The Philadelphia 76ers are now down to just three members of their starting five. After losing Joel Embiid due to surgery for a torn radial collateral ligament in the fourth metacarpal in his left hand, Josh Richardson is now out after an MRI confirmed that he’s suffered a slight left hamstring strain. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported the update, and noted that Richardson will be re-evaluated in two-to-three weeks.
Richardson strained his hamstring in the Sixers’ latest game, a 107-95 loss to the Toronto Raptors, and was sidelined in the first quarter. He seemed to be in quite a lot of pain and he’s had issues with his hamstring before, so all things considered, this news isn’t as bad as it could have been.
While others will be required to step up however they can, there’s no way to replace what Richardson brings to the table. Matisse Thybulle can keep taking on more minutes and offer terrific defense, but he obviously can’t handle the ball and provide much offensively. Furkan Korkmaz (who’s been playing the best basketball of his NBA career lately) can keep giving the Sixers’ offense a spark with his shooting, but more minutes for Korkmaz means a drop defensively, even though he’s improved there this season.
Playing Ben Simmons next to another ball handler has helped unlock more of his ability as a screener, cutter and roll man this season. This has primarily been thanks to more minutes alongside Trey Burke in recent weeks, but Simmons excelled with Raul Neto in his dominant performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday (I wrote about this fully here). Starting either Burke or Neto in place of Richardson could be a good way to keep the offense moving with some extra ball handling, and keep Simmons thriving off the ball.
Richardson’s injury is a particularly tough blow for the Sixers given how close the Eastern Conference is. After the 1st-place Milwaukee Bucks, storming away at 39-6, the teams from the 2nd to 6th seeds all range from 31 to 29 wins. The standings can’t be much closer, and the Sixers — even with their struggles and offensive shortcomings — have maintained a good chance to eventually wind up with the 2nd seed. Now, a rough stretch without Richardson (and Embiid for a little longer) could cost them.
The Sixers have a pretty difficult schedule coming up, too. Their next 11 games include contests against the Lakers, Celtics, Heat, improving Grizzlies, Clippers, and two games against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
With the NBA trade deadline approaching on February 6 as well, it’s going to be a big few weeks for the Sixers.