Josh Richardson’s game is not always pretty. He uncorks three-pointers with unorthodox, slightly sidewinding form, pushes through and around screens, makes life as challenging as he can for opposing stars. The 26-year-old plays with the kind of intensity and snarl that tends to attract Sixers fans.
He joined those fans for a brief moment Tuesday night. After driving past Kawhi Leonard for two of his 17 fourth-quarter points in the Sixers’ 110-103 win over the Clippers and drawing a foul, Richardson happily let his momentum carry him into the crowd and unleashed a scream.
Acquired by the Sixers this summer in the sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Heat, Richardson has been a key piece, though not a consistently available one. He’s already been affected by injuries to both hamstrings, his hip and his wrist.
Richardson’s statistics aren’t sparkling. Compared to last season, he’s shot worse from three-point range on lower volume (33.9 percent), turned it over more (2.1 times per game) and assisted less (3.2 per game). He does not grade out well in stats such as value over replacement player and player efficiency rating.
To Brett Brown, though, Richardson’s value has been most evident during his absences.
It’s the same old story we talk about — you really don’t know what you have until you don’t have it. And so we didn’t have him for a period of time, we didn’t have Joel for a period of time. ... You feel the sting of not having that type of player where, as an example, you give J-Rich the ball and now you can use Ben Simmons in a multi-purposed way, not just with the ball. And it’s easy for us all to say, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea.’ The starting point is you’ve gotta have somebody that can run a pick-and-roll, and he can do that.
“And really, our team isn’t equipped for that type of action, I don’t believe, unless you just have somebody that’s really sure with the ball and can run a pick-and-roll, like Alec Burks, like J-Rich — and [Furkan Korkmaz is] growing. And I think that him being a leader and coming to life has a lot to do with some of those other things.
Richardson has run more pick-and-rolls this season than any Sixer and is the only player on the team above league average in pick-and-roll efficiency. In the playoffs, it seems like the Sixers should be able to both play him alongside Simmons and use him as their backup point guard, as they did Tuesday night.
His defensive versatility is another encouraging quality when considering the playoffs. In Richardson, Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, the Sixers have three multi-positional, disruptive perimeter defenders.
“He's a big part of what we do, especially on the defensive end,” Al Horford said. “Him being able to guard perimeter guys, and he did a great job on Paul George tonight, got on [Landry] Shamet in the fourth when we needed him to. So, it just goes to show how much he brings to us.”
The private discussions among players about uncomfortable topics and the public questions about accountability are also, of course, part of what Richardson has added. Those off-court elements can’t be measured, and it’s equally difficult to know exactly how much more Richardson allows Simmons to do or how important he is as a stylistic complement.
He is obviously not close to the best or most important player on this team, but it is notable — and understandable — that his teammates and head coach are very glad he’s healthy again.
“We’ve got a great team top to bottom, first of all, so it’s not like I was really worried about what they were missing without me or what I could bring,” he said Tuesday. “I was just really trying to be a vocal presence on the bench for the guys. We had some young guys that were playing, and trying to keep them in positive spirits, because it’s not easy being thrown into a situation like that in a tough league — and they had a tough stretch of games.
“Now that I’m back, I think having another ball handler out there, playing pick-and-roll with [Joel], getting him good looks. Just being another attacker for us.”
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