76ers

Despite Sixers' moves, it still all comes down to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Despite Sixers' moves, it still all comes down to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

The 2019 offseason represents yet another major roster overhaul by the Sixers.

Long gone are Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz. More recently, JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler found new homes. T.J. McConnell, the one player remaining from the infamous 10-win team, will also not be returning.

For all the success this team has had in posting back-to-back 50-win seasons, there are somehow only two players remaining from the 2017-18 roster. Perhaps not coincidentally, those two players are the most important on this upcoming season’s roster. 

While landing Al Horford and Josh Richardson is great, those acquisitions won’t mean much unless the Sixers get the best versions of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

One of the main ideas behind “The Process” was to get high drafts pick in order to acquire franchise players. While the team clearly whiffed on Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Fultz, Embiid and Simmons have both looked like the real deal. Embiid is arguably the best big man in the league. Simmons was the Rookie of the Year and a first-time All-Star at just 22.

There was little semblance of roster stability throughout the 2018-19 season, yet Embiid and Simmons managed to navigate that and help lead their team to the three seed and a first-round playoff victory.

Then we all know what happened.

Embiid’s health issues — that have plagued him throughout his brilliant, young career — crept up yet again. Whether it was the tendinitis in his knee, the two illnesses or the matchup against Marc Gasol, Embiid labored through that seven-game series against the Raptors. He was still remarkably effective. The Sixers were a plus-90 with him on the floor and a minus-111 with him on the bench vs. Toronto. Imagine the difference a healthy Embiid — or a legitimate backup — would’ve made.

With Simmons, it was the same story as last postseason. With his inability and unwillingness to shoot, teams are able to defend Simmons by clogging the paint and sagging way off him. His Game 6 performance gave a glimmer of hope. He was outstanding, posting 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists and not turning the ball over at all. He was assertive, going into the chest of all of his defenders and looking for his own shot. Throughout the series, he was the most effective defender against a ridiculously hot Kawhi Leonard. But still, you can’t help but look at that series and wish you would’ve gotten more from Simmons.

It’s apparent what both players need to do. Embiid needs to show up to training camp in the best shape of his life. He needs to work with the team’s medical and sport science staffs to figure out the best load management plan. Simmons needs to get his shot fixed. He doesn’t need to be a sharpshooter, but he needs to be good enough to have defenders respect it. If that happens, the sky is the limit.

But that doesn’t fall on the team and it certainly doesn’t fall on Brett Brown. It’s all on the players themselves.

The reason for pointing to these two isn’t a slight — quite the opposite. They’re so ridiculously talented and still so young. They’ll both take part in their third postseason in 2020. Given their gifts, competitiveness and invaluable experience, they should be more prepared.

While there will be plenty of questions surrounding the 2019-20 Sixers, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons taking their games to the next level would provide the stability this team needs.

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Josh Richardson film review: What Sixers' shifty shooting guard brings to the table

Josh Richardson film review: What Sixers' shifty shooting guard brings to the table

At 6-foot-6, Josh Richardson will be the smallest player in the Sixers’ starting lineup.

Before he begins his first season in Philadelphia, let’s look at what he brings to the table:

Defense: A fluid athlete 

Richardson is excellent at tailing shooters like JJ Redick, moving fluidly and staying attached well on screens and dribble handoffs. 

The 26-year-old made an impressive transition from a quick, controlled close out on the play below to sliding with Redick on his drive to the rim and swatting the veteran’s shot. It’s a nice combination of defensive fundamentals and high-level athleticism. 

Defense is clearly a part of the game Richardson values. You have to love the hustle here to chase down Joel Embiid, gobbling up ground to force the steal.

There are, however, odd occasions when Richardson has lapses in effort or allows himself to fade from the picture. The sequence below was a poor one as the Tennessee product’s careless pass bled into him getting beat back door by Furkan Korkmaz.

Just about every player has moments like this, but the Sixers will hope Richardson is just a touch more consistently engaged and active now that he’s on a contender. 

Offense: A shifty shooter 

Richardson’s instincts for how and when to find space off the ball are strong. He made a savvy shift from slow jog to sharp sprint toward the ball on this play from Feb. 21. 

That shiftiness is one of his standout skills. Tobias Harris and Redick botched the Sixers’ defensive coverage on the play below, but note Richardson’s quick curl around Derrick Jones Jr.’s screen, and his burst to the basket before Redick is ready.  

