76ers

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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Why it’s logical to be wary of NBA restart or feel it shouldn’t be happening

Why it’s logical to be wary of NBA restart or feel it shouldn’t be happening

Even among those who have built their careers and lives around basketball, the attitude toward the NBA’s planned restart in Orlando has not been unconditional enthusiasm. 

The Sixers travel to Disney World on Thursday and are scheduled to resume play on Aug. 1, and yet shouting, “Basketball is back!” would feel incongruous in so many ways. There are valid reasons to be excited, sure — watching Joel Embiid dunk and shimmy again sounds fun — but also to be wary and troubled. 

An obvious one is the location of the NBA’s campus. Florida reported 9,989 new coronavirus cases Wednesday and hospitals across the state are running out of available ICU beds, including in Orange County. 

Outside of financial motivations, it is unclear why playing a sport during a pandemic would be necessary or prudent, especially in a location that’s seen such a rise in cases and toll on the healthcare system. The vision of sports being a unifier, symbol of hope and welcome distraction does not outweigh other strong, tangible concerns. 

Embiid, who said Tuesday he “hated the idea” of playing at Disney World and does not believe it is sufficiently safe, laid out the situation well. 

If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying,” he said, “obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

Is there a legitimate argument against his perspective? One might claim Embiid should be quiet and do his job, as many who are paid much less have. There are several rebuttals to this contention, though.  

Firstly, the fact that people across the country have gone back to work does not automatically mean the regulations which cleared their return were advisable. For instance, the spike in Florida’s cases sure seems to suggest that many aspects of life were allowed to reopen too soon there. Second, the money Embiid has earned should not prohibit him from highlighting that the NBA’s venture contains substantial risk. And third, Embiid’s concerns are not wholly self-motivated.

We wear masks, use hand sanitizer and physically distance to minimize the risk of exposing others to the coronavirus. Embiid said he’ll follow all of the league’s health and safety protocols but is not confident everyone else will do the same. With 22 groups of up to 35 people expected to be in the league’s “bubble,” that is a fair worry, even with the NBA's meticulous plans to maintain as much separation as possible. 

Even if Embiid were only concerned with himself, it's worth noting the long-term, non-fatal effects of the coronavirus are not yet known. It appears there may be serious future impacts for some, such as lung scarring. Even for athletes who are young and otherwise healthy, the virus can have a severe effect. Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery recounted a harrowing, hellish experience with COVID-19 that included chills, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and loss of smell and taste in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury

Brett Brown talked last week about hoping to see “appropriate fear” of the coronavirus. At a minimum, it’s apparent the level of fear here should not be zero. 

There is no monolithic view from the Sixers on the restart plan.

Raul Neto is concerned about being away from loved ones but thinks “there’s not any way to be safer than what we’re going to be going through in the bubble.” Though Furkan Korkmaz knows there are “going to be some risks,” he believes in the NBA. While respecting the personal decisions of those who sit out, Ben Simmons trusts the league and veterans like LeBron James and Chris Paul. Alec Burks considered opting out when he learned his wife was pregnant — she’s due in December — but chose to go along with his teammates. Shake Milton “doesn’t really think we should be playing.” 

It is a nuanced and high-stakes matter. For Milton and other players, the thought of detracting from issues such as racial inequality and police brutality doesn’t sit well. 

“There are issues going on right now in the world that are way bigger than a sport, way bigger than the game of basketball,” Milton said Tuesday. “I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.”

Mike Scott described the NBA’s idea of allowing players to choose from a pre-approved list of words and phrases to put on the back of their jerseys as “terrible” and a “bad list.” 

The NBA has said the aim of the restart is to “take collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice.” It will certainly be interesting to see what the league and its players do on that front.

“I think there’s definitely going to be something that we’re going to be doing,” Josh Richardson said Monday, “so just keep your eyes peeled.” 

The aforementioned financial incentives loom over just about every choice the league makes. If the season were to be canceled, the CBA could be terminated under the force majeure clause. 

Commissioner Adam Silver hasn’t ruled out cancellation if the NBA’s plan proves ineffective.

“If we had any sort of significant spread within our campus, we would be shut down again,” Silver said Tuesday in an interview with Fortune Brainstorm Health, per ESPN

We don’t have an exact number from Silver regarding what would constitute a “significant spread.” If we never find out what it is, that’s a very positive development.

But, as the NBA attempts to pull off a multi-month indoor sporting endeavor during a pandemic, it’s only logical to have some degree of trepidation.

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Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Joel Embiid on Tuesday gave a thoughtful and detailed explanation for why he initially “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and still does not believe it is safe enough.

Wednesday, Kendrick Perkins reacted to Embiid’s comments on ESPN’s “First Take,” and his stance was not as well-reasoned. 

In part, Perkins said, “To me, this is just an excuse. If they get knocked out, this is going to be an excuse because their superstar was halfway in. … Man, go down there and hoop. I ain’t trying to hear that, man. It’s a billion-dollar bubble.”

Perkins’ response evades the substance of Embiid’s remarks. Among Embiid’s primary points were that he is concerned about consequences the coronavirus might have for himself and his family, that basketball isn’t the only thing which should define him, and that he is skeptical other players will adhere to the NBA’s health and safety protocols intended to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure. (Embiid noted he doesn’t do much outside of basketball besides playing video games and will personally do everything necessary to mitigate risk.) What Perkins said addresses none of those issues.

Instead, he focused on the notion of Embiid somehow being weaker than other superstars who committed to resume play without publicly voicing any concerns. To express worry about doing one’s job in these circumstances — playing basketball, in Embiid’s case — does not suggest a lack of character or toughness. It is a logical sentiment, and there is nothing wrong with Embiid being candid on the subject. 

… If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying,” Embiid said, “obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Florida, to the extent that many hospitals in the state have maxed out their ICU capacity. Embiid, who’s donated $500,000 to coronavirus relief efforts, has every right to say he is “not a big fan” of playing in Orlando. 

Familiar cliches in sports about sacrifice for the sake of the team and adversity over obstacles do not apply to a pandemic. This is a different category from Embiid shifting how he plays to accommodate teammates, and a topic that should be approached seriously. 

Perkins is allowed to criticize Embiid, of course, but his viewpoint is lacking in empathy and perspective.

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