Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz and Jamal Crawford have Brotherly Love

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Sports)
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Sports) /

If the Philadelphia 76ers are serious about developing Markelle Fultz into a marquee talent, they should strongly consider signing ‘big bro’ Jamal Crawford.

For the still up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, one of the biggest goals for the forthcoming 2018-2019 NBA season has to be the development of former first overall pick Markelle Fultz.

Sure, some will point to the team’s continued desire to prioritize player development as crazy, as Philly had 52 wins last year in route to a three seed in the playoffs, and with LeBron James no longer in Cleveland, the entire conference appears wide open.

While this may be true, apparently nobody told Brett Brown, as virtually every move he’s made as the team’s interim general manager has firmly had the future in mind.

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From trading away Mikal Bridges, arguably the most pro-ready, plug-and-play 3-and-D wing in the draft for a developmental defensive superstar in Zhaire Smith and a future first-round pick, to the decision to forgo giving out long-term deals in free agency after striking out on the three available superstars, Brown appears to understand just how unique his situation is in the NBA.

To put it simply, the Philadelphia 76ers have three things that every other team in the league wants, a pair of young, all-pro caliber superstars, a bunch of cap space, and an A-list Market.

If Brown plays his cards right, Philly could be a title contender for the next decade.

While it wasn’t fun to watch Paul George, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard all end up on other teams this summer, with the 2019 free agent class looking like one of the best in recent memory, it’s very likely that the Sixers could add that missing piece to their roster next year and finally ascend to the top team in the Eastern Conference without having to trade away any of the young core that got them to 52 wins back in May.

Is there risk involved in that strategy? Sure, just ask the Los Angeles Lakers, who assumed they had Paul George in the bag before he resigned with the Thunder last month, but outside of a wild, roster reshaping trade for a player like Jimmy Butler, the 76ers are more or less going to roll with their current cast of characters to see exactly what they have in what could be the final year of the Golden State Warriors five All-Star lineup.

And who’s arguably the most important of these young players? None other than Fultz himself.

We all know that Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can ball, as the duo are inarguably two of the top 10 players in the conference right now, but if Fultz can make good on the potential that made him the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, above potential All-Stars like Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, Philly could have something special.

We’re talking 2011-2012 Oklahoma City Thunder special.

So, as the Sixers prepare to enter a pivotal season, arguably the final one where player development will be valued over winning at all costs, Coach Brown needs to ensure that folds have what he needs to succeed as he highlights the team’s second unit.

He needs to bring in a veteran scorer like Jamal Crawford.

Now granted, we have written about Crawford’s fit on the Sixers before here at Section 215 (Jamal now follows us on Twitter, no big deal), but over the last few days, there’s been a wrinkle in the situation that could make a Crawford-Sixers connection all the more tangible.

When asked about having any interest in playing for the Sixers on Scoop B Radio, Crawford practically gushed about his admiration for Brett Brown, the city and its basketball organization, applauding the team’s hard work and effort, going so far as to call having an opportunity to play for the team “An Honor”.

Why wouldn’t the Sixers want to add a player who wants to be here that badly?

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Now, some will be quick to point out that Crawford, who’s entering his 19th season in the NBA at the ripe old age of 38, is no longer the player who won Sixth Man of the Year Award three times, and could throw the team’s game off due to his perceived defensive liabilities, but Crawford’s experience could and should be valued above all else when evaluating his fit on the team moving forward.

Last season, Crawford finished out the year with a defensive Real Plus-Minus of -5.37, the worst mark in the league. While this is obviously bad, it’s only 3.4 points below starting shooting guard J.J. Redick’s -1.92, and just like Redick, Crawford makes up for his defensive inefficiency with versatile offensive scoring. Sure, last year was a bit of a down year for Crawford at both ends of the court, as he only averaged 10.2 points while struggling from beyond the arc with an almost career-worst 33.1 shooting percentage from three, but Crawford is a career 15 points per game scorer, who’s knocked down 2,153 3-pointers over his game career.

It may become harder to play defense as you get older, but shooters never forget how to shoot, shoulder injuries notwithstanding.

