BOSTON — When the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks in December 2014, they weren’t exactly expecting a consistent offensive threat in return.
Fast forward 13 months later, and Jae Crowder has developed into just that.
The Celtics forward scored a career-high 25 points in Wednesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers, one night after dropping 21 on the New York Knicks. Crowder is averaging 18.3 points per game over his last nine contests and with a season average of 14.1 points per game is on the verge of passing Avery Bradley, at 14.5 points per game, as Boston’s second-leading scorer behind Isaiah Thomas.
All of this scoring? It’s coming from a guy who never topped five points per game during his 2 1/2 seasons in Dallas.
“Jae?s improved,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “You know, he?s only been here a year, and I told you last year: I?m not sure I knew quite all that he could do, and he just keeps adding to it.”
Crowder’s defensive prowess is well-documented and was on full display Wednesday night. But his recent offensive success — the apparent benefit of greater confidence begat by a career-high 44.6 field goal percentage — has transformed him into a more complete player who should earn serious consideration for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
“Everything is coming naturally,” Crowder said after Wednesday’s win. “I’m not trying to force anything. I’m staying within the offense, and everything is coming naturally. Coach is putting me in a great position to score the ball at times, and I’m just trying to take full advantage of it.”
Let’s hit a few other notes from Celtics-Pacers:
— Amir Johnson was a beast.
The veteran forward scored 14 points and ripped down a season-high 18 rebounds, nine of which came in the first quarter alone. Johnson also tied a team high with six assists, which didn’t sit too well with point guard Isaiah Thomas, who tallied just three helpers.
“He took over my position,” Thomas joked. “I didn’t get that many assists, so somebody’s got to make the plays.”
— Jared Sullinger wasn’t as much of a beast.
Sullinger replaced Kelly Olynyk in Wednesday’s starting lineup after Olynyk had started the previous five games. Stevens said the move was designed to get Boston more in rhythm, but it didn’t pan out too well for Sullinger, who managed just four points and three rebounds in 20 minutes of action.
— Other folks in New England might not be too fond of the Worldwide Leader, but apparently the Celtics are.
Boston’s win over Indiana, televised nationally on ESPN, moved the club to 2-0 this season in games shown on the network. By contrast, the C’s are 0-2 when TNT broadcasts their games.
— The NCAA made a major announcement Wednesday, pushing back the date by which players must pull out of the NBA draft to maintain their eligibility. Stevens, who is less than three years removed from the college game, is a fan.
“I think it’s great,” Stevens said of the NCAA’s new rule. “I understand why the dates were pushed up from a college perspective, because college coaches are trying to fill their roster for the end of the year. But I think it’s the best thing for the kids. That is, to get a chance to fairly evaluate if they’re going to be picked or not and decide how much risk they want to put in their future.”
— Pacers coach Frank Vogel had some kind words for Stevens regarding the Celtics coach’s decision to miss a game to visit former Butler player Andrew Smith days before the 25-year-old died due to cancer.
“Brad’s as high character a guy as you’re ever going to meet, so it’s not surprising (Stevens visited Smith),” Vogel said.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images