Jamal Crawford Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan Credit: NBA on TNT

Facing down a ninth straight season in the NBA lottery in 2018, the Phoenix Suns signed journeyman bench scorer Jamal Crawford. With an evasive owner and first-time general manager and head coach heading up the team, Crawford quickly became the elder statesman of the organization.

Back then, Crawford told all of us in Phoenix media that he aspired to be in an NBA front office. We even thought he might be offered a spot on Jones’ staff when he retired.

Instead, Crawford played one final game in the NBA Bubble in 2020 before quickly finding his footing at TNT Sports. This year, Crawford replaced Dwyane Wade on the Tuesday edition of the Inside the NBA. And it apparently went so well that his TNT bosses gave him a bump to the big leagues, sitting in with Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller in the network’s top broadcast booth throughout the playoffs.

Looking back to that final full season in Phoenix, it’s not hard to believe Crawford is excelling in media. He was able to easily put himself in the shoes of his coach, veteran teammates and young guys while also transparently explaining why management brought him in.

Like many journeymen before him, Crawford soaked up a life’s worth of basketball lessons to make himself a great NBA broadcaster at a young age. He did the same in the booth, detailing game situations like the best tacticians while also taking viewers inside the mind of a superstar.

Still, Crawford is fresh, too. A clear hip-hop fan, he was able to weave timely references to the Drake-Kendrick Lamar beef into TNT’s NBA broadcasts throughout the spring.

Crawford pulls from his work in Seattle’s basketball community, where he coached AAU and runs a Pro-Am event, to stay up on lower levels of the game. And he stepped into both the studio and the broadcast booth with a newcomer’s mentality, deferring to Shaquille O’Neal, Harlan and Miller without issue.

Stylistically, Crawford gets it. Smarts may be great for podcasting, but wisdom is great for the booth. Crawford trusts himself to convey his point in tight windows, which every game analyst needs. Anyone watching the NBA postseason this year would have wondered which network TNT poached Crawford from, not realizing he was a rook.

A good portion of credit here goes to Harlan and Miller as well. A youngster is nothing without his vets, as Crawford proved during his playing career. He’s had that lesson reinforced during this playoff trial run, with Miller actively bringing him into the conversation and Harlan tossing him passes on air like an assistant coach during pregame warmups. They are pros, and Crawford makes a great third wheel.

Contrast that with JJ Redick, Kendrick Perkins or Richard Jefferson at ESPN, retired NBA journeymen from Crawford’s era who struggled to settle in at TNT’s rival network, and we can appreciate Crawford even more. Crawford is happy to play the game and lean into the fun of sports while letting his instincts carry his analysis. The lanky, score-first guard isn’t afraid to make fun of himself for his lack of defensive mettle or the fact that he came off the bench. There’s a reason we have the word “natural.”

While Crawford won’t follow Harlan and Miller to Minneapolis or Dallas for the Western Conference Finals this week, he made the rounds Tuesday, talking NBA with Pat McAfee and Dan Patrick. When Patrick asked him a question about Nikola Jokic “falling short,” Crawford comfortably pushed back on the crux of the question, pointing out how Jokic “brought it” but Denver’s depth pieces didn’t have enough.

On The Pat McAfee Show, Crawford had no issue playing a goofy game of “best NBA duo” with retired NFL defensive back Darius Butler. And he even commented on the WNBA’s New York Liberty and Redick’s candidacy for the Lakers job.

Crawford’s trial run calling the NBA may be done heading into the next round, but he left his mark. As Amazon and NBC scout talent for their upcoming broadcast packages with the NBA and ESPN hunts for a permanent solution in its top booth, Crawford should be atop every list. Beyond just being sharp and slick, Crawford is a humble announcing teammate and a great ambassador for the sport. What more could you want?

It’s been a dry period lately for up and coming NBA broadcasters relative to the NFL, where Tony Romo, Ryan Clark and Dan Orlovsky sprouted up seemingly overnight to change the game. Crawford looks like a godsend for the networks and basketball fans alike.

When Crawford ended that 2018-19 season in Phoenix with a 51-point explosion, it felt like a fitting sendoff for a legendary scorer. The next chapter is already here, and we shouldn’t be surprised if Crawford fills it up from the booth the same way he did for so long on the court.

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.