Year in review: Cal men’s basketball alumnus Allen Crabbe tasked with new obstacles after shaky season

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A year ago, Cal men’s basketball alumnus Allen Crabbe was coming off the best season of his career, destined to build on the foundation he laid in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets. How a season can change things. Now, Crabbe finds himself on the Atlanta Hawks with the chance to reclaim his value.

Just like that, it’s gone

After beginning the 2017-18 season on the bench, Crabbe secured a starting job in his first go-around with the Nets by year’s end. Crabbe turned that opportunity into his best season yet, his 13.2 points per game being a career-high, as were his 29.3 minutes per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists per game and 11.0 shot attempts per game.

As the incumbent starter fresh off his best season yet, Crabbe was in prime position to retain that role for the 2018-19 season. Unfortunately for him, that vision wouldn’t come to fruition.

On Oct. 8, 2018, about a week prior to the season beginning, Crabbe suffered a left ankle sprain, which would sideline him for the Nets’ season opener against the Detroit Pistons. With Crabbe, as well as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll, out for the season’s first game, head coach Kenny Atkinson bestowed Joe Harris and Caris LeVert the starting nods, a privilege they proved themselves worthy of keeping.

Harris and LeVert went on tears in Brooklyn’s first 10 games. Harris was unconscious from distance, averaging 13.6 points on 60 percent shooting from three. LeVert looked like a star in the making, averaging 20.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

Crabbe, in contrast to the two men who took his starting role, looked lost. In that same span, Crabbe only put up 6.8 points, shooting 25.7 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from three. He still got his minutes because of the lack of serviceable and healthy wings — Rodions Kurucs had yet to emerge as a rotation player — but that production left plenty to be desired.

More of the same — for better and for worse

The NBA world collectively held its breath on Nov. 12, 2018 when LeVert suffered a gruesome leg injury against the Minnesota Timberwolves, one that miraculously only sidelined the budding star for three months. LeVert’s injury left an opening at the small forward position, one that Crabbe would fill.

Crabbe’s reintroduction to the starting lineup was shaky and mired by inconsistency, but he had his moments, dropping 27 points and seven 3-pointers against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 21, 2018, both of which were season highs.

Those moments, however, were few and far between; nights of poor shooting and minimal production being much more common. Only four days removed from showing out in Dallas, Crabbe put up a zero-point performance in 25 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers.

After struggling for the season’s first two months, Crabbe put together an impressive stretch against quality opponents in December, averaging 17.5 points and shooting 55.9 percent from three in a four-game slate against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and 76ers.

Everything was finally gravy for Crabbe. Until it wasn’t. After he put up 20 points on Philadelphia on Dec. 12, 2018, a sore right knee forced Crabbe to miss Brooklyn’s next 26 games, sidelining him until Feb. 6, 2019.

Upon returning to the hardwood, Crabbe only needed a single game to get acclimated before taking on heavy minutes. By his second game back, Crabbe already exceeded the 20-minute threshold.

Despite some expected rust in his first game back, Crabbe played some of his best ball of the season immediately upon returning from injury. In a four-game stretch against the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers — his second, third, fourth and fifth games back from injury, respectively — he averaged 18.0 points and shot a blistering 55.6 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from deep.

But yet again, inconsistency reared its ugly head. In Crabbe’s subsequent five games, he only put up 5.4 points and shot 29.4 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from three.

Even with the poor play, circumstance paved the way for Crabbe to make his way into the starting lineup. With Treveon Graham sidelined with a back injury and LeVert dealing with his own struggles, Crabbe was reinserted into the starting lineup once again, beginning on March 4.

But if the season had proved anything, it was that the fun wasn’t meant to last. Crabbe only started five games before issues with that right knee creeped up once again. On April 4, Crabbe underwent a right knee arthroscopy, which would keep him out for the rest of the season.

Hot Atlanta

On May 3, Crabbe, as expected, exercised his player option for the 2019-20 season worth $18.5 million, the final year of the four-year, $75 million contract he signed back in the infamous summer of 2016.

Crabbe got his paper, but Brooklyn would no longer be his home. A month later, on June 6, the Nets traded Crabbe and two first-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-round pick. For Brooklyn, the move was a salary dump that opened up a second max slot, allowing the Nets to sign superstar free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

An already tumultuous year reached its nadir when Crabbe was cited for a DUI on June 25 on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip after reportedly “straddling lanes.” Crabbe blew a .08 blood alcohol content, California’s legal limit, and was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor DUI, with bail set at $5,000.

In Atlanta, Crabbe finds himself in a tricky situation as far as playing time is concerned. The Hawks are one of the youngest teams in the NBA and boast arguably the league’s best young core, featuring Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando. Considering Atlanta is building for the future, the youngsters’ playing time will likely be prioritized.

Crabbe will have to compete not only with the baby Hawks for playing time, but with the team’s slew of solid role players as well, among them being Evan Turner, Chandler Parsons, Jabari Parker, DeAndre’ Bembry and Justin Anderson.

Given his situation with the Hawks, a buyout isn’t out of the question. Just last season, the Hawks granted Carmelo Anthony a buyout when he was traded from Oklahoma City to Atlanta as part of a three-team trade. Atlanta could also flip Crabbe and his expiring contract for an asset. Sans Crabbe, the Hawks have depth at the wing, enough to avoid running the youngsters into the ground.

Should Crabbe be bought out or put on the trading block, there will likely be a slew of contenders desiring his services. Despite his worst season as a pro, Crabbe, at minimum, is a 6’6” wing who has shot 39.3 percent from three for his career. Given all that’s happened since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, a fresh start on a contender might be just the move to revitalize his career.

Justice delos Santos is the assistant sports editor. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.