Backup center situation with Al Horford, Kyle O'Quinn shows Sixers are a destination

Backup center situation with Al Horford, Kyle O'Quinn shows Sixers are a destination

While the Sixers have arguably the best center in the league in Joel Embiid, the lack of depth behind him was crippling last season.

Brett Brown trotted out Amir Johnson, Mike Muscala, Jonah Bolden, Boban Marjanovic and Greg Monroe to no avail. He even went small, using Mike Scott at times because the situation was so dire.

Elton Brand was not about to let that happen again. He said so in his press conference following the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the defending champion Raptors. Brand didn’t assume his role as GM until after free agency last season and the backup center position wasn’t properly addressed.

With Embiid in the fold, how would he convince a decent backup to come to Philadelphia?

“I had a voice in and I didn’t speak up loud enough I guess, but there’s definitely some ways that we can sell Philadelphia,” Brand said back in May. “We’re a destination team right now, we’re a destination city. Players want to be here. So if I say, ‘Hey, there’s going to be X amount of minutes for you, we’re going to have a deep playoff run,’ I’m confident we can get some talent in that backup center.”

Well, apparently he was right.

The Sixers' GM made a pair of signings in Al Horford and Kyle O’Quinn that give Brown much more optionality when it comes to the backup five spot.

Horford’s hefty contract was likely a big factor for the 33-year-old. He’ll make $26.5 million in the final year of his deal at age 36. It’s a roll of the dice, but the idea for Brand is that Horford takes on two key roles: Starting next to Embiid and serving as his backup.

Not only can Horford back up Embiid, but he can do so at a high level. Horford has proven to be perhaps the only player in the NBA that could guard both Embiid and Ben Simmons effectively. He also showed his versatility in the playoffs by guarding reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

While there may be things to iron out offensively, the duo of Embiid and Horford on the defensive end should be a nightmare for opponents.

"I think I've said this in the past, I've always been a fan of Joel,” Horford said. “Just everything he brings, on the court, off the court. There were some great battles. When this opportunity came along, the possibility of teaming up with him got me really excited about the potential. How good we can help our team be defensively, get to working together and do some special things. I'm very grateful to be in this position."

FiveThirtyEight recently put out a new metric to measure defense called DRAYMOND. The basic principle is that it shows how good a player is at minimizing open looks for their opponents and how many shots that player defends. (It’s way more complicated than that, but you can read the full explanation here.)

It gets brought up in this space because according to DRAYMOND, the Sixers have three of the top 25 defenders in the league since 2013-14. It should come as no surprise that Embiid is No. 2 on the list and Horford checks in at 24.

What may surprise you is that the newcomer O’Quinn comes in ahead of Horford at 20th. O’Quinn is the epitome of an underdog. At Norfolk State, he led an upset of two seed Missouri back in 2012. He jokingly thanked Missouri for helping him become a second-round pick and start his NBA career (listen to the Sixers Talk podcast featuring O'Quinn).

But it’s certainly not all thanks to that game. O’Quinn has earned a reputation as a workhorse in the NBA. He’s taken on several different roles in the NBA from starting to being at the back of the bench. 

O’Quinn is better defensively than any center Brown used as a reserve last season. He goes into the season as No. 3 on the depth chart. He understands that he has Embiid and Horford ahead of him.

That’s not his concern.

“I’m going into my eighth year,” O’Quinn said. “I can’t look at a role that’s bigger than the picture that I need. I need to win. I like to win. I can’t really think of anything other than winning. When the games start rolling, the season’s long, you have to step in and I think that’s when you really earn your respect and you really get a tap on the back from yourself — stepping in when you need to be ready. That’s been my career. I don’t shy away from it. I never say a role is too small for me. I embrace it.”

Apparently, the Sixers are a destination.

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Why Josh Richardson should be the Sixers' backup point guard

Why Josh Richardson should be the Sixers' backup point guard

The Sixers brought in veterans Trey Burke and Raul Neto to compete for the backup point guard role. Brett Brown has made sure to note that second-year guard Shake Milton is also in the mix.

How’s the saying go? Plans are worthless, but planning is everything?

Yeah, that applies here.

Elton Brand did well to fortify the backup point guard position this summer, but Josh Richardson should ultimately back up Ben Simmons this season.

They certainly haven't performed poorly, but Burke, Neto and Milton haven't stood out through three preseason games. Brown has been hesitant to go there, saying that he wants the competition for the role to play out, but on Sunday night in Orlando, he unfurled a rotation featuring Richardson as the primary ball handler with the second unit.

And Richardson produced, recording five assists to just one turnover and was a team-high plus-23 in 26 minutes. It’s a role he’s familiar with, having done it a decent amount last season in Miami and his senior season at Tennessee.

“My main focus this season is trying to keep my mindset aggressive on both ends of the floor and do whatever I need to give us the best chance to win,” Richardson said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters, “and yes, I'm fine with leading that second unit and keeping guys organized, keeping that aggression high.”

