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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