Don't forget about Josh Richardson, 'the secret' for Sixers' starting 5

Don't forget about Josh Richardson, 'the secret' for Sixers' starting 5

Brett Brown has two young All-Stars, a four-time All-Star and a borderline All-Star in his starting lineup.

Yet, you get the impression the least heralded member of that starting unit may excite him more than anyone.

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

Richardson was part of a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler and will essentially take the starting position of JJ Redick. He likely won’t be the team’s go-to guy in the fourth quarter or hit crazy, off-balance threes with regularity, but he still has Brown buzzing.

The Sixers’ head coach called him a “do-all” because, well, he can do a little bit of everything.

“You know, I see him switch out on a four man and like really be tough enough — although he's wiry, he's tough — guarding into the post if they roll him,” Brown said after practice Wednesday. “You know, switching out easy on ones, twos and threes, stalking a ball — those are some defensive things. I think that offensively the ability to have the ball and play as a big point guard, if you will, with the ball, a playmaker — I think we've seen that.”

The idea of Richardson getting minutes as the team’s primary ball handler almost seems inevitable. Veterans Trey Burke and Raul Neto were brought in to compete for the backup point guard spot but a lineup with Richardson playing the one is much stronger defensively.

It’s not a foreign idea for Richardson, who ran the point during his senior season at Tennessee and spent time initiating the Heat’s offense last season. He set career highs in 2018-19 with 16.6 points and 4.1 assists a game.

The Sixers won’t demand nearly as much out of the 26-year-old. And that’s OK with Richardson. He suspects he’ll have more open looks and can help run — with obviously a different dynamic — the two-man game Joel Embiid and Redick had so much success with the last two seasons. On Wednesday, he lauded Embiid for his communication as the duo tries to develop chemistry.

Part of what’s made Richardson’s transition so easy is that the players in the Sixers’ locker room have welcomed him with open arms. All four of his NBA seasons were in Miami. It’s the only franchise he’s ever known.

The welcoming nature of his new team has been a huge help.

“It's not super different, honestly,” Richardson said. “The intensity is great here, so I appreciate that. I mean, there's a lot of great guys on the team in the locker room. You know, you get traded, you never know how you're gonna fit with the guys off the floor. But I mean, Ben and all those guys have been great in helping that transition.”

Richardson is still learning and getting acclimated to his new surroundings. He said he actually gave Tobias Harris a ride home after practice and the two had dinner Tuesday.

Even with his own adjustments, Richardson is still making an effort to help his younger teammates.

He can certainly relate to first-rounders Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith. When Richardson was taken in the second round of the 2015 draft by the Heat, he couldn’t get off the bench for a veteran-heavy playoff team. By midseason, he earned a larger role and became part of the rotation for Miami’s postseason run.

Thybulle and Smith can relate as the young wings fight for minutes on a team with championship aspirations.

I've just been trying to take those guys under my wing a little bit and just make it easier because I know the game is moving fast for them right now,” Richardson said. “I think it's important for them to have older guys helping them out. …

“I've just been trying to keep them confident, honestly. That's like the biggest thing for the young guys like that is the confidence. Matisse made some good moves today and a couple of them didn't drop, a couple of them did and I just try to stay in his ear about keep attacking and stay positive. Zhaire did a great job on defense. He had one block over here and it was like he came out of nowhere. He can do a lot of things a lot of guys in NBA can't do, so I'm excited about both of them.

Whether it’s the two-man game with Embiid, playing backup point guard or mentoring young players, Richardson really is pliable.

There's more of a just willingness to fit in and do whatever it takes that I felt like he showed in Miami, and he was called upon with the team that they had to do more, and he did,” Brown said. “This year, with the team that we have, I feel like he's just so mindful of what he can do and his surrounding cast, his neighborhood, that he'll fit into whatever we need. He really is capable in a lot of ways.

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Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

When Trey Burke had an opportunity to sign with the Sixers this summer, he jumped on it.

He expressed his desire to get back to winning, like he did at Michigan when he was named national college player of the year. The fact that he’d be playing in the city where his idol Allen Iverson starred was also a great perk.

But ultimately, he just thought he had the skills that could help the Sixers and allow him to earn minutes. In Wednesday night’s 109-104 win over the Knicks, Burke proved that and more. 

