After 12 NBA seasons and with a firm reputation as a pure shooter, Clippers guard Jamal Crawford tried something during the off-season he had never done before.
He practiced shooting.
It's astonishing to think that Crawford, who is the NBA's career leader with 34 four-point plays and ranks 21st all-time with 1,387 three-pointers, didn't routinely spend his summers in stuffy gyms trying to perfect his shot.
"I've never actually been drilled before. Seriously. I told Blake that, and he couldn't believe it," Crawford said of teammate Blake Griffin.
Crawford, 32, felt compelled to change his preparation after he signed a free-agent deal with the Clippers worth about $21 million over four years. Coming off a subpar season with the Portland Trail Blazers in which he hit 30.8% of his three-point attempts and shot a below-career-average 38.4% from the field, the NBA's 2010 sixth man of the year saw an opportunity for good things here, and he wanted to be ready.
For him, that meant doing shooting drills.
"This summer was actually the first summer I worked on my game. I usually just play off of raw talent," he said Thursday after the Clippers' practice. "But I just wanted to work on something and be in great shape coming into camp. I came here right after Labor Day, which is the earliest I've ever gone to any team in the summer, and all the guys were here, committed to getting better.
"Now it's part of my lifestyle, working out and being here, shooting and getting shots up. It gives you more confidence that if you miss one or two, you know you've been working on it every single day and your teammates have confidence because they see it as well."
Crawford has fit in well as the primary scorer off the bench, averaging a team-leading 17 points in 28.8 minutes in four games. That includes a come-from-behind, 96-94 victory over Utah on Wednesday in which he scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.
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These are only exhibition games, and the Clippers' rotation isn't set. But Crawford is shooting well — 47.7% — and is averaging 3.3 assists per game.
"He's an explosive scorer. You could see that [Wednesday] night," Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's a difficult cover. They had to double-team him at the end of the game. He's a guy that has closed games out before … that can take guys off the dribble and make plays.
"I've been impressed with his effort defensively. I think he's given us good effort here. Because offensively, he opens up the court. He can score quickly. He's a great free-throw shooter. So he brings a lot of explosive scoring to us. And he's played in big games. He's closed games out. So having that type of leadership out there at the end is important as well."
Del Negro said that because Crawford "can score in bunches and you have to know where he is on the court," he can space the court and create gaps for teammates to penetrate. Del Negro went to Crawford in the fourth quarter Wednesday and will do it again. "Just because he's a capable player, not only to make shots but to make plays," Del Negro said.
Crawford's success has made for an easy transition. Crawford, Chris Paul and Griffin exchanged compliments via Twitter on Wednesday, with Paul declaring of Crawford, "@Jcrossover=PROBLEMS," and adding the hashtag ColdBlooded. Griffin (@BlakeGriffin) responded, "Truuuuu." Crawford returned the compliments, telling Paul (@CP3) that "when u got the ball, magic happens," and saying of Griffin, "u I would pay to watch."
Crawford said his admiration is genuine.
"They're two bona fide superstars. When the top guys like that embrace you and embrace the team, I think it makes everybody comfortable," he said. "When you see that, you want to run through a wall for guys like that because you know they would do it for you."
No one is asking Crawford to do that. Providing scoring from the bench with clutch shooting would be a big enough contribution for a team that will face enormous pressure to do much more than win one playoff round.
"I see the sky as being the limit, honestly," Crawford said. "I think we have everything we need. We have a great coaching staff, an organization that's committed to winning, veterans who have been through those wars. You have guys like Chauncey Billups, who has been a Finals MVP. You have Lamar Odom, who's won two championships. Ronny Turiaf has won a championship. Guys have great experience, and I think when things get rough you can lean on that and those guys who have been through those wars."