The Philadelphia 76ers will, knock on wood, have a complete starting five in the near future.
It’s remarkable how little the Philadelphia 76ers‘ starting five has played together through 20 games. Joel Embiid has missed time to rest, as has Al Horford. Ben Simmons injured his shoulder a couple weeks in. Josh Richardson has recently dealt with a hamstring issue.
The starting five has played 102 minutes together, with a sparkling 21.3 net rating to show for it. For comparison, the LA Clippers’ starting five — including Paul George, who missed the first 11 games, and load-managed Kawhi Leonard — has spent 80 minutes together. Not at full strength is an understatement.
For Philadelphia, however, the tide is turning. According to PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck, Richardson underwent an individualized workout Tuesday. There hasn’t been an update to his Thursday status yet, but Richardson is nearing his return.
Prior to his injury, Richardson was playing his best basketball of the season. In his last five full games, Richardson shot 58.1 percent on 6.2 three-point attempts per contest, averaging 22.4 points and 2.4 assists. He was in the midst of a hot streak.
Given the Sixers’ lack of purebred spacers, Richardson’s volume and efficiency is important to monitor. Last season, despite his obvious talent and impact, Philadelphia often suffered from Jimmy Butler‘s unwillingness to launch threes. Richardson hasn’t showed the same apprehension.
In addition to his importance as a shooter and as a secondary playmaker, Richardson is the Sixers’ primary answer to opposing point guards. Both Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle can bundle up shifty ball-handlers, but it’s Richardson’s specialty. He’s one of four legitimate All-Defense candidates on the roster.
The Sixers’ early-season lumps have been blown out of proportion. With such little shared time on the court for the starting five, it’s clear Philadelphia will need an extended period to figure out the offense. That’s fine, and quite frankly the expectation for any team that makes sweeping offseason changes.
Having Richardson back in the lineup will — ideally — allow the Sixers to begin establishing chemistry and continuity. Embiid and Horford should still have a scheduled rest plan, and Philadelphia is wise to proceed with caution on the injury front. Still, there’s value in getting stars on the court together. They need to grow and learn one another’s tendencies.
Richardson is far from a guarantee for Thursday night’s battle in Washington, but the starting two-guard is on track to return soon. That’s important news.