With news breaking earlier this week that Brett Brown had been running Shake Milton at the point guard position during team practices, it didn’t take long for fans to put two and two together regarding what that meant for Al Horford. Less than a year after signing a massive $109 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, the veteran center is now officially being relegated to the bench.
For the most part, this was a move that pretty much everyone saw coming. The fit between Horford and Joel Embiid in the front court was questionable at best, and when Ben Simmons joined them it became downright disastrous. The spacing was way off and Horford was posting career-lows pretty much across the board.
With all that said, Horford’s newfound bench role is actually something that should improve his play, and there’s another player currently in the Sixers’ starting five who can help get the most out of him in that role.
Josh Richardson was acquired in the Jimmy Butler “sign-and-trade” this past offseason, and similar to Horford, the fit in Philly hasn’t been smooth sailing. Richardson has seen his points, assists, steals, rebounds, free throw %, and three point % all drop compared to the previous year. A lot of it can be chalked up to how “JRich” slots in next to Embiid and Simmons as well.
Philly’s All-Star duo needs shooters, and Richardson really isn’t that. Despite shooting at an above average clip in 2018-19 (35.7%), a lot of it came from isolations, pick and rolls, and broken plays. Very rarely is Richardson spotting up on the wing or running off a screen ready to fire up a three (like JJ Redick used to do).
However, there have been times this past season where Richardson has shown some serious dominance, and in it’s in a very specific scenario. JRich dropped 28 against the Thunder, 32 against his former team Miami, 25 in a loss to Toronto, and 29 against the Celtics. Not only did Richardson score 25 or more in each of those games, but every single opponent is a playoff team currently down in Orlando. Despite his inconsistency, Richardson has genuinely proven he can be productive against the best defenses in the league.
So how did he do it? What made those games different?
When Richardson is at his best, it’s when Brett Brown is almost exclusively using him as the primary ball handler. During these games, we saw repeated instances where Richardson was essentially allowed to act as the point guard, running endless pick and roll plays with both Horford and Embiid.
Horford himself has been extremely productive as the screener in pick and roll systems during his career (see Boston and Atlanta), and this is where this potential partnership begins to formulate. With Simmons, Embiid, Harris, and now Milton expected to get the majority of the touches in the starting lineup, a “B team” offense run by Horford and Richardson could be one of the best in the league.
Regardless of if Richardson is a “starter” or not, a majority of his minutes in Orlando should hopefully occur alongside Horford. The two’s play styles compliment each other beautifully, and it would make for a pretty dominant second group. Throw in knock down shooters like Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, and you could be looking at one of the best “bench” units in the NBA.
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