This is a weekly series where we’ll look back at one player’s performance to see who stood out and why. Whether it’s the best player on the team, someone at the bottom of the bench who stepped up, or anyone in between.
Last week’s results: 120-113 W vs. Oklahoma City, 109-98 W vs. Boston, 91-109 L @ Dallas.
The 2019-20 Philadelphia 76ers were always going to have a problem with perimeter creation. That was the case as soon as Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick left last summer, and it will remain that way with the team’s current roster construction. Players like Josh Richardson, while limited, simply need to contribute and improve however they can to maximize the current team’s potential. And to Richardson’s credit, he has improved his play recently.
Over the last 10 games, his scoring (17.5 points per game) and assists (4.2 to 2.1 turnovers) are up. His efficiency in this stretch (a mild 55.4 True Shooting Percentage) has been hurt by a three-point slump (32.1 percent), but there’s still been a noticeable difference from earlier in the season in his success creating off the dribble, both as a scorer and a passer. As the season has progressed, growing chemistry and comfort on his new team seems to be benefiting him.
Richardson started off the week strong against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He tallied 23 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists to 1 turnover, and a steal, shooting 9-of-17 from the floor and 2-of-4 from three. Defensively, he wasn’t quite at his best and picked up 5 fouls, but Richardson still provided energy, pesky off-ball defense, and helped hinder OKC’s ball handlers.
One part of Richardson’s recent progression is how he’s fared with pick-and-rolls. Even though he clearly isn’t a lead shot creator or playmaker, he’s a little better in pick-and-rolls than he gets credit for sometimes. Lately, this has included his developing connection with Ben Simmons, who is finally being used more as a roll man.
Richardson now ranks in the 62nd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler this season, which is more than respectable given the struggles he had early in the season when he was thrown into the role of backup point guard. It’s also the best mark on the team. Richardson consistently got where he wanted on the floor against OKC and created good looks. He connected on floaters, drives and pull-ups, and moved the ball well, too:
The way Richardson attacked inside is something the Sixers could use more often. He settles for too many tough mid-range jumpers at times and he’s shooting an unsustainably-hot 55.2 percent between 16 feet and the three-point line (he shot 40.2 percent from this range over the previous two seasons). His 61.8 percent shooting at the rim this season is actually a career-high — he just needs to get there as much as possible to help his efficiency, and ideally increase his free throw attempts in the process as well.
On Thursday, Richardson followed up this performance with his second-highest scoring game of the season. He finished with 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting (and shot 10-of-10 from the free throw line, a season-high in makes and attempts for him), 3 rebounds, and 7 assists to only 2 turnovers. Yet again, he brought energy on defense and did fairly well against Boston's various perimeter threats.
Richardson led the Sixers’ half-court offense for a lot of the game, showing good patience in pick-and-rolls to roam the floor and find openings to score or set up teammates, whether he was kicking to shooters or finding Norvel Pelle on rolls to the rim.
Richardson started off well in the Sixers’ final game of the week against Dallas, just like the rest of his team. He scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the first half, but as the team’s offense petered out (missing good shots was a problem all night), Richardson couldn’t carry his hot start into the second half. He finished with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting, and committed 3 turnovers with no assists.
Richardson deserves credit for his defensive impact, though. While he lost focus a couple of times and missed some box-outs, his defense as a whole was rock solid. As Simmons took on most of the Luka Doncic assignment (and did a terrific job), Richardson stepped up admirably as well to cover the Mavs’ star and carry some of the load as Simmons got into foul trouble.
Richardson bothered Doncic by sticking to him on the ball, continuously denying passes to him to slow down the offense, and fighting around screens to take away openings for Doncic to find space at the arc or drive down an open lane. Richardson was able to help contain Doncic with possessions like the following, and Doncic finished the game with 19 points on just 4-of-15 shooting.
Richardson is always going to be limited as a creator. He doesn't have a super quick trigger from three-point range, he isn't a very fast decision-maker or advanced passer, and he can't routinely be asked to carry an offense as a scorer. There are justified critiques for how he can realistically improve, but it's unfair to ask that much from him just because the Sixers have built a roster that's lacking those skill-sets.
There have been plenty of positives in Richardson's recent play, though, including his success as a creator. Along with the kind of excellent defense that he's been providing all season, he played a huge part in the Sixers' two wins last week.