Editor's note: This story was updated on Jan. 21, 2013 to include recent statistics and quotations.
Jamal Crawford is an All-Star.
It might seem unconventional. It might seem unbelievable. But the Clippers’ reserve guard and leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate has more than a worthy case.
The Clippers own the second best record in the NBA, a half game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. Crawford is the team’s second leading scorer (16.7 points per game). and also ranks third among all players with 259 fourth-quarter points behind only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
His performance Tuesday, Jan. 15 in Houston, the site of next month’s All-Star festivities, was likely enough evidence in its own right. With superstar Chris Paul out of the lineup due to a bruised right kneecap, Crawford led Clippers to their 30th win, notching a season-high 30 points with a dazzling performance that included baskets on five consecutive possessions in the opening minutes of the fourth.
Afterwards Houston’s James Harden, another candidate to represent the Western Conference at All-Star 2013, said, “[Crawford] definitely is All-Star worthy. The Clippers have a top record in the NBA and he’s one of the top scorers on the team. He’s playing well.”
A night earlier, before the Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, star forward Zach Randolph echoed Harden’s sentiment. “He is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year,” Randolph said. “He has been playing All-Star basketball, if you look at what he’s doing and the team that he’s on and their record. Of course, they have Blake [Griffin] and Chris [Paul], but Jamal’s right there.”
According to Warriors head coach Mark Jackson who as a player finished third on the NBA’s all-time assist list, Crawford is at the center of the Clippers’ first-half success.
“Jamal Crawford, the guy is having an impact every single night,” Jackson said prior to the Warriors’ meeting with the Clippers at Oracle Arena on Jan. 2. “Everything that the Clippers have been able to accomplish this year, Jamal Crawford is right in the middle. The way he has played, the way he has performed, the way he has battled. And it’s awfully tough to come off the bench and do that every night. It’s impressive.”
Not only has Crawford impressed Jackson, but a variety of other coaches, the group who ultimately decides the seven reserves from each conference, have lined up praise.
Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap said Crawford has played well enough to be “a featured piece on another team as a starter” and fellow first-year coach Jacques Vaughn called him “tough to prepare for and tough to guard” saying he “adds an incredible dimension to his team.”
One-time NBA Coach of the Year and renowned defensive tactician Tom Thibodeau said, “It’s Jamal, he’s always been explosive. He’s something. He’s done it for a long time.” And 2011 NBA champion Rick Carlisle on Jan. 9 added, “Talk about off the bench guys that can get it going quick, he’s right at the top of the list. There are two or three of them probably in the league. “
Crawford is the league’s second leading scorer off the bench and first in the Western Conference. He’s fifth in the NBA in +/- rating (+278), meaning the Clippers have a point differential of positive-278 when Crawford is on the floor.
It has been noticeable throughout the season. He is the centerpiece of the league’s most impactful reserve unit. And on the floor with the team’s starters Crawford makes an already potent offense practically unstoppable.
The Clippers, who are seventh in the NBA in scoring offense (101.6 points per game), average 7.6 more points per 48 minutes with Crawford on the floor alongside starters Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler. Only three other lineups in the NBA are more effective scoring the ball.
NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony, along with co-analyst Chris Webber, believes Crawford, who has led the Clippers in scoring 13 times, including Tuesday, should be in Houston a month from now.
“Everything that the Clippers have been able to accomplish this year, Jamal Crawford is right in the middle. The way he has played, the way he has performed, the way he has battled. And it’s awfully tough to come off the bench and do that every night. It’s impressive.”
-Warriors head coach Mark Jackson
“He’s the one guy that has elevated the Clippers from being a good basketball team to a legitimate contender for a title,” Anthony said on NBA TV’s Fan Night Jan. 8. “He was the difference. I would say he is having an All-Star caliber season.”
It is not unprecedented for the league’s premier teams to have more than two representatives at All-Star Weekend’s prime event. Crawford’s superstar teammates Griffin and Paul are locks to make the trip, but at least one team every year since 2004 has had three players in the All-Star game, including the ’09 Celtics and ’06 Pistons garnering four representatives.
Crawford coming off the bench should matter little. He is 13th in the league in scoring per 36 minutes (20.6 points per game) and routinely closes games for the Clippers.
Paul often uses the hashtag #AllStar when talking about Crawford on social media. And seven-time All-Star and Clippers teammate Grant Hill took to Twitter on Jan. 15 to advocate for Crawford (or @JCrossover, his Twitter handle): “Seriously, @JCrossover better be an All-Star this season…It was an honor to be on the court when he got cooking.”
Griffin agreed with Paul, saying, "absolutely" when asked if Crawford is an All-Star. "He's been as big a part of this team as anybody so I think he'll definitely be an All-Star."
Head coach Vinny Del Negro has mentioned on several occasions that he has been impressed with Crawford’s play-making ability (he’s averaged better than 3.0 assists per game since Dec. 1) and defensive effort even more so than his more well-documented scoring.
“He’s put up numbers his whole career, so people look at that. I think he’s more of a well-rounded player than people probably give him credit for,” Del Negro said. “He opens up things a lot for us offensively. And I think he’s actually done a pretty good job defensively, kind of locking into what we want to do and that’s been important.”
Important enough for Crawford to be one of three All-Stars for the Clippers.