Milwaukee • During a practice session in Toronto the day after the Jazz had lost to the Raptors, Jae Crowder was in the middle of a lively 3-point competition with Joe Ingles, the self-proclaimed best shooter in the NBA.
There was was good-natured trash talk and taunting, there were self-deprecating curse words flying every time a key shot did not go in, and there may or may not have been some scratch on the line. Crowder had Ingles on the ropes — just needing to make a shot from each of five spots in succession without a miss for the win. The first four swished right through, barely rippling the net. The fifth, though, rimmed out, and Crowder sank to court, lying prone, groaning in despair, knowing Ingles would now close him out, which, in fact, he did, his left arm lingering in the air on the follow-through after each successful shot.
Crowder had lost in the end, but he had more than held his own with a man making nearly 41 percent of his attempts beyond the arc this season. And in doing so, he demonstrated the reason for his expanding role with the team.
Of course, it’s a role that sometimes comes at the expense of veteran big man Derrick Favors, the most-tenured player on the Jazz, and long the team’s starting four. On many teams, it’s a situation that could be problematic. On the Jazz, it’s apparently no big deal.
“Even if it can be frustrating sometimes, I think guys understand we have a special group, and sometimes you gotta give up a little of yourself for the team,” said center Rudy Gobert. “Derrick has been doing that a lot, and he knows how much we appreciate it.”
The first time Favors came off the bench this season — a matchup-driven decision predicated on Crowder’s superior mobility and deep shooting — it was big news. How would he react?
Well, the way he reacts to everything, apparently — never too up, never too down.
“Nothing fazes me anymore — I’ve been through it all,” he said with a shrug.
The starting lineup is really not all that emblematic of the evolving dynamic with the two players, considering Favors has begun 34 of the 39 games he’s played this season, while Crowder has been on the court for the opening tip just six times among his 39 contests.
The number of minutes they spend on the court, however, is more representative. With modern NBA offenses geared more than ever toward efficient utilization of 3-pointers, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Favors is averaging just 23.3 minutes per game — almost five less than a season ago, and his fewest since his third year in the league.
Crowder, meanwhile, may come off the bench, but actually sees more action, averaging 27.1 minutes per game. Still, he credits Favors for making their situation an easy one.
“He’s so relaxed and chill, it’s easy to go through the things we go through, with starting and not starting, with a guy like him,” Crowder said. “He’s a true professional. He doesn’t complain about anything; he comes to work, he puts his work in each and every day. Whatever decision the coaches make, obviously, me and him are both OK with it.”
It helps that both players remain productive in their own way.
Crowder is averaging 12.3 points and 4.7 rebounds, while providing valuable spacing on the court by unapologetically firing up 6.1 attempts from deep per game.
Kyle Korver, who also played with Crowder in Cleveland for part of last season, likes his teammate’s aggressive mindset.
“When he knows where his shots are coming from, and he gets consistent minutes and consistent opportunities, I think he’s shown over the course of his career that he can be a great shooter,” Korver said. “… He’s done a good job finding his spaces and looks, and he’s been lighting it up.”
Favors, meanwhile, is still efficient in his limited minutes, averaging 11.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks, while hitting 59 percent of his shots overall.
His selflessness and team-first attitude stand out, according to Korver.
“I’ve been impressed with him in a lot of ways,” he said. “We don’t play to his strengths all the time … but he never complains about anything, he does the best he can with every situation he’s getting. And that’s the sign of a true pro.
“I think one of the challenges in the NBA is … everybody wants to win a championship, everybody wants to win a championship, but they want to win it their way. And there’s not a ton of guys who fully buy into the team, like, ‘Whatever the team needs me to be,’” Korver added. “It’s just a credit to him and who he is and his character — he’s really all about the Jazz. Whatever is asked of him, he does it to the best of his ability. I’ve never seen him have a day where he didn’t give his best, he didn’t give it all. I’m never seen him get upset or have a bad attitude, and that’s a pretty amazing thing.”
Favors, meanwhile, said that the mentality he embraces is actually applicable for all his teammates in an ever-shifting league.
“You always gotta adjust. … The NBA changes on you,” he said. “So it’s all about being able to adjust and find your niche, find a way to be comfortable out there and do what you do.”
JAZZ AT BUCKS
At Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee
Tipoff • Monday, 6 p.m. MST
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 20-20; Bucks 27-11
Last meeting • Bucks, 117-100 (Dec.9, 2017)
About the Jazz • They have won two games in a row after rallying past Detroit on Saturday, 110-105 — their second straight come-from-behind victory. … Donovan Mitchell scored 24 of his 26 points after halftime in that game. … They lead the all-time series with the Bucks 53-44, but are just 21-27 in Milwaukee.
About the Bucks • Milwaukee enters the game with the league’s best winning percentage despite losing a Saturday showdown with the Raptors, 123-116. … The Bucks lead the NBA in points and rebounds per game, as well as opponents’ FG percentage, while ranking second in blocks and 3-pointers made, third in field-goal percentage, and fifth in assists. … Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.5 ppg (on 59 percent shooting), 12.6 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.6 bpg, and 1.3 spg.