Point guard burden taxing Crawford's game

Point guard burden taxing Crawford's game
December 17, 2012, 4:30 pm
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John Wall gives CSN the latest on his knee injury

John Wall's extended absence hasn't impacted the Wizards simply because of talent. The position he plays, point guard, is kind of important. Not that rebounding forwards or perimeters shooters aren't vital, but the hoops quarterback runs the attack, sets teammates up for scoring opportunities. On some level the other positions have a plug-and-play quality. When it comes to directing traffic, the mental approach is innate for some, learned for others.

Jordan Crawford falls into the latter category. Then again the high-confidence shooter is not a point guard by trade, just a talented player thrust into a new role because of the Wizards many injuries at the position.

"It's a different mentality. I think a lot of guys understand it's not an easy position," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "That's why that's such a crucial position on a basketball team. I don't care if you're talking about junior high, high school, college or NBA. If you get good guard play you can compete. Doesn't matter at what level. If you don't, you can have the best big man in the world and if you don't have good guard play you're going to struggle."

Between Wall's knee and A.J. Price's fractured hand, Washington is without its top two floor leaders. Factor in that both Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo are no longer around and the 3-18 Wizards are playing games without any of the four point guards on their training camp roster.

With Shaun Livingston serving as the roster's lone natural point guard, Crawford's been tasked with picking up more minutes in that capacity.

No slight to the third-year guard and the team's top scorer with 14.3 points per game, but the heavy burden of also being the primary distributor is taking a toll on Crawford's overall game.

"Obviously, I think it is," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said following Monday's practice.

Look no further than Saturday's 30-point loss at Miami for evidence. Crawford scored five points on 2 of 12 shooting. While not his season-low, the five points snapped Crawford's nine-game streak of double-digit scoring.

Meanwhile his six turnovers against the Heat not only represents his season-high, but stands as the most Crawford's had in a game since committing seven as a rookie on March 23, 2011 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Not a high percentage shooter in the first place, but in the four games since Price's injury Crawford is shooting 30.9 percent (22 of 71) from the field. In that span, his personal point production has dropped in every game. After scoring 26 in the 77-70 win at New Orleans, Crawford has tallied 17, 11 and 5 points.

Wittman: "It's a new position, a more demanding position. Mentally you think differently then when you're running the shooting guard position. You've got to think really for all the other four guys out on the floor with you. When you're playing the two, you're basically running for you."

Running offense for himself is second nature for Crawford. In fairness he's picked up the distributing pace throughout the season, averaging a career-best 4.2 assists. In many ways Crawford's simply taking one for a scuffling team that does not have many other ways to manage the point guard role. In the future Bradley Beal's role can be expanded, but overburdening Crawford is one thing. Doing so with the 19-year-old rookie, unacceptable.

As for Livingston, the pass-first veteran is shooting 39.2 percent from the field. Since the 2008-09 season when he returned to the NBA from a devastating knee injury, he has never shot less than 46 percent.

Livingston injured his shoulder on Nov. 24 against Charlotte while taking a hard face-first fall. Asked if the injury is contributing to Livingston's offensive struggles, Wittman said, "I think he's healthy," though he also concurred with the laboring shooting timeline.

"Jordan and Shaun have to play better there. I think they can," Wittman said.

Despite the Wizards point guard needs, Livingston's recent minutes have lagged compared to the stretch when he first joined the team on Nov. 17 up through the fall against Charlotte.

Recently the Wizards worked out a pair of veteran free agent point guards, but chose instead to stick with the current roster. Considering the load Crawford is carrying, Livingston's labored shooting and the team scoring fewer points than any team in the NBA - or in its own history - adding another floor leader seems like a logical step, just not one the Wizards are ready to take, not yet.

"It's a work in progress," Wittman said. "What is it, four games since A.J. went down. We're going to keep evaluating. We're going to keep our options open, looking at different scenarios, keep observing how we feel this is going and in what direction and make our decision based on that."