Richardson could, in some ways, fill Redick’s offensive role as a constant mover and outside shooter. His three-point shooting is not at Redick’s level (35.7 percent from long range on 6.3 attempts per game last year) but, after snaking around screens, he has more options than Redick, who’s not much of a threat to do anything besides shoot from long distance.

If he was in Richardson’s spot, Redick would typically curl up from the baseline and around Kelly Olynyk at the left elbow extended on that play. For all his strengths, Redick is not a player who, like the Sixers’ new shooting guard, can dart into the middle of the paint and hit a fadeaway jumper.

Though capable of beating his man and penetrating, Richardson isn’t great at creating separation against bigger players or making plays through contact. Ben Simmons swallowed him up on this play.

It’s fortunate for Richardson and the Sixers that he’ll be the team’s smallest starter. Surrounded by bigger (and better) players than when he was with the Heat, Richardson should see more favorable matchups as opposing defenses have to dedicate size to his gargantuan teammates. 

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Which Sixer has the most to gain in 2019-20 season?

Which Sixer has the most to gain in 2019-20 season?

With training camp getting closer, there are plenty of topics to discuss involving the 2019-20 Sixers. Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick.

In this edition, we ask: Which Sixer has the most to gain this season?

Hudrick

There are a few strong candidates — including the guy Noah has below — but to me, Josh Richardson has the most to gain.

Richardson is an ascending player that just turned 26 on Sunday. He was a key cog in Erik Spoelstra’s rotation because of his defensive abilities. He’s long and versatile, a perfect combination for the Sixers’ starting unit. His defense should shine alongside the Sixers’ elite defensive pieces. He’ll be tasked with guarding ones, but it’s a challenge he should be able to handle and excel with.

During last season in Miami, Richardson took on a much bigger offensive role. While at times he shined, it was clear that he’s not meant to be a team’s No. 1 option. He won’t have to be that for the Sixers. The space he should get with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons should help immensely. Richardson also did well in dribble handoffs, something that was a staple of the Sixers’ offense with Embiid and JJ Redick. Brett Brown can explore the Richardson-Embiid two-man game with Redick’s departure to New Orleans.

One of Richardson’s most attractive qualities is his contract. The Heat have some pretty horrendous deals against their cap, but Richardson’s signing was likely their shrewdest. He’ll make $10.1 million this season and $10.8 million in 2020-21, per Spotrac. That’s a relative steal for a wing player of his capabilities. He has a player option for 2021-22 and that's where he has the most to gain. If Richardson performs well and helps the Sixers make a deep playoff run, his value should be extremely high as a 29-year-old free agent.

Levick 

As far as contracts are concerned, there aren’t many obvious candidates for players with the most to gain. Backup point guards Raul Neto and Trey Burke, big man Kyle O’Quinn and young players Furkan Korkmaz and Jonah Bolden might qualify on the basis of not having any guarantees beyond this season, but I’m not going with any of those players.

I think Tobias Harris has the most to gain for the Sixers this season, even if he did sign a five-year, $180 million contract this summer. This isn’t about the money, though. 

With Jimmy Butler gone, Harris will now likely be looked to as the Sixers’ primary perimeter scoring option. He won’t need to carry the entire offensive load — Ben Simmons is dangerous in transition and improving in the post, Joel Embiid is dominant down low, Al Horford can do a little bit of everything and Josh Richardson averaged 16.6 points per game last year. But Harris now has the go-ahead to be the best version of himself offensively.

“I just wanted to adapt,” he said on July 12 about his role after joining the Sixers last season. “Not to be complaining about comfort or whatnot. I just wanted to be that guy who puts everything to the side and it’s about winning. Was that hard for me? Not hard for me with who I am, but for my own game, it was hard.”

Before joining the Sixers, Harris was among the top 20 percent of the league as a pick-and-roll ball handler in points per possession for four straight seasons, per NBA.com/Stats. I expect the Sixers to try to cater toward Harris’ strengths more this year. I also think it’s logical to predict Harris will shoot closer to his 42.6 percent mark from three-point range over 87 games with the Clippers than the 32.6 percent he shot from long range with the Sixers.

There’s no money to be gained for Harris, but a first All-Star appearance would be meaningful. It’s a very realistic possibility. 

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