So on the surface, swapping out a player like Jerryd Bayless for Jamal Crawford makes a world of sense, as he could effectively serve as the J.J. Redick of the team’s second unit and ensure that the team always has a veteran leader with a consistent jump shot on the court at all times, a dynamic that worked perfectly when the duo played together with the LA Clippers from 2013-2017.

But boy could Crawford be so much more.

Some may forget it now, as it was an admittedly a long time ago, but before staring at the University of Michigan, Crawford was a folk hero in his native Seattle, Washington, a fact that I’m sure Fultz was reminded of early enough and over his time in the Pacific Northwest. As one of the best players to ever come out of Washington, Crawford quickly ascended to NBA greatness but kept his home state close to his chest. Serving as a mentor for the region’s basketball players both young and old, Crawford has held basketball camps in and around Seattle for years, and has become a valuable resource for players like Isaiah Thomas, Dejounte Murray, and yes even Markelle Fultz over the years.

The connection is almost brotherly to use Crawford’s own words.

So, in what will likely be the most important season of his young NBA career, why not give Fultz an opportunity to learn from Crawford first hand and receive the baton from one of the league’s stalwart scores?

It just makes sense.

Though Fultz will surely log minutes next to Simmons, Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, and even potentially T.J. McConnell in an off-the-ball role next season, allowing Fultz to log serious minutes paired with Crawford on the second unit could be a major boon for his development, and help to optimized both players’ strengths, while mitigating their individual weaknesses.

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As a kind of on-the-court assistant coach, Crawford could help to ease Fultz’s transition into a full-time NBA player, discussing reads, and serving as a reliable outlet pass when the paint gets congested. And for his part, Fultz could help to alleviate Crawford’s, shall we say, sluggish defense, with the ability to effectively equalize the opposing team’s better backcourt scorer, as at 6-foot-5, 195-pounds, the 21-year-old wunderkind has the prototypical size to cover either guard position effectively.

While Crawford’s ability to mentor Fultz both on and off the court would likely be worth the price of admission, especially for a veteran minimum deal, Jamal’s addition to this Sixers squad could help the entire roster get better, regardless of who he’s sharing the court with.

After finding major success with the mid-season scoring acquisitions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova last spring, the team effectively filled their roster spots with more defensive-minded players, like Smith, Wilson Chandler, and Mike Muscala. Though having switchable defenders is essential in the modern NBA, at some point, eventually someone has to take the shot, and none of these players have ever averaged more than 2.1 made 3-pointers a game over their 15 collective seasons in the NBA.

Crawford has accomplished that feat in six of his 18 NBA seasons.

Though he may be a defensive liability however you slice it, that liability becomes a whole lot more manageable when paired with players like Smith, Wilson, Muscala, Simmons, Embiid and Robert Covington while adding a reliable scoring element to the court that may be lacking with a defense-heavy set.

In the best part? Crawford appears fine with whatever role the team is willing to offer him.

Unlike, say, Fultz’s fellow Washington-alum Isaiah Thomas, who likely expects to get starter minutes as the Denver Nuggets third guard, Crawford would likely wholeheartedly accept a role that only requires him to be on the court roughly 20 minutes a night, as well as periods of prolonged rest throughout the season in back to back situations. Say what you will about wanting to have the best five players on the court at all times, but in a league like the NBA, where egos can become supercharged, it’s nice to have players who are willing to accept whatever role they’re asked to play on any given night, especially a player who’s accomplished as much as Crawford has over his near two decades in the league. This unselfishness and willingness to make those around him better likely played a major role in his peers awarding Crawford with the Twyman–Stokes Teammate of the Year Award in 2018.

So in conclusion, while Jamal Crawford may not be a perfect two-way player, in the modern NBA very few players are. Though he’s among the worst defenders in the league and may not be the versatile shooter he once was, Crawford could still bring immense value to a team looking to get better both on and off the court.

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With the ability to knock down open shots in a variety of different sets, and help Markelle Fultz’s transition back into being a full-time NBA player (and Most Improved Player favorite) there’s almost no reason why the Philadelphia 76ers shouldn’t bring in Jamal Crawford for the 2018-2019 NBA season and allow him to play for the organization he’s so fiercely admires.