Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The forgotten man in the madness that was Sixers' offseason may very well hold the key to the 2012-13 campaign.
Lost in the hoopla surrounding Andrew Bynum this summer was the Sixers' acquisition of a man who has made more three-pointers than all but 14 men in NBA history.
Jason Richardson has a good chance to start alongside Jrue Holiday in the 76ers' backcourt on Opening Night, yet there has been very little discussion surrounding him this offseason. Richardson, an 11-year veteran who boasts a career scoring average of 17.5 points per game, has been all but obscured by the fairly large shadow cast - literally and figuratively - by Bynum's arrival.
It's almost as if he were invisible.
"I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me... When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me."
- Ralph Ellison, "Invisible Man"
True invisibility is one of the world's most coveted superpowers. Figurative invisibility, on the other hand, is anything but. Richardson, much like the unnamed protagonist in Ralph Ellison's seminal work "Invisible Man", can actually be seen by the naked eye, but has mostly been ignored by Sixers fans for the better part of the past two months.
The sharpshooting swingman was little more than a footnote at the very press conference that welcomed him to Philadelphia - a supporting actor to a 7-foot star set to illuminate the Wells Fargo Center. Bynum clearly deserved the lion's share of the press clippings (and billboards) celebrating that day, but Richardson shouldn't have been summarily dismissed either.
That said, the 2012 edition of Jason Richardson is, in fact, a far cry from the player who averaged 21.8 PPG back in 2007-08. He isn't the same freak of nature who captured two consecutive NBA Slam Dunk Contest titles nearly a decade ago. Richardson's yearly scoring averages and field-goal percentages have both steadily decreased in each of the past four seasons, and he averaged career lows in both points (11.6 PPG) and minutes (29.5 MPG) in 2011-12.
These days, the 6'6" marksman spends most of his time with his feet on the floor and firmly planted behind the three-point line. Richardson is a career 37.2 percent shooter from long range, and is far more consistent than the recently-departed Jodie Meeks, who started 114 games over the past two seasons for the Sixers.
Unlike Meeks, Richardson is capable of effectively attacking the basket, making the Sixers' offense far more diverse than it was a season ago. So even on those nights when Richardson's shot isn't falling, he'll still be able to draw attention from opposing defenses.
"I want him to slash and cut, I want to get him in the post some... I don't want him just to live behind that three-point line," said Sixers' head coach Doug Collins following Richardson's introductory press conference in August.
If nothing else, Richardson will provide some much-needed leadership for a team that lost both of its captains in the offseason. As the oldest and most experienced player on the roster, Richardson is in line to fill part of the void left by 13-year veteran Elton Brand, who was amnestied in July.
"I was invisible, and I was only just beginning to realize the extraordinary advantage my invisibility gave me. My head was already teeming with plans of all the wild and wonderful things I had now impunity to do."
- H.G. Wells, "The Invisible Man"
The lack of focus on Richardson may allow him to slide under the radar a bit in the short term, despite the fact that he's due to make more than $18 million over the next three years. For better or for worse, expectations for Richardson are relatively modest, especially since the 31-year-old swingman is at best the team's No. 4 option on offense.
Whether Richardson will ever get to start for the Sixers at shooting guard is still to be determined. However, as long as he keeps defenses honest and knocks down the occasional 23-footer (something that he did 102 times last year), he'll be a key member of Collins' rotation.
Earlier this summer, Richardson said that he's willing to do whatever the team asks, but after starting 794 out of a possible 805 games in his NBA career, he doesn't appear content to merely fade into the background.
"It's really a great opportunity for me at this point in my career to come to a team that is headed on the upswing," said Richardson back in August. "I'm looking forward to coming to Philly and contributing in a big way."
Maybe invisibility is overrated after all.
Best case scenario: .521 TS%, .508 eFG%, 13.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists. With Collins imploring Richardson to attack the basket more, the former Michigan State star may experience a bit of a resurgence in his 12th NBA season. This may not necessarily be a good thing, however: If Richardson is forced to carry a significant load on offense, it'll likely be because either Jrue Holiday or Evan Turner have regressed.
Worst case scenario: .488 TS%, .467 eFG%, 9.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists. Richardson continues his decline and finishes with career lows across the board. If this happens, Nick Young and Dorell Wright would be in line to inherit a good chunk of the minutes at the two wing positions, and the Sixers' coaching staff will be forced to figure out how best to utilize Richardson's deteriorating skill set.
Reasonable: .500 TS%, .491 eFG%, 11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists. Richardson settles into the starting shooting guard spot and his production is pretty much in line with his performance from a year ago. Bynum's presence in the middle almost guarantees that the Sixers will get good looks from the perimeter, and Richardson appears to have enough juice in his legs to take advantage of the opportunity.