The Philadelphia 76ers will come to depend on Josh Richardson quite a bit.
While the focus on NBA basketball continues to shift west, the Philadelphia 76ers have built a strong contender on the east coast. There’s a lot of talent on the roster, which makes Josh Richardson‘s relatively underrated status understandable.
Richardson spent last season as the No. 1 option on a middle-of-the-pack Miami team. He averaged 16.6 points and 4.1 assists, but saw his efficiency suffer under the burden of expanded responsibilities.
Even so, Richardson still hit 35.7 percent of his 3s — that’s around the league average — on a healthy volume of attempts. In Philadelphia, his role will be scaled back quite a bit. It should lead to more open looks and a bump in efficiency.
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A scaled back role doesn’t negate Richardson’s importance to Philadelphia’s forthcoming success. He’s not Jimmy Butler, but he provides a skill set that could go a long way in mitigating the ill effects of Butler’s departure.
Richardson can also help fill the J.J. Redick, in a certain sense. While Redick is a unique shooter with virtually unrivaled gravity as an off-ball threat, Richardson does fill a void in one of Brett Brown’s favorite actions: the dribble handoff.
Brown and the Sixers ran DHOs into the ground over Redick’s two-year span in South Philly. Richardson won’t fly around Embiid screens into sideway-leaning 3s, but he does thrive as a playmaker and mid-range scorer in those actions.
Given the Sixers’ reliance on size and power inside, Richardson’s ability to spread the floor, run DHOs and hit pull-up jumpers will provide much-needed dynamism to the starting five. He and Tobias Harris are of absolute importance in that regard, for better or worse.
Richardson also fills a gap on defense. Butler’s 2018-19 campaign featured painfully average defense, especially in the regular season. There was a clear effort to maintain his health, which meant conserving energy.
Don’t expect Richardson to fall prey to a similar approach. Richardson has All-Defense potential — a 6-foot-6 wing who, with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, will consistently carry one of the toughest assignments on the court. He will defend opposing point guards.
It’s not a long-shot pipe dream to expect success either. Richardson has thrived against lead guards in the past, using his lateral quickness and anticipation skills to suffocate ball handlers and force turnovers. He makes lead guards uncomfortable.
That’s a valuable weapon for a Sixers team that has struggled with dynamic guards in the past. There are still concerns elsewhere on the court, but right now, Philadelphia projects as one of the NBA’s top defensive units. Richardson will prove integral in obtaining that status.
While Richardson cuts off the snake’s head, Ben Simmons can switch five positions and defend the opposition’s top wing. Joel Embiid provides a catch-all at the rim, while Al Horford is a hyper-versatile 6-foot-10 rim protector who can cover large swathes of space. Harris is a weakness, but given the surrounding talent, not one that can’t be overcome.
The Sixers will rely on Richardson for essential variety on both sides of the ball. All that, and he fits the timeline — far more than Butler did. He’s 25 years old, still a couple years outside his prime. Richardson will develop on a timeline similar to Embiid and Simmons, peaking at the same time.
Obviously the Sixers will miss Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick — they’re two immense talents who filled crucial roles. But as Brett Brown adjusts to his new personnel, expect Richardson to help fill the void in more than competent fashion.