Jamal Crawford on why Isaiah Thomas is a 'true hooper' and being a 'gunner' isn't bad

NEW YORK — Jamal Crawford took to Twitter on Tuesday when his friend Isaiah Thomas made his long-awaited — and extremely impressive — Cleveland Cavaliers debut. The fact Crawford called Thomas a brother is not surprising, as he has known the All-Star point guard since Thomas was a high schooler. Crawford also called Thomas a true hooper, which is just about the highest compliment you can get from the man who Sports Illustrated dubbed “The Last of the Ballers” in a recent profile. 

Crawford, 37, respects players who have creativity and endless confidence. He is a basketball superfan himself, prone to watching highlights on YouTube at all hours. And while the Minnesota Timberwolves guard can be divisive because of his propensity for one-on-one play, he does not think everybody understands how difficult it is to create your own shot when your team needs a bucket. 

“It’s tough,” Crawford told CBS Sports before the Timberwolves’ 98-97 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. “I mean, the hardest thing to do, I think, in the NBA, is to put the ball in the hole.”

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and flow. 

CBS: I saw your tweet about Isaiah last night. What’s your definition of a “true hooper”?

Crawford: Somebody who will play anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance. Like, Isaiah will play anywhere. I’m the same way. He knows he can call me at 12 in the afternoon — “hey, we’re playing somewhere at 12:30 that’s an hour away” — we’ll still go and be late and go play. Like, all bets are off. Any time, anywhere. It doesn’t have to be like only playing against NBA guys. No, he’s a true hooper. Because at the core of who we all are, we’re basketball players. You know, the ones who really love it, we’re hoopers. So it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to play just against NBA guys. No, I’ll play anywhere, anytime.

CBS: As a player, you have different favorite players than some analysts who don’t play?

JC: Absolutely. Like Kawhi, he was one of my favorite players before the world caught on. Honestly. And he’ll tell you. That’s why, if you go to his Twitter, he follows five people. I’m one of the five. ‘Cause I knew he was good way before everybody else. When he was averaging eight, nine points, I can see it. Certain guys, I like because I love the game. 

(Editor’s note: Kawhi Leonard follows six accounts on Twitter: Jordan Brand, HEB, WingStop, the San Antonio Spurs, Impact Sports and, yes, Jamal Crawford.)

CBS: What did you see in him?

JC: Just his all-around game, his feel for the game. I like guys who have feel. His feel for the game is impressive. Offensively, defensively, the way he made plays, just the way he played, the way he approached the game. I loved it.

CBS: How many times have you heard the word ‘gunner’ in your career?

JC: A lot. It’s whatever. I mean, I like to shoot, yeah, but I’m top-100 all-time in assists as well. Like, some people don’t — whatever. I usually try to, like, I like to score. I think sometimes the best option over my career for different teams was for me to score. Other times, it was for me to move the ball or whatever. But obviously I’ve played for a lot of coaches and they encouraged it. They could have easily sat me down or whatever.

CBS: You’ve had 18 different coaches in the league — how many have tried to change your game?

JC: I had a few. Honestly it was more so in the beginning of my career. ‘Cause then once I established, “OK, he can really score every single night,” then it was like, “OK, we gotta use this as a weapon.” You know what I mean?

CBS: Yeah. Is it a different kind of pressure to score every night when that’s expected?

JC: It is different. I mean, think about it. It’s easy to say I want to do it. But they have a scouting report. (Crawford gestures toward a scouting report on the Nets in his locker.) 

Like, I have a scouting report: what he likes to do, what he doesn’t like to do. You know what I mean? So that’s why sometimes you’ll struggle, but you still have to find a way to get it done. That’s why I’m not really into percentages. ‘Cause I could be taking a shot that I have to take with more traffic, more crowd than somebody who’s taking ’em wide open. So I don’t really get into that. 

CBS: That’s why I wanted to bring up the word ‘gunner.’ Because people with that label tend to get a lot of crap.

JC: If you’re gifted scoring like Kobe, I wanted him to score. I didn’t come to the arena to watch Kobe shoot 10 times and get eight assists. I did not. 

(Crawford turns to teammate Shabazz Muhammad, who is occupying a neighboring locker.) Bazz, did you ever want to see Kobe have one of those games where he took 10 shots and got eight assists?

Muhammad: No.

JC: I want to see Kobe try to get 80. That’s what I want to see. [Laughs] Sometimes it’s too much, like, cookie-cutter. No, I want the creativity. That’s the essence of basketball. 

CBS: Does that take a certain mentality?

JC: Absolutely. Yeah, especially now on social media because everything you hear, it’s just like things going on, all the criticism and whatever. So you’ve gotta have thick skin. 

CBS: And you also need thick skin if you miss a couple, right?

JC: Oh yeah. That’s the real mental challenge. I’ve seen shooters who can really shoot it at 10 in the morning, but at 7 at night when there’s 20,000 people there, it’s different. 

CBS: NBA players talk about confidence all the time, but confidence isn’t a static thing, is it?

JC: Yeah. No, we all have confidence, but some people have heightened confidence like that. Like, I believe I can miss 30 and it’ll go in the next one. I believe I just hit 30. You know? You gotta trick yourself. Shooters shoot. The worst thing a shooter can do is think. That’s the best defense out there. 

CBS: It feels like today some people think every wing needs to be a 3-and-D guy. 

JC: I think that’s the wave. That’s the way people want it. I’m not into it. I think there’s a role for everybody. Even a guy who’s not known as a scorer, like a DeAndre Jordan — he sets the best screens, he blocks the most shots, he gets the most rebounds, he’s great for your team, he helps you win games. Like, he helps you win big. I think there’s a great place for him, he’s one of the best players in the world. So I can’t just say you gotta be a 3-and-D guy. Like, nah. It’s make whatever you have work. That’s how I look at it.