Josh Richardson

Sixers could — and should — be dangerous down the stretch

Sixers could — and should — be dangerous down the stretch

During his time as the Sixers head coach, Brett Brown has always broken the season into thirds. The first two thirds have not gone as the team would’ve hoped. The Sixers sit at 34-21 and are currently the East’s fifth seed.

The good news is they look poised to go on a run in the final 27 games of the season.

Let’s start where everything starts with the Sixers: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. We can debate fit and clashing skill sets all we want. The bottom line is the Sixers need the All-Star duo to be peaking down the stretch and into the playoffs. 

Their win over the Clippers before the All-Star break represents exactly the type of performances needed. What was most impressive is that neither player sacrificed their aggressiveness to accommodate the other. Embiid took 17 shots — but also got 13 free throws — while Simmons took a season-high 22 attempts.

While he's played at an elite level the last 20 games, Simmons' last 11 may represent the best stretch of his career. The 23-year-old has averaged 12.5 field goal attempts in that span. When he takes at least 13 attempts from the field this season, the Sixers are 17-5. While the jumper may not be there, his improved shot is visible from the line, where he’s hit 73.9 percent on 8.4 attempts during that stretch.

There’s no denying Embiid and Simmons’ importance, but having all of your top-five players is also pretty darn important. The Sixers have only had Embiid, Simmons, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Al Horford together for 21 of 55 games. That’s just 38.1 percent.

The Sixers are a respectable 9-7 when Embiid hasn’t played this season, but it’s clear they need all five of these players. 

While the Sixers are 9-5 in the games Richardson has missed, you could see the impact he had against the Clippers, pouring in 17 fourth-quarter points. You can’t expect that kind of output every night, but his ability as a two-way player is crucial to the Sixers.

Embiid should be splint free — he wasn't wearing one during the All-Star Game Sunday — for the first time since returning from the torn ligament in the ring finger on his left hand. Richardson looked explosive after missing time with multiple hamstring injuries. Simmons and Harris are two of the most durable players in the NBA.

As for Horford, it appears his run as a starter is over. That doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact. The decision could prove to be a “win-win” as Horford will fit better offensively with lineups that don’t feature Embiid. Brown will likely still use Horford to close games, which makes sense. The Sixers’ original starting lineup is tied for second in the NBA in terms of defensive rating among five-man lineups that have played at least 200 minutes.

One of their newcomers would be a nice fit in place of Horford. Glenn Robinson III could make the team more switchable defensively. Robinson was used in a stopper role in Golden State. That likely won’t be the case here, but his ability to switch one through four makes him a dynamic piece defensively. Robinson is also having a career year as a shooter, hitting 39.5 percent of his threes. 

With Robinson and Alec Burks coming over from the Warriors, Brown suddenly has options. Bringing Horford off your bench as the sixth man while using Burks and Furkan Korkmaz as instant offense and Matisse Thybulle as an impactful defender makes the bench much more dangerous.

While there are plenty of reasons for optimism for the Sixers after the break, the reality is they’ve underperformed. A large part of that has to do with their abysmal 9-19 record on the road. The 18-36 Hornets have more road wins.

If you’re looking for a reason that could change, the Sixers’ strength of schedule could be one. Up to now, they’ve played the third-toughest schedule in the NBA. After the All-Star break, they have the second easiest. In contrast, the Raptors (sixth) and Celtics (seventh) have had lighter schedules that will get more difficult — Toronto has the 11th-toughest, Boston the 12th.

That’s not an excuse. If the Sixers are the team they’ve claimed to be, they need to beat good teams. They also can’t follow up big wins with brutal losses like their lifeless defeat in Orlando two days after a Christmas Day win over the Bucks.

The Sixers have work to do and ground to make up. All of these factors don’t matter if they don’t show consistent focus and stay healthy.

Brown refers to the stretch after the All-Star break as a “sprint.” The Sixers could — and probably should — be ready to go on a run.

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With the playoffs in mind, assessing Josh Richardson's value for Sixers

With the playoffs in mind, assessing Josh Richardson's value for Sixers

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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Sixers' Josh Richardson has a wide range of breakfast cereal opinions

Sixers' Josh Richardson has a wide range of breakfast cereal opinions

Josh Richardson finally returned this week, after an extended absence from what he does best.

Playing basketball? Maybe. But also, tweeting about breakfast cereal.

Richardson, the Sixers' ebullient 26-year-old guard, is one of the team's most Online players, sharing his opinions on video games and boneless wings, and making his Twitter icon a strangely Photoshopped picture of... himself.

And his most consistent bit online is sharing his opinions on, and love for, cereal, because it doesn't matter how much money you make: cereal is a grand uniter.

On Tuesday night, after the Sixers' gigantic home win over the Clippers - in which Richardson went off with a game-sealing fourth quarter performance - Richardson shared a photo of his burgeoning cereal collection as he decided on a fitting celebratory snack:

In late December, Richardson led us on a roller coaster of a late-night adventure after opting for a bowl of Frosted Flakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch:

But his cereal love dates back way, way earlier than his time with the Sixers.

Here's Richardson tweeting, unprompted, at General Mills about a new cereal:

Here's Richardson tweeting about only having cereal in his apartment before his rookie year with the Heat:

Here's Richardson being distressed by Poland's cereal choices, when he spent two weeks abroad with Athletes for Action:

And here's Richardson with an enormous bowl of cereal as a freshman at Tennessee:

Richardson is clearly very serious about his cereal, and his followers have shared plenty of thoughts about both his cereal inventory and his two-cereal creations, like Cookie Flakes , which one can only assume is a combination of Frosted Flakes and Cookie Crisp.

The one cereal the young guard can't stand?

Sorry, Honey Bunches of Oats. This Cereal Influencer isn't interested.

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