76ers

Despite Jamal Crawford's praise, Sixers should be wary of signing veteran free agent

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Despite Jamal Crawford's praise, Sixers should be wary of signing veteran free agent

Despite coming up empty in their goal of star hunting this summer, the Sixers are still currently one of the more desirable franchises in the NBA.

They reached the second round of the playoffs last season behind two up-and-coming stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Plus, the organization has a respected head coach in Brett Brown, state-of-the-art training complex, an intense fan base and much more to offer.

At least that’s how free-agent scorer Jamal Crawford views things.

“I like their city. I like how into it they are about basketball. I like their knowledge of basketball, how passionate they are,” Crawford said of Philadelphia last week to Brandon Robinson on Scoop B Radio. “I’ve always loved coach Brett Brown. I’ve been on record. I’ve been a fan of his for years. He just needed talent, and now he has that. He added Ben Simmons, I love his game. I love Jo-Jo. They’re both among my favorite players in the league to watch. Markelle (Fultz) is like a little brother to me. Obviously, he went to the University of Washington, and we talk every other day. JJ Redick is like a brother to me. We’ve been through wars together, so there’s so many things to love about Philadelphia for sure.”

That’s high praise from a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner. High enough to the point that he would want to suit up for the Sixers?

“I think for me, especially being out there as a free agent, something could work out,” Crawford said. “I would be honored to play there, but things obviously have to take its course and I kind of got to sit back, but who wouldn’t want to play there?”

Well, that cleared things up. 

Now the Sixers, in a new position with players openly offering their services to them, have to be clear too: Crawford isn’t the answer.

No, not “The Answer” although Crawford does have some legendary crossover moves of his own. The 18-year veteran simply isn’t the right fit for this Sixers squad.

For all of Crawford’s accomplishments over nearly two decades in the NBA, the 38-year-old has been on a steady decline. His scoring has dropped in each of the past five years until he posted 10.3 points a night last season with Minnesota, his lowest mark since he averaged 10.7 a night way back in 2002-03.

While Crawford attributed his struggles with the Timberwolves to limited minutes, that doesn’t have anything to do with his efficiency or lack thereof. Crawford shot 41.5 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from three-point range in 2017-18. Those numbers aren’t outliers either as he has career averages of 41.0 percent field goal shooting and 34.9 percent three-point shooting.

And it’s not just the scoring itself. It’s also how Crawford scores the ball. Even though he received only 20.7 minutes per game with the T-Wolves, Crawford was 13th in the entire league in isolation frequency with 19.8 percent of his possessions coming in a one-on-one setting. For comparison, Simmons was the highest Sixer in isolation frequency at 9.0 percent (87th in the NBA).

It’s understandable the Sixers might be still be looking to replace the veteran scoring off the bench lost by the departures of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, but Crawford’s game doesn’t exactly scream the pace-and-space mantra preached by the club.

That just shows how Crawford isn’t an ideal fit offensively. We won’t even get into the defensive end of the court (*cough* Crawford had a defensive rating of 112.9 last season, which means opponents averaged that many points per 100 possessions he was on the floor, good enough for 490th out of 523 total players *cough*).

Crawford does still have a place in the league. He’s a volume scorer that can potentially get hot on any given night and pour in 30 points. He’s also great in the locker room, a reason he took home Teammate of the Year award in '17-18.

But with the above signs of decline as well as T.J. McConnell and a rejuvenated Markelle Fultz penciled in as the Sixers’ reserve backcourt, there might not be the opportunity in Philadelphia that Crawford is seeking out.

Part of the Sixers now being desired is having the power in their hands. This might be a perfect time to use that to their advantage and ignore Crawford’s interest.

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After lifting up teetering Sixers, Al Horford makes sure to drink in the win

After lifting up teetering Sixers, Al Horford makes sure to drink in the win

The Lakers had cut the Sixers’ lead, once as large as 22 points, down to five Saturday night with 5:19 remaining. The Sixers were teetering, and Al Horford had something to say.

“Coach called a timeout, we went to the bench and I just told the group to stay together,” Horford recalled. “They made a run, and we needed to respond. To that point I felt like we were doing a good job with the game, keeping them at a certain distance. We made some plays there to give us some breathing room and just closed them out.”

Horford made a handful of those plays himself. He scored seven straight points, nailing a contested mid-range jumper, a three and a baseline fadeaway. 

His performance was one of many that earned a shoutout from Brett Brown in the Sixers’ postgame bell ringing ceremony after a 108-91 victory (see observations). 

