PORTLAND, Ore. — Allen Crabbe is the highest-paid player on the Nets this season at $19.3 million, a figure that is widely regarded as a drastic overpayment for a player who was a complementary shooter off the bench his first four seasons in Portland. That salary resulted from a restricted free-agent offer by the Nets in 2016 that the Trail Blazers matched, but after trading for Crabbe in July, the Nets are sticking by their assessment of his potential.
On Friday night at Moda Center, Crabbe made his first appearance in Portland since the trade — he scored 12 points in the Nets’ 101-97 victory — and coach Kenny Atkinson explained why he and general manager Sean Marks view Crabbe differently from the way the Trail Blazers did.
“He’s what we call a system fit,” Atkinson said. “He fits everything we’re trying to do, a super-efficient player.
“I’ve been happy with his defense. I still think he’s trying to get his rhythm, and challenging him to be a little more consistent, knowing that he’s got a bigger role than he had here. But he’s doing great; love him.”
Through his first 11 games, Crabbe, 25, was averaging only 11.1 points and shooting 37.5 percent overall, although he was a very respectable 37.1 percent from three-point range. Atkinson said Crabbe’s slow start was brought on by an ankle injury in training camp and the adjustment period with a new team.
“The sky’s the limit,” Atkinson said. “He’s integrating himself, learning new teammates, learning a new city, learning a new system. But listen, Sean and I were high on him when we first signed him; we’re obviously high on him when we [traded for him].
“We just think he fits with what we’re trying to do. For us, he’s got to be able to be an elite starter in this league. That should be his goal.”
Atkinson said the recent lack of continuity in the Nets’ offensive performance has thrown the whole team out of sync and has affected Crabbe. At the same time, Atkinson acknowledged that Crabbe is different from Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum, the high-scoring guards he backed up in Portland, because he needs screens to get open. Injuries to the Nets’ forwards have compromised their ability to set him up.
“Damien Lillard and McCollum have the ball; they can play pick-and-roll,” Atkinson said. “[Crabbe] needs a team to function for him to be efficient, so that’s on me. When we function well, he gets 20 to 25 points, gets his shots.”
Many have compared Crabbe to the Cavaliers’ Kyle Korver, who is one of the top three-point shooters in the NBA, but Atkinson sees a higher ceiling. “I think he can be more,” he said. “I don’t just see him as a shooter. I see him as a really good basketball player, high IQ.”
Now that he’s considered one of the Nets’ primary scorers, Crabbe said he gets a lot more defensive attention than he did with the Blazers. “Teams over here [in the Eastern Conference] are taking away a lot of things,” he said. “They usually bring the big up, so I don’t have that space.”
Crabbe faulted himself for settling for too many three-point shots when he could have driven into the paint. He appreciates the Nets’ coaches telling him to take risks, get out of his comfort zone and not worry about mistakes, because that’s how to develop into the player he wants to become.
“You have an organization who believes in you and a team that offered me the contract,” Crabbe said. “They didn’t get me [in 2016], but they’re still there a year later. That says a lot. It’s just about developing my game. I feel like I’m in a place to do that.”