The Portland Trail Blazers had been calling second year swing man Allen Crabbe “Cool Breeze” since last season, and it was not until this week that most fans understood why.
Crabbe had not had nearly any meaningful minutes in his Blazers career until this week, starting three games and possibly more for an injured Nicolas Batum.
It was a surprise to many, but he seamlessly fit in the starting lineup as the Blazers went 3-0. The Blazers outscored their opponents by 20 points per 100 possessions with Crabbe on the court this past week.
Last season Crabbe showed promise in training camp and preseason. Then an illness wiped him out for about a week.
Batum, for whom Crabbe has filled in, liked Crabbe’s game last season.
“He’s very smart. he can shoot. He can do a lot of things on the court. People don’t really know him because he hasn’t played that much, but he can play,” Batum said.
Crabbe played sparingly save two stints in the NBA Development League with the Idaho Stampede, the Blazers’ former D-League affiliate.
“The lowest point was just not playing at all,” Crabbe said. “You think that you’ll get a shot and an opportunity one time during the season. We were just a really healthy team. And that’s good for us that we had that good run.”
Crabbe also had a disappointing summer league, at least according to him.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts loves Crabbe’s “unflappable” demeanor, but he also thinks that his ability to make things look so easy overshadows his competitiveness.
“He’s a somewhat reserved personality. But I think his competitive spirit is overshadowed by that because he plays very hard,” Stotts said about the former Pacific-12 Conference Player of the Year from California. “He is very competitive. But I think he has a cool exterior, cool demeanor.”
When Batum, a laid-back customer himself, was asked about the “Cool Breeze” moniker for Crabbe, he had an interesting response.
“You know who he remind me? A little bit like B-Roy (Brandon Roy), sometimes, the way he is. He’s cool and natural on the court,” Batum said. “They don’t do like crazy stuff. He does what he’s supposed to do. He’s good. And the same spirit, natural stuff, cool breeze like B-Roy was.”
Batum could come back to the lineup as early as Monday, but he said that is doubtful. However, when he does come back to the starting lineup, Stotts has trust in Crabbe’s ability, especially on defense.
“I think Allen, there’s no question he’s shown an ability defensively in these three games. Had him on (Brooklyn Nets) Joe Johnson some, he’s had some other matchups. He’s good in pick-and-roll defense, he gets back in transition.”
In Crabbe’s 71 minutes on the court over the last three games, the Blazers have defended at a top-five rate, according to NBA.com. Playing with the starters certainly helps but it seems like Crabbe’s established himself as a defender on the Blazers bench even though he’s shot 38 percent from the field and only 33 percent from 3.
Crabbe’s biggest asset has been his ability to blend in to Portland’s team structure. Even in the preseason, Stotts cited that as a strength in his game.
While he was “shocked” that he got the call to start last week against Charlotte, Stotts had been looking for an opportunity to give him time.
“I’m happy for the team. I’m certainly happy for Allen. I wouldn’t have him in the starting lineup if I didn’t have confidence in him,” Stotts said. “He’s been working very hard last year this year. He deserved an opportunity to play before now, but it didn’t really present itself.”
And while Crabbe’s play and the play of Meyers Leonard has rewarded the confidence the Blazers staff has in them, Stotts is steadfast in keeping his young players on their toes.
“The rotation, as I’ve said from day one I have starters, Steve (Blake) and Chris (Kaman), and after that everybody has to be ready,” he said on Sunday.
The season is young, but it’s hard to argue that Stotts’ strategy in keeping the young players ready has paid off for the Blazers so far.