that deal?

With the determination Crowder has, I don’t think anyone can stop him. Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Fast forward to this season, and Crowder is having his best year ever (probably thanks to Stevens starting him). Crowder is averaging 13.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals, and shooting 44 percent from the floor, all career highs. If you think those steal numbers are on the high side, you’d be right. Crowder is in the top-20 when it comes to swiping the basketball (Although he was leading the league with three per game after a couple of weeks of action).

But it’s his per-100 possessions that jump off the screen. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his per-100 possessions has him averaging 20 points, eight rebounds, nearly three assists, over two and a half steals, and he sports an offensive rating of 110 and a defensive rating of 99. These are very impressive numbers and show how vital he is to the team.

If that’s not enough to prove how vital he is, NBA.com/stats paints an even brighter picture when it comes to wins and losses for the Celtics. When the team wins, Crowder averages a net rating of 19 (Offensive rating 108.5 and defensive rating 89.4). Not to be outdone his PIE (Player Impact Estimate) jumps to a staggering 12.6 in wins. He has these numbers only when the team wins, though. His numbers don’t look so good when the team loses (-11 net rating), making me believe that the Celtics need to get Crowder going on both ends of the floor for their best chance at winning games.

I did find it funny how his PER is only at 15.3 (even though that’s a decent number). I have a feeling that a lot of these “offensive” fouls called on his shot attempts have something to do with that (as do his turnovers, since he’s averaging 1.5). However, his BPM is at 3.3 (breaking it down to OPM 1.3 and his DPM 2) which means he’s an efficient player. Which again makes me believe that he’s the most improved player the NBA has to offer.

Is there anyone else that has made the career jump that Crowder has done this season? Not only has he been a defensive terror for opposing wing players, but his offense has been impeccable this season. When the Celtics need a bucket, they turn to Isaiah Thomas and Crowder. His three-pointer has become so standard and automatic that fans are shocked when it doesn’t fall. Honestly, I doubt any NBA experts, writers, or fans could have predicted Crowder’s growth to what he’s shown now. What Crowder is doing this season was NOT expected from him, which is why I think the award is his to lose as of now.

He is having a career year, making the argument on Crowder winning the Most Improved Player of the Year award stronger. Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

So who would be Crowder’s biggest competition for the award? There is a guard in Phoenix who will be getting a lot more chances to dominate the ball after Eric Bledsoe’s knee injury. Brandon Knight is having a career year himself (albeit his averages are smaller compared to Crowder’s). However, he will now become the Suns’ focal point on offense and possibly defense, which could lead some experts to  believe he should win the award. Another possibility is Derrick Rose, if he can stay healthy. While his numbers are also sliding compared to what he’s done in the past, it is still an improvement that he’s playing on a steady level. In fact, there have been glimpses of his former MVP self this season. So for me it’s those two that could become his biggest competition.

(There has even been some chatter about Stephen Curry winning this award, with how much he’s demolishing the league, but I doubt he’ll actually win it.)

That’s not to say that another player couldn’t sneak into the running later. It’s just that Crowder has been doing so much for his team that should make others notice him. He’s one of Boston’s better players, and it has to feel rewarding, due to where Crowder began his NBA journey. After being Mr. Everything at Marquette University, Crowder had to stomach being a second-round draft pick. He barely saw any time with Dallas, and thankfully, Danny Ainge saw something special in him. I am a fan of Rajon Rondo (as many Boston fans are), so being able to say that he was the best acquisition in that trade is a huge deal. Hopefully, he can continue this kind of production, because that could lead to a long playoff run for the Celtics, thanks to him. He is a scary opponent to face, and will cause absolute havoc wherever he goes. Maybe that’s why Boston is so infatuated with him.

*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com/Stats, and Hollinger NBA Player Stats

*C.J Maffris is a writer for Hardwoodhoudini.com. He isn’t a fan of the “Bae Crowder” nickname but realizes it’s a losing battle. Feel free to debate with him on Twitter @SeaJayMaffris