LAS VEGAS – His popular nickname may be “Instant Grits,” but if there’s one thing Jordan Crawford has learned since entering the NBA, it’s that it takes time for a young player to achieve his goals. That’s one message the Pelicans guard has imparted to members of New Orleans’ summer league squad, while serving as a mentor who’s experienced a multitude of situations as a pro.
“I’m very relatable to guys in this position, from the standpoint of just grinding (to earn a spot),” said Crawford, who flourished with New Orleans in his return to the NBA in March, after a two-season absence. “I played against a lot of them in the D-League, and I’ve been in the summer league twice. I’m just kind of guiding people, letting them know how hectic the game can be. I tell them the best players are the ones who are patient and trust each other.”
The five-year NBA veteran is listed on the Pelicans’ official summer roster, but is not expected to suit up for games. Instead, the 28-year-old is serving as kind of an additional assistant coach, someone to lean on for tips and pointers, an ideal role for a man with totals of 276 NBA games and 6,790 minutes under his belt. Crawford is coming off one of his best individual stretches in the league, averaging 14.1 points with New Orleans over 19 regular season games, while shooting career highs of 48.2 percent from the field and 38.9 percent on three-pointers.
“I talk to guys about what scouts and GMs are looking for on the court,” Crawford said. “They want to see someone who knows he belongs, so more than anything, I tell them, ‘Don’t pass up shots. Make sure you are assertive and confident in what you’re doing, because that’s what they look for the most.’
“It takes a lot for a player going through this. Just being able to give them real advice on what to expect is what I’m trying to do. A lot of it is just talking basketball, which is what I like to do anyway.”
Crawford was a first-round pick in 2010 at No. 27 overall coming out of college at Xavier (Ohio), but he dealt with immediate adversity, playing sparingly for Atlanta and being traded by the Hawks midway through his rookie season. He only appeared in a total of 42 games as a first-year pro. Crawford sought guidance as a 22-year-old rook from Atlanta’s slew of veterans, a group that included Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Jamal Crawford. That advice is something the Detroit native describes as “huge for me.”
Crawford is trying to pass on some of those lessons to Pelicans summer leaguers, including first-time pros such as Frank Jackson and Peter Jok, who were still college players a few months ago.
“For those guys, it’s about doing what got you here,” Crawford said of what he tells players just out of school. “Whatever you did in college that got NBA scouts and people’s eyes on you, do that here and develop. It’s more of a developing process than it once was. It used to be that you were either an NBA player or not (from Day 1). Now teams look to see potential and kind of build you up. It’s about showing your game, and the organization will help you from there.”
Crawford said he may consider coaching when his playing days are over, but wants to start at the grassroots level, perhaps in AAU. He acknowledges that as much as young players benefit from seeking and receiving advice from experienced pros, there are things they can only fully grasp by going through it themselves. For example, while playing parts of three seasons with Washington from 2011-13, he often became frustrated by a lack of results on the court, despite the fact that the Wizards were in the midst of a daunting rebuild, centered on young players. Washington won just 23, 20 and 29 games in those seasons.
“Patience is something you need to have in certain situations,” Crawford remembered. “I think that was my biggest mistake during my time in D.C., how impatient I was. I didn’t realize how long a season was, that you are going to have ups and downs. That was the main thing. You don’t (necessarily) understand that when you’re on a team with a bunch of young guys, the organization has to see everybody develop. They can’t just focus on you or someone else’s building process. It might take two to three years. I was trying to win (right away).”
Although Crawford’s primary focus this week is on how he can help other Pelicans players, he also sees the benefits of being around New Orleans coaches and the game for an additional chunk of the offseason. He’s always kept an eye on summer league from afar, something he says can only help a player trying to improve mentally.
“You always pay attention, because there are so many players gunning for the same position,” he said. “You kind of have to know everybody. And you can take things from those players and add it to your game. It’s only a plus for you.”