Crawford is Kia Sixth Man times three


VIDEO: Crawford secures Kia Sixth Man Award

LOS ANGELES — Jamal Crawford won the Kia Sixth Man Award and a fringe benefit: The hunk of bronze was “renamed” the Jamal Crawford Trophy.

Well, for one day, anyway. More like an honorary title, which still belongs to Kia. But here’s what’s permanent: Crawford is the only three-time winner of the Super Substitute award, and therefore is in the conversation for the best reserve in NBA history.

“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Crawford.

Yes, when you think of great sixth men, Crawford is in the loop along with Kevin McHale, Bobby Jones, Vinnie Johnson, Detlef Schrempf, John Havlicek and others who spent all or part of their career as bench players. It’s a tricky role to define, because most of those players were perhaps better than the players they subbed in for during games, especially McHale and Havlicek (whose career ended before there was a Sixth Man Award).

Still, this award defines Crawford, who fits the stereotype: A player who enters the game and puts his stamp on it by scoring, early and often.

“Starting is a cool thing” said Crawford.”But maybe this can inspire a new generation of players to tell them that coming off the bench can be cool, too.”

Crawford won the award with the Hawks in 2010 and then again with the Clippers two years ago. Even more, he’s 36 years old and in his 16th season; anytime a player can grab an award so late in his career is an achievement in itself.

“This is his best year, in my opinion,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “He’s got that bench group playing great, he changed his game, he’s moving without the ball, it’s not just iso-Jamal. Just the award in itself …  the thought of Kevin McHale coming off the bench is crazy. But sixth man in general doesn’t mean you can’t be a starter. It means you’ve accepted a role to help the team and Jamal epitomizes that.”

Crawford averaged roughly 20 points since mid-March and was a critical source of production when the Clippers lost Blake Griffin for 45 games with a combination of injuries and suspension. They managed to go 30-15 and stay in contention in the West without Griffin, partly because Crawford assumed a chunk of the scoring responsibilities. His big moment was a 32-point outing against the Thunder.

“Jamal took fewer shots but scored more points,” said Rivers. “That tells you how he evolved and what kind of impact he had for us.”

Crawford started for much of his career until 2008-09 when Mike Woodson asked him to come off the bench in Crawford’s first of two years with the Hawks, and Crawford found a home. This season he started slowly and was approached by Rivers at Christmas and that meeting lit a fire under Crawford.

With his career winding down, the question is, where does he fit among sixth men? Perhaps the standard was set by Havlicek, the “first” official sixth man who switched roles in mid-career and is in the Hall of Fame. Jones had a solid run with the Sixers and helped Philly win a title, and McHale, like Havlicek, evolved into a sixth man later in his career.

Crawford, if nothing else, will find himself ranked somewhere on the list. Which is fine by him.

“My main purpose is to help my team, and if that’s off the bench, then that’s what I’ll do,” he said. “That’s who I am.”

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