DETROIT – Right now, the 76ers are a tease.
With a talented starting lineup, the Sixers lure you into thinking they’re built to win an NBA title.
But in order to do that, a squad must have an impact player off the bench. The Sixers don’t have one such player.
Matisse Thybulle could develop into that player in time. But for now, the rookie’s contributions will come mostly on the defensive end -- not having plays called for him.
That’s why the Sixers should sign Jamal Crawford, who at 39 years old (he’ll be 40 in March) can make major offensive contributions off the bench.
To acquire Crawford, the Sixers would have to waive or trade a player to make room on the roster. But having Crawford or someone of his ability is needed.
Some will argue the free agent is too old to make a major contribution.
That wasn’t the case for the three-time Sixth Man of the Year when he was with the Phoenix Sun last season and, in the final three games of season, Crawford averaged 35.3 points, 6.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 52 percent in a reserve role.
He had 28 points, made 4 of 9 three-pointers, had seven assists and two rebounds in 34 minutes in an April 5 road game at New Orleans. Two days later, in Houston, Crawford scored 27 points, made 4 of 8 three-pointers, collected five assists and grabbed five rebounds in 27 minutes. Then in the Suns’ season finale on April 9, he torched the host Dallas Mavericks for 51 points, making 7 of 13 three-pointers to go with five assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes.
His effort in Dallas made him the oldest player in NBA history to score 50 or more points.
Crawford averaged 31 points and six assists over five games in April. That marked the highest scoring average month of his career. But his role for most of the season was to mentor the Suns’ young talent. He did that while averaging 7.9 points and 18.9 minutes in 64 games played.
So he definitely can still score when called upon. Meanwhile, the Sixers have no one of their roster that is capable of doing what Crawford does.
They know they’ll probably have to make a trade at some point or maybe waive a player to add someone from the buyout market in February.
Of fits currently not on NBA teams, Crawford, Carmelo Anthony, and J.R. Smith are the best options at this time. Signing Crawford should be a no-brainer.
The 19-year veteran can facilitate, score, shoot, and help the younger guys on the team. He’s actually Thybulle’s mentor -- both are from the state of Washington -- and would help in the first-round acquisition’s NBA maturation.
Crawford is not quite the three-point specialist like the Sixers had the past two seasons in JJ Redick. However, he has a knack for making big shots.
The Sixers don’t have anyone on their bench, or roster for that matter, with a history of making big shots.They had one in Jimmy Butler before trading the closer to the Miami Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson.
That could be one of Crawford’s roles, especially in end-of-game situations.
Ben Simmons is more comfortable facilitating in those moments than taking the final shot. Joel Embiid does his thing. But it’s tough to always go to him in clutch situations, because everything — from his positioning, to the entry pass, and everything in between — has to go almost perfectly.
Crawford, with his resume, is better suited than Tobias Harris, Richardson or Al Horford to take big shots at the end of games.
Yet, the Sixers are receiving a lot of hype over the improvements they made over the summer. Folks are still in awe over their towering starting lineup with just one player (Richardson at 6-foot-6) shorter than 6-9. They have a bunch of solid defensive-minded role players on the bench.
Despite that, the Sixers are staggering their starters like last season partly due to always have a scoring option on the floor.
In addition to being the starting power forward, Horford is unofficially the backup center. He started at center Saturday night against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena with Embiid sidelined with a sprained right ankle.
Meanwhile, Richardson is the starting shooting guard and the unofficial backup point guard. Harris usually slides over from small forward to power forward when Horford plays center.
The Sixers are expected to win a lot of games based on the sheer talent of their starting five and having a defensive-minded team.
However, they are minus one important championship piece: A proven offensive-impact player off the bench.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Brooklyn Nets – the other Eastern Conference contenders -- have at least one of them. So do the Western Conference’s elite squads like the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, and Portland Trail Blazers.
That’s why signing Crawford makes a lot of sense.