Paul Hudrick

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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The backup plan for Joel Embiid looks pretty darn good as Sixers beat Hornets in preseason action

The backup plan for Joel Embiid looks pretty darn good as Sixers beat Hornets in preseason action

No Joel Embiid, no problem.

Without their All-Star center, the Sixers took it to Charlotte Friday night, beating the Hornets, 100-87, at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The score wasn't even that close as the Sixers' held a 20-plus-point lead through most of the game with their regular rotation in.

With Embiid getting a planned load management day off, the rest of the starters carried the load while Matisse Thybulle continued to shine on the defensive end.

Here are observations from the win.

• Brett Brown has talked about wanting his team to be swarming defensively and more aggressive than years past. You can already see the potential of that approach with the elite athletes and defensive players the team features. The Sixers turned the Hornets over nine times in the first quarter, scoring 14 points off them.

Brown said he wants to be the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA. That seems quite attainable.

• While Horford is just a very good player in his own right, a big part of his appeal to the Sixers was how he could fill the void when Embiid is out of the lineup. We got a glimpse of that Friday.

Horford hit a shot that’s become an Embiid staple on the team’s first possession — a long jumper from the top of the key in the trail position. Unfortunately, it wound up being a long two but Horford stroked it with ease. He also showed he still has ups at 33 years old. He forced a turnover by breaking up a pick-and-roll and then threw down an alley-oop from Simmons on the ensuing fast break. Horford filled up the stat sheet with 11 points (5 of 9), nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.

The other part of that backup center equation is veteran Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn was solid defensively and had a nice on-ball block of Cody Zeller in the second. O’Quinn’s passing ability has been brought up on several occasions and you can see why. He finished with five assists — his nicest was a well-executed give-and-go with Tobias Harris.

• I’m not sure if it was the made three Tuesday or just seeing a team in the Hornets that he’s scorched in the past but Ben Simmons looked extremely confident Friday night. He hit a smooth midrange fadeaway and continually attacked the basket, finishing through contact. Simmons is at his best when he attacks the rim first and looks to facilitate off it. He was in full attack mode Friday. He had 15 points (6 of 8), five rebounds and four assists. He also made 3 of 3 from the line and was a team-high plus-23.

Simmons was also impressive defensively. He made what was likely the defensive play of the game with a tremendous chase down block on Terry Rozier early in the third.

• Harris got off to a rough start, missing his first four shots and committing two early turnovers. A dunk off a nice set up by Shake Milton seemed to get Harris going. He went on to make 6 of his next 8. When Brown talked about playing “bully ball offense,” one of the things he referenced was Harris taking advantage of his size on the wing. Harris looks like he’s taken that mentality seriously. He’s frequently been hunting and attacking mismatches early in the preseason.

He recorded 16 points (6 of 14) and eight rebounds.

• You can see what GM Elton Brand liked in Josh Richardson when he acquired the wing from the Heat in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. Richardson excels in the pick-and-roll and in dribble handoffs. Brown mentioned how good Richardson is defensively navigating those situations because of his ability to “get skinny.” The same applies offensively. He’s smooth and is a strong midrange shooter. He’s also a good finisher — he features a nice floater and good touch around the rim. Not to mention he’s an excellent passer.

He also had two outstanding blocks where he used his length to close on quicker guards that got around him on drives. The Sixers got a good one here. He finished with 18 points (7 of 14), four assists, three blocks and a steal.

• Matisse Thybulle was the first wing off the bench tonight. He continues to be a game wrecking ballhawk. He stripped Zeller on a shot attempt — it was credited as a block — on his second defensive possession. He then quickly recorded a pair of steals, one coming out of nowhere to pick off a lazy bounce pass by Dwayne Bacon.

Thybulle is like Ed Reed on a basketball court. He had four steals and two blocks in just 18 minutes. He looks ready for meaningful NBA minutes.

• The veteran duo of James Ennis and Mike Scott was solid. Ennis was aggressive getting to the rim and had eight points. Scott did what he does, making 3 of 6 from three. The Sixers’ likely sixth and seventh men look ready for the regular season.

• Raul Neto and Milton didn’t really stand out offensively — though Milton was solid on the defensive end — in their extended time. While the backup point guard battle will likely come down to Neto and Trey Burke — who didn’t get in until the fourth Friday — Brown has been sure to mention that Milton will also get a look. It doesn’t appear that anybody has put a stranglehold on that spot as of yet.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Did Twitter overreact to Ben Simmons' three?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/AP Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Did Twitter overreact to Ben Simmons' three?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Matisse Thybulle making a case for playing time, the Sixers possibly having the best defensive backcourt in the NBA and Ben Simmons making the first three of his career.

• Did Sixers Twitter overreact to the Simmons' three?

• Thybulle looks like he's ready to wreak havoc defensively at the NBA level.

• Is it fair to have an NBA Finals or bust mentality?

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