In 2014, Jordan Crawford was an NBA free agent, fresh off averaging 13.7 points for the Celtics after a trade midway through his fourth NBA season. That scoring average included a career-high 41-point game on the final day of the regular season.
Rather than signing with an NBA team, however, Crawford opted for a one-year deal in the Chinese Basketball Association. He returned to the States in March 2015 with the NBA G League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants, helping lead the team to the 2015 Finals. After another stint in China another standout NBA G League season, this time with the Grand Rapids Drive, he was called up to the Pelicans in March 2017, eventually averaging 14.1 points and signing a multi-year deal.
Crawford — nicknamed “Instant Grits” by teammate DeMarcus Cousins for his scoring ability off the bench — detailed to NBAGLeague.com how his minor-league experience turned his career around.
By Jordan Crawford, as told to Brian Kotloff
I came into the NBA trying to become the best basketball player I could be, but I think I went about it the wrong way. I tried to rush everything, tried to do things on my time and not just let them happen. And I think I was so locked in to trying to to be the best basketball player I could be that I became misunderstood.
My greatest strength — how I got to the NBA — was my confidence: wanting to show that I’m the best basketball player on every court. But the NBA is about more than that: There’s the business side. You’ve got to understand the situation that you’re in, the team that you’re on and what the organization is trying to do.
When I became a free agent in 2014, I thought that my talent would speak for itself. It was my first time being a free agent, and I didn’t really have my voice involved — I was too stuck on basketball and was naive in thinking, “Hey, with what I did this past year, I ought to get a multi-year deal.”
|Crawford’s 2016-17 Season|
|MIN||PTS||FGM/FGA (FG%)||3FGM/3FGA (3FG%)||FTM/FTA (FT%)|
|Grand Rapids Drive (37 games)||29.8||23.5||8.5/18.0 (47.4%)||2.6/7.4 (35.5%)||3.8/4.4 (87.0%)|
|New Orleans Pelicans (19 games)||23.3||14.1||5.5/11.5 (48.2%)||1.9/5.0 (38.9%)||1.1/1.4 (76.9%)|
But I had been with four teams in four years, so I didn’t really have a place in the league. I didn’t really have anybody that understood me or GMs and scouts that really knew me. I started understanding how other people looked at me, even if their views weren’t reality.
The perception of me was that I was a selfish player, more worried about myself than about winning. It started during my time with the Wizards, an organization that was still trying to find itself at that time, building around John Wall and a lot of young players. When I signed in China in 2014, I think that was looked at as another selfish move. I blamed myself for creating that perception and made it my job to show people that I’m not a bad locker room guy. It was time for me to show who I really was and not let the little things like playing time or things that you can’t control affect me.
When I returned to the States in the NBA G League, that’s where it all started. That’s what allowed me to get my mind right. After my first stint with the Mad Ants, I realized that I had to go through the G League not just to show that I’m humble; I had to perform to my abilities and show how strong I am mentally. That process took time. I wasn’t really locked in mentally until that offseason, when I went to Summer League with Dallas and then training camp with the Bulls. I started putting myself in uncomfortable situations where I was vulnerable, and for the first time I felt like I was getting back, close to the league again. I locked in. I realized I was just entering my prime.
It was hard to go back to the G League without knowing whether I was going to get called up — without seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s where the Grand Rapids Drive came in. I went to a Pistons mini-camp last offseason and the Drive’s head coach, Rex Walters, told me he had talked to Stan Van Gundy and the staff in Detroit, and they really wanted me. Being close to home — I’m from Detroit — I could see how it was a good fit.
There weren’t a lot of players in the G League like me: 28 years old, having played four legit years in the NBA. My first instinct was to think, “When it’s time for teams to hand out 10-day contracts, I should be the first one.” But then I had to understand that teams wanted to see if I was going to stick it out. They knew I was talented enough, but they had to see what kind of character dude I was, the type of person I am at 28.
When I signed the 10-day with the Pelicans, it let me know that, “Okay, the person I want to be at 28 years old, I’m becoming him.” I’m able to endure things. I’m a better player, too. Through the G League, I started finding out where to pick my spots and understand more of the game and the flow of the game over 48 minutes. When you’re young, you’re out there wild, thinking you can do the same things that got you to the NBA. But the game and the players are so much different; there’s a rhythm to it.
Then there’s the mental side of it, which allows things to be even easier on the court. I’m not worried about the small stuff anymore, like not getting in in the first quarter. It doesn’t matter when you throw me in — I’m going to lock in for that time that I’m in the game. I can’t thank the Drive enough for getting me to this point. They gave me the opportunity to showcase who I am and the player than I am. I’m becoming a better person and player every day, and hopefully that’ll help me stick.