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Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson, right, gives some last second instructions to Jamal Crawford during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 11, 2009 at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
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OAKLAND — If only.

Warriors guard Jamal Crawford would be a much more complete player. He would be a perennial All-Star, his spot all but reserved in Phoenix next month.

If only Warriors assistant coach Keith Smart had his hands on Crawford five years ago. Smart said Crawford would be so much better.

"He's been holding out his whole career," Smart said after Sunday's practice. "Holding out. He knows that. I've told him. ... There is more to his game."

Crawford, at 28 is entering the prime of his NBA career, and under Smart's tutelage, is learning things he's never learned before. The dividends are already evident in his game.

The results are most noticeable on defense, where Crawford has a reputation for being sub-par. He said he's trying harder on that end of the floor, and for longer stretches, something he acknowledged he hadn't always done.

In times past, you wouldn't have seen Crawford provide such solid help defense as he did Wednesday when he blocked a pull-up jumper by Sacramento's Kevin Martin from behind. You wouldn't have seen him hustle to contest a buzzer-beating attempt, as he did against Atlanta on Friday, blocking Zaza Pachulia's heave into the stands near half-court.

You wouldn't have seen him getting excited and showing emotion when he makes a play on the defensive end, as he has lately.


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"I've always known defense was important," said Crawford, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Knicks on Nov. 21. "But coach Smart has communicated it to me in a way that's really challenged me to be a better defender. He's a great communicator. He knows how to get something across to his players.

"Coach Smart has taught me that, being the point guard, I can have as big an impact of a game on that end of the floor. That's kind of a new perspective. Ninety percent of players think of offense first."

The impact of coaching is evident on offense, too. Crawford said coach Don Nelson's system has had a huge impact on how he sees the game, and he credits Nelson for opening up his offensive repertoire.

Crawford is hearing about how he is bailing out the defense by shooting jumpers.

He is learning how to control a game and dictate flow, how to manage his teammates. Again, the results are showing.

For January, he's averaging 25.6 points and 5.0 assists per game on 43.8 percent shooting — and that's including his meager performance at Minnesota on Jan. 2 (11 points on 3-for-12 shooting with three assists).

With Crawford's improved play, the Warriors are averaging 114.3 points per game for the month.

Smart and the Warriors could be molding the perfect player to play alongside guard Monta Ellis, who is expected to return from offseason ankle surgery in the near future. The guard who plays next to Ellis needs to defend the opposition's shooting guard, who are usually adept scorers, while directing the offense as a point guard.

With Crawford's mental game now catching up to his athleticism, the Warriors may have their guy.

The high hopes are not just for the Warriors, but for Crawford. Having an opt-out clause that he could exercise this offseason, Crawford could make himself a hot commodity should he develop into a more complete player.

"I'm entering my prime," he said. "To have these types of coaches at this point in my career, it can only take me to the next level."

Contact Marcus Thompson II at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com.