Back to his old ways
By Grant Lucas
TUALATIN — Allen Crabbe leaned back on a padded basket stanchion at the Portland Trail Blazers’ practice facility here. He was relaxed, possibly for the first time in his three-year NBA career.
After averaging more than 18 points and six rebounds per game as a junior at California, when he was the Pac-12 player of the year, Crabbe was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 31st overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. That same night, he was traded to the Blazers.
When the 6-foot-6-inch, 215-pound wing player came to Portland, however, he found himself buried on the depth chart behind a pair of established Trail Blazers: Wesley Matthews, one of the league’s top 3-point shooters, and Nicolas Batum, arguably the best all-around player on the roster.
Crabbe was stuck in traffic, nowhere for him to move upward in the rotation. He played in just 15 games for the Blazers that season, averaging just 2.2 points and 0.6 rebounds, and was twice assigned to the team’s NBA Development League squad.
Yet after breaking out last season, playing 51 games with nine starts in place of the oft-injured Batum, and following the departures of Matthews (to Dallas) and Batum (to Charlotte) over this past offseason, Crabbe saw an opportunity.
For the first time in his brief professional career, the 23-year-old Los Angeles native cracked down on his diet, eating more vegetables and protein while cutting out junk food.
“All the fresh stuff,” Crabbe said. “I know sometimes I used to slide a lot, you know, go get burgers or something. But I really have to cut that out. I knew how important this offseason was for me, so if I wanted to change my body, change my work ethic, it was going to happen off the court as well.”
He lived in the gym, working out virtually every day with his personal and team trainers.
“Really, at this time, I know how important it is and how important this year is for me,” Crabbe said last week on the first day of Portland’s training camp. “I just don’t want that opportunity to slip away. So I’m doing everything in my power … I know hard work goes a long way. I’m just waiting to see the results.”
You want an underdog to cheer for? Make it Crabbe.
Four starters are gone from last season’s Blazers team, one that recorded a second straight 50-win season and put Portland in the playoffs for the fifth time in seven years.
So here is Crabbe’s opportunity. How has he fared lately when presented an opportunity?
When he was assigned to the D-League, he played an average of 38.5 minutes over six games for the Boise-based Idaho Stampede, averaging 16 points and 6.7 rebounds during that span. This past summer, in his third appearance in the NBA Summer League, he put up 15.5 points per game on 53.2 percent shooting, including 43.8 percent from 3-point range, in four games before suffering an ankle injury. He has recovered from the injury and has been fully cleared for training camp.
Brief as it was, that summer season was key. Because it was then, Crabbe emphasized, that his swagger returned.
“It felt like I was back in my college days, the way I could go out there and just be aggressive and not worry about making mistakes or worrying about who I need to get the ball to,” Crabbe recalled. “Like, ‘Go out there and play basketball. That’s why you’re a basketball player and play in the NBA. Just play basketball.’ … Offensively, I was able to show stuff that I wasn’t able to show the first two years here. I just feel like summer league really helped out, and hopefully I can bring that into the season.”
Crabbe can feel himself returning to form, but it was not as if he was completely off the Portland coaches’ radars.
“Allen has been good for two years,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He started eight or nine games last year, and he keeps improving.”
That confidence showed on the first day of training camp, when Crabbe smoothly sank 3-pointer after 3-pointer. Following rare misses, he did not dwell. He did not hang his head. He spotted up and calmly ripped off another streak of jumpers. While he will be competing with newcomers Gerald Henderson and Al-Farouq Aminu for rotation spots at the wing, Crabbe has the advantage of two years of experience in Stotts’ system. And that consistent long-range accuracy, he has shot 36 percent from 3-point territory in his NBA career, is what could make him a key factor on the floor for the Blazers.
That, and a now-relaxed Crabbe playing with a confidence, aggressiveness and assertiveness he has lacked in his first two NBA seasons — with some encouragement from All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who continues to urge Crabbe to not shy away from shots, that Crabbe is capable of being a solid scorer. The “green light,” as Crabbe called it, just feeds that confidence.
“You’re not worried about mistakes,” Crabbe said. “You’re not worried about, ‘Am I taking the right shot? Am I taking the wrong shot?’ Not worried about getting the ball to the right person or whatever it might be. It just allows me to play basketball. I’m not over here thinking twice or, ‘Should I do this? Should I do that?’ I was just flowing, letting the game come to me. If I make a mistake, then I make a mistake. I just felt like I was in my old days.”
Here in training camp with the Blazers, with four starting jobs and rotation spots up for grabs, that swagger could not have returned at a better time.
“I feel like I put in a lot of work in this offseason,” Crabbe said, “and I feel like it’s going to pay off for me. So I’m just doing what I need to do.”
With conviction, Crabbe added: “With all the opportunity and roster space that’s open … just got to go in there and take advantage of it.”