“I know he is frustrated. I know he wants to be on the floor, but he’s doing everything he can off the floor to make us a better team and a better club.
“So we miss him a hell of a lot on the floor, but we are not missing him altogether.
“It might be five weeks [to go], it might be four, I lose count. It’s still a bit of time.”
Under NBL rules, an injury replacement player has to leave once the player he is replacing returns, but there is wiggle room should Phoenix want to make Crockett a full-time import and release another import.
But the Phoenix would have to ask for permission from the NBL to do so.
Import Keith Benson has been a solid performer off the bench this season, but the centre wasn’t used in Saturday’s blowout win over the New Zealand Breakers.
While Mitch Creek has moved into the starting power forward role, Crockett’s impact off the bench has been telling, as he has given the side a strong rebounder and interior defender while also being able to defend faster perimeter players when needed.
Crockett’s impact was apparent when the Phoenix were struggling in the opening half against the Breakers, which saw Creek forced to the bench with foul trouble and the rest of the side unable to score.
Crockett’s nine points and Kyle Adnam’s 10 points provided almost half the team’s half-time score before Creek, John Roberson and others stepped up after the break in the 25-point victory.
“Jaye was wonderful,” Mitchell said after Crockett’s 14-point, eight-rebound return in 27 minutes.
“I thought the energy he brought was awesome and we all fed off that. His ability to switch off and guard Corey [Webster], Sek [Henry] and those guys who are dangerous coming off those mid pick and rolls … he was fantastic.”
Crockett said he was embracing his role as a difference-maker off the bench, while his alley-oop dunk from Creek’s pass in the third quarter also boosted the team.
“It feels very easy, it feels like I’ve been here for all of pre-season,” Crockett told Phoenix media.
“I’ve been playing on the ground a lot. I had a dunk in practice the other day and one of the coaches said ‘I didn’t know you could dunk’.
“So I knew I had to show them my ups and give a little energy to the crowd.”
Creek’s 19 points led the Phoenix, while centre Dane Pineau set a new career high with 18 points.
The Phoenix have a 5-2 win-loss record, and with an early schedule packed with home games, the team knows every victory is vital considering the bulk of their away games are in the second half of the season.
They will remain at home next weekend, facing Melbourne United at Melbourne Arena on Saturday night before hosting Adelaide 36ers at the same venue on Monday night.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.