You've gotta love Horford's reaction. The 33-year-old just stares ahead and takes a sip of his beverage, seemingly unaffected by the whole scene.

For his part, though, Horford thought this was an especially meaningful win for the Sixers against an opponent who entered with a 36-9 record, best in the Western Conference. 

“I said it yesterday, I thought it was a big game coming into it," he said. “And I think it’s a big win. It’s a really big win. Obviously we’re missing some starters, and I just think the way Ben [Simmons] and Tobias [Harris] came out and established it for us and set the tone for our group, I think it went a long way. 

“This a huge win. I know people get caught up, it’s January, it’s whatever — it’s a huge win. And that’s a really good team over there. I’m really proud of our group.”

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Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris outduel LeBron James, Anthony Davis in impressive win

Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris outduel LeBron James, Anthony Davis in impressive win

BOX SCORE

With no Joel Embiid or Josh Richardson and LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the vaunted Lakers in town, things didn’t seem to line up well.

Apparently, you can throw everything out the window when the Sixers are at home.

Led by Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, the Sixers took down the best team in the West, 108-91, in a turnover-filled game at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

The win improves the Sixers 21-2 at home, tied with the Bucks for best in the NBA, and 30-17 overall. They’ll host the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the win:

Containing the King

James had five turnovers in the first half and Simmons and Matisse Thybulle were a huge part of that. 

In an early possession when Thybulle got switched onto James, James wisely decided to use his sizeable weight advantage and back the rookie down. To Thybulle’s credit, he hung in there and then was able to use his lightning-quick hands to poke the ball away from James. Thybulle had four steals in the first half.

In the first quarter, Brett Brown stuck to his usual substitution patterns. Then he adjusted and matched Simmons up with James. James is arguably the best player on the planet and he’s going to get his (29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds), but Simmons didn’t make it easy.

James passed Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA's all-time scoring list in third quarter. He nearly sparked a comeback, but the Sixers did enough down the stretch to keep the Lakers at arm's length.

Harris and Simmons carry the load

With Embiid and Richardson out, the Sixers are missing 38.4 points a game. They needed other players to step up and carry the scoring load. Harris and Simmons did just that.

With Simmons attracting much of the attention, Harris took advantage of the various mismatches he had. He muscled the smaller Danny Green. He drove by the bigger Dwight Howard. He hit threes (3 of 8), he was strong in the midrange, he got to the basket — it was a game that truly showed off his scoring versatility.

He finished with 29 points on 10 of 20. 

After a down game in Toronto, this was the version of Simmons we’d seen since Embiid went down. He was decisive, aggressive and attacked the rim with authority. While L.A. was trying to claw back in the game in the fourth, he drove right by Green, outmuscled him and slammed with two hands. He had another big and-one drive on Green with just under three minutes left.

He had 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He did have five of the Sixers' 23 turnovers, but you'll live with that when he's playing like this.

A.D. vs. Horford

Coming in, you figured Anthony Davis and Al Horford would be matched up. It was a fun one to watch. The savvy veteran and 26-year-old superstar were going at each other hard.

It looked like head coach Frank Vogel wanted to attack Horford, but the 33-year-old looked spry and up for the challenge. Davis’ stat line looks good (31 points on 13 of 22), but a lot of that damage came with Horford out. 

With Embiid out, Horford’s play has been up and down. He was definitely up in this one. He had 16 points and nailed a pair of huge threes and a midrange fadeaway with the Sixers clinging to a lead late in the fourth.

Shake up in the starting lineup

Down two starters, Brown started second-year guard Shake Milton. Milton fumbled a Simmons’ pass on a cut to the lane, but that was one of the few things that went wrong.

Milton essentially filled Richardson’s role as the ball handler next to Simmons. They had something going with the dribble handoff early that led to a couple easy baskets.

To his credit, Milton also stood tall as James came at him on a couple drives. It took serious guts. Despite nothing eye-popping on the stat sheet (seven points, nine rebounds, three assists), Milton looked like he belonged out there.

Tough break for Zhaire Smith

Second-year guard Zhaire Smith saw his first NBA action of the 2019-20 season. Unfortunately, he got just under three minutes in before suffering an ankle sprain. He did not return.

It’s a tough break for the 20-year-old who’s already been through so much. The 2018 first-round pick essentially had a redshirt rookie year after suffering a broken foot and a serious allergic reaction. He's spent most of this season in Delaware with the Blue Coats.

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