Can Allen Crabbe return to form for the Nets?
Crabbe is showing signs of breaking out of his early-season struggles
With Caris LeVert out for an extended period through injury, the Nets will need someone to help pick up the slack, and one of last year's standout performers, Allen Crabbe, could be just the player to help soften the blow. Crabbe, coming off a career year in 2017-18, has gotten off to a slow start this season in large part due to an ankle injury that kept him sidelined in Brooklyn's first few games.
The 26-year-old is averaging just 7.0 points and 3.1 points per game in the early going, down from the career-high numbers -- 13.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest - that he set last season.
With LeVert going down, Brooklyn will need someone like Crabbe to step up and find a rhythm on offense, and the shooting guard has certainly started getting the opportunities to do so over the past week. Crabbe started for the first time this season Wednesday, scoring six points on 2-of-6 shooting in a loss to the Heat. He followed it up with another six points in the Nets' win over the Wizards on Friday night.
That continued Saturday when Crabbe reached double digits in points for the first time this month in Brooklyn's loss to the Clippers. Despite the defeat, Crabbe's one-game resurgence is a good sign for the team's fortunes moving forward. With head coach Kenny Atkinson sticking with the same lineup for the time being, Crabbe's numbers should go back up as he continues to get more minutes and shots.
Known for his three-point stroke, the University of California product knocked down three of his six attempts from deep Saturday. Getting Crabbe back to his sharp-shooting best should be a primary focus for Atkinson and Brooklyn over the next few weeks.
The early part of the season has been tough for Crabbe due to missed time in the preseason and the squad's first few games. His ankle injury, combined with LeVert's hot start, led to reduced minutes and the need for Crabbe to carve out a role off the bench.
That proved difficult in the early going, with Crabbe, a career 39.6 shoot from beyond the arc, struggling with his signature stroke through the opening weeks. Even after Saturday's performance, Crabbe has hit just 24-of-83 shots from three-point range, a 28.9 percentage that is well below his career mark of 39.0 percent and the 37.8 percent he knocked down last season.
In a way, that might be good news for the Nets, as Crabbe's shooting should improve as he gets more opportunities in the coming weeks. He does have the ability to get hot with his shooting and can help carry the load for a team on offense. Crabbe knocked down 41.4 percent of his shots after the All-Star break in 2017-18, averaging 15.3 points and over three 3-pointers made per game down the stretch. His 41-point performance in Brooklyn's second-to-last game of the season against the Bulls - including eight 3-pointers - showcased Crabbe's offensive potential.
"For me I don't know what kind of basketball I've been playing lately, like I said hopefully this right here just gives me a little bit more drive to dig deep and get out of this slump that I've been having," Crabbe said following Wednesday's loss to the Heat. "At the end of the day, it's basketball. I know that it will click and that it will come around, I just have to keep firing those shots away."
Crabbe isn't the only one being asked to step up in LeVert's absence as DeMarre Carroll and Shabazz Napier have seen their minutes jump without the 24-year-old in the lineup.
"When their number's called, guys are ready, and I feel like we have a group of guys who have been doing (that). They've been putting in that work even though they weren't playing," Crabbe said when asked who will pick up the slack.
Spencer Dinwiddie, who has been strong off the bench, scored a season-high 25 points in Friday's win and could land back into a starting role sooner rather than later.
No matter what happens, the Nets will need a variety of guys to step up and help replace LeVert's production. They've shown the ability to remain competitive without their best player, and they'll need to continue working in his absence to keep the team's hopes of postseason contention alive.