An NBA All-Star roster without a single Dallas Maverick is a rare sight to behold. For the first time since 1998, Dallas fans had no familiar faces to celebrate. Dirk Nowizki, a Western Conference fixture since 2002, will return to Dallas from his first real “break” over All-Star Weekend in over a decade. He will return not from Houston, the All-Star host but, as reported by Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, Mexico. This joins the Mavericks’ dim playoff chances as an unusual new reality in Dallas.
Not all the unusual events in Dallas, however, have been negative. Lost in the return of Dirk Nowitzki, the revolving roster, the inconsistent play and the trade talk is another unusual occurrence. For the first time in a spell, Dallas has a rookie of value in former junior-college standout turned Marquette University graduate Jae Crowder. There is a persistent worry in Dallas over the the team’s ability to develop young talent — a weakness which fans overlooked because of quality overall team play. In 2013, however, the roles in Dallas have reversed; the team’s general malaise has eclipsed the promise of Crowder’s rookie campaign.
Every NBA team, of course, has a long list of draft picks and rookies that didn’t pan out. The list for Dallas, however, is longer than most and features far fewer redeeming factors. The most consistent critique of Rick Carlisle is that he hasn’t done enough to develop young players in Dallas, particularly rookies. Yet the problem extends far beyond Carlisle’s time in Dallas. As our own Kirk Henderson has long noted, the Mavericks are owners of a rather inglorious draft history.
In contrast, Jae Crowder has represented a steal for the Mavericks. Like many other Dallas rookies, Crowder generated a strong buzz in the preseason and was labeled a player to watch by many analysts. Crowder’s productivity has generally lived up to those expectations, albeit in bursts of effectiveness rather than sustained play.
In a piece posted to this site on Monday, our own Ian Levy cited impressive new work by his Hickory High colleague Ming Wang which assigned a “value ratio” to every NBA contract. Put simply, a “value ratio” is a way to measure the bang-per-buck provided by a particular player. Several Mavericks fared surprisingly well by this standard but it was particularly kind to Crowder, who, as Levy noted, possesses one of the top-ten best value ratios in this year’s NBA rookie class.
Evaluating Crowder’s production through the lens of value helps to elevate what he brings to the table, something his unweighted statistics don’t make very clear. According to data from Basketball Reference, Crowder has a below-average Player Efficiency Rating and struggles in other more specific statistical areas (for example, his 38% shooting from the field). Even in the data Levy cites, Crowder’s 0.82 win shares versus the league median is equal to the disappointing mark established by Chris Kaman and below non-factors like Dahntay Jones. Factor in that Crowder’s rookie contract provides him only $872k annually, however, and that Kaman is owed a whopping $8 million, and Crowder’s contract appears to be a great investment of resources.
Crowder’s returns are even more impressive given that the team’s investment of playing time in the rook has wavered with Crowder’s predictable rookie struggles. After a long winter which saw Crowder produce a dreadful 4 for 30 shooting slump, Crowder has regained his composure and found his touch. Despite inconsistent time on the floor, Crowder has recently turned in two very impressive performances for the Mavericks in February victories over the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers.
The box score in both contests was misleading. Crowder scored only 11 points against Sacramento but did so with great efficiency, draining three of the six three-pointers he took to help put the Kings away. The five points he produced against Portland aren’t impressive on their own, but they came as Crowder single-handedly held back a streaking Blazers team with a quick, 5-0 solo scoring burst. Crowder did a fantastic job of spotting good opportunities in both contests and appears to be rounding into form as the season enters its most important stretch.
As Dallas returns to the floor after the All-Star break, all eyes will be glued to former All-Stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion as the team attempts to make one last improbable playoff push. When those dreams fall through, the attention will then turn towards a future that will be increasingly determined by the development of players like Crowder. If Crowder can continue to improve, he could pan out as a quality rotation player and a familiar face in Dallas for some time to come.