During the 2018-19 season, he posted his highest usage rate (20.9), PER (14.0), assist percentage (17.9) and his lowest turnover percentage (9.1). He’s an ascending player who’s become more comfortable initiating offense at the NBA level.

Richardson was acquired in the sign-and-trade with the Heat for Jimmy Butler and he’ll also take JJ Redick’s spot in the starting lineup. He’s not trying to be either player — "I'm not coming in here trying to be Jimmy Redick,” Richardson joked after the Blue x White Scrimmage — but he will fill a lot of their duties.

Richardson was used in dribble handoffs often in Miami and finished 10th in the NBA in points per possession on DHOs. That had been a staple of the Sixers’ offense with Joel Embiid and Redick. The two-man game with that duo was lethal. While Richardson won’t offer the same level of shooting, he’s not a slouch in that department — he’s shot 38.9 percent from three in three preseason games. He also adds a more dynamic element with his athleticism and passing ability.

“It’s different, but Josh brings something different,” Embiid said after the first day of training camp. “Obviously JJ with the crazy shots and off-balance threes and all that stuff, but we’ve got Josh, who’s more athletic than JJ, especially when it comes to back cutting, throwing lobs and him just turning the corner and attacking the defender. I think in that sense, he can do that better than JJ.”

And while he may not be trying to replicate what Butler did during his short time in Philadelphia, Richardson can fill a similar role. When Simmons struggled, Butler took over as the team’s primary ball handler. Butler excelled — and obviously enjoyed — being the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. Again, it's another aspect of the game offensively Richardson shined in with the Heat.

Brown’s rotation has remained similar in his time where he generally never goes to an entire second unit. For the most part, Brown likes to have two starters on the floor at all times. Judging by this preseason, you shouldn’t expect that to change. Given that, it appears Richardson’s minutes will always coincide with Embiid’s.

All of this and we haven't even mentioned Richardson's defensive role and prowess. He'll be tasked with guarding opposing ones with the starting unit this season. Quicker guards like Kemba Walker and Spencer Dinwiddie gave the Sixers fits last season. It’ll be Richardson’s job to remedy that — one he has an excellent chance of fulfilling thanks to his length and athleticism. At 6-foot-5, it's also quite an advantage for Richardson to be the shortest player on the floor for the Sixers.

Add it all up and Richardson seems like an indispensable part of the Sixers’ immensely talented starting five.

“I think Josh is almost kind of the secret — as important as any mortar,” Brown said at his annual luncheon before camp began. “He just holds us together. He really has a chance to hold us together.”

It wasn’t necessarily the plan for Josh Richardson to be the Sixers’ backup point guard, but here we are.

And it’s just another example of the critical role(s) he’ll play this season.

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Nike knock-offs and 'Jesus Shoes' — the strange and fickle sneaker world

Nike knock-offs and 'Jesus Shoes' — the strange and fickle sneaker world

The sneaker world can be a strange and fickle place. One minute you’re plunking down beaucoup bucks for the shoes you’ve been saving for, the next minute you find out your prized kicks are actually knock-offs from the black market.

Image credit: NBC News

Hey, it happens more often than you think. That scenario unfolded just this past week when almost 15,000 pairs of fake Nikes didn’t make it through customs at LA/Long Beach Seaport! A smooth $2 million plus of fake Off-White Jordan 1’s, Jordan 12’s, Jordan 11’s and Air Max ’97’s, all shipped from China in two containers labeled napkins.

You would probably need two containers of napkins to dry your tears if you put up a stack and a half for a pair of shoes that turned out to be just some Bobos with a fake swoosh. Ugh.

On the flip side, even when you are at an authentic retailer or website — deftly prepared with your credit card information at the ready, not even a freshly refreshed website is the right formula to bring home the shoes you’ve been plotting on for weeks, months or even years.

Image credit: Jesus Shoes Lookbook

Take, for instance, the $3,000 “Jesus Shoes” Brooklyn-based MSCHF put out last Tuesday, which sold out in mere minutes. The designers bought less than two dozen pairs of white Air Max 97’s for retail price, then transformed them by adding holy water blessed from the Jordan River (with some dye added to make the color more vibrant) in the sole of the shoe. They inscribed a Bible scripture in the side (Matthew 14:25, which chronicles Jesus walking on water) and added a mock blood drop on the tongue of the shoe to signify the blood of Christ. Not to mention, a crucifix interspliced through the laces, a red sole to mimic the red shoes worn by many popes and some type of frankincense accent. Crazy.

I personally have about a $200 budget on any pair of sneakers, so you won’t see me paying for wheels that go above $220 retail. Good luck to all of you who back up the Brinks truck for those crispy grails and the hypebeasts who live on the resale market and buy out releases in minutes.

May your toe box never crease and your laces stay clean.

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