Trailing by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, Brett Brown was looking for answers. He went to a lineup featuring Burke and Ben Simmons. It’s been a pairing Brown has been reluctant to go to, but it wound up winning the Sixers the game.

“We ended up leaning on Trey Burke as a two,” Brown said, “somebody that could do some stuff off a live ball and I thought his intensity changed the pace, the speed, the energy in the gym.”

When Burke had his first exposure to the Philadelphia media in a conference call, he said he was excited about the possibility of not only competing to back up Simmons, but also play alongside the young All-Star. Burke’s speed suits Simmons’ skill set. As does his ability to shoot the basketball and create his own shot.

Having two proficient ball handlers on the floor allowed the Sixers to get out and run and put the Knicks back on their heels.

“He gets it, I can just run and go. If I can get it, he can just run and go,” Burke said. “It’s our first time playing together so I can’t sit up here and be like, ‘Oh, we love playing with each other.’ But I loved that out there. I liked what I saw. I think coach liked what he saw, as well. I think we complemented each other well. We’ll see going forward.”

Burke numbers weren’t mind blowing (nine points, two assists), but he helped loosen things up.

As Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton both struggled defensively, Brown turned to Simmons to slow down New York’s guards. As Simmons took the game over on both ends, Burke was able to help by using his speed and quickness to take attention away from Simmons.

He also got a timely bucket during the team’s run and helped the Sixers close out the game thanks to his ability to take care of the basketball.

I kept searching trying to find something,” Brown said. “We tried Furk, I went away from him. We tried Shake, I went away from him. ... And then, as I said, you end up going to a point guard, a scoring point guard, like Trey is and treating him like A.I. Letting him just kind of run off the ball and looping him up and giving him the ball and put him in pick-and-rolls. I thought he was really good, but the iterations to get to that were frustrating.

Burke’s NBA road has been a winding one. After falling short of expectations as a top-10 pick, Burke has bounced around from Utah to Washington to New York to Dallas. He hasn’t followed his hero Iverson’s career trajectory, but he’s learned to star in his role.

He didn’t start the season as a regular contributor but has earned minutes recently as the Sixers’ backup point guard in front of Raul Neto. Burke admitted that the irregularity in playing is something that would’ve affected him when he was younger.

Now, he’s ready for whatever opportunity presents itself.

Knowing that I’ve been through it, knowing that I’ve turned it around,” Burke said when asked how he stays prepared. “Last year, playing in the G League … then, playing 30 minutes a night. So, situations can change depending on the mentality that you approach the day with. Besides all of that, just faith. It’s easier said than done. But you’ve gotta have something you can lean on when things get tough. Because we’re humans as well. We go home, face realities like everybody else.

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The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

Furkan Korkmaz hitting a game winner for the Sixers in Portland earlier this month was a great moment for Philadelphia fans.

It was the best day of Korkmaz's life.

At least that's the story as told by ESPN's Zach Lowe who has a fantastic look at the state of the Sixers this morning with a focus on the great chemistry surrounding the team this season off of the court.

Lowe's piece opens with a scene in Portland that is just adorable:

The Philadelphia 76ers mobbed Furkan Korkmaz after his winning buzzer-beater in Portland on Nov. 2, but what they have cherished more than the win is the night that unfolded afterward. Tobias Harris organized a gathering at a local club to celebrate. Every player on the trip came but Al Horford, who says he was more or less a DNP-OLD.

They toasted Korkmaz. At one point, Josh Richardson approached Korkmaz and asked what he was feeling. "This is the best day of my life," Korkmaz replied with an earnestness that surprised Richardson. Mike Scott raised his voice an octave to imitate Korkmaz's giddiness in a separate conversation at the club: "'I never felt like this beforeeeeeeee!'"

Korkmaz has been a different player this season, one coach Brett Brown hopes to turn into a serious "bomber" from deep. He's gone from a fringe player on the roster to a guy who has filled in on the starting line up at times this season, including last night against the New York Knicks.

There's plenty of team bonding happening in the Lowe piece and we're also informed that Joel Embiid is a steakhouse kind of guy, which seems about right. There's also a scene in which Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are watching a Lakers game in the team's hotel lobby while on the road. 

You love to see it. 

The chemistry off the court is improving dramatically this season, hopefully that starts to translate to the work on the court. It'd be nice to see Korkmaz have a few more of the "best days of his life" before this season is over.