The 76ers are blending many new parts as they attempt to live up to their billing as one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, and one area that is showing some good chemistry is the starting backcourt.
Point guard Ben Simmons, now in his third season, appears to have taken more of a leadership role and he has developed a rapport with Josh Richardson, a fifth-year shooting guard who arrived from Miami in the Jimmy Butler deal.
NBA teams will be hard-pressed to find a bigger backcourt.
All NBA players were recently measured without shoes; Simmons came in at 6-foot-9 ½ and Richardson at 6-5.
What makes this duo even more impressive is the way both are committed to playing defense. Simmons said the day before training camp that he wanted to be the best defensive player on his team, which will be saying something because Richardson can really put the clamps on opposing offensive players.
Together, they make a formidable defensive backcourt.
“I think it [the chemistry] will grow offensively, and I do see signs," coach Brett Brown said after Wednesday’s practice. "But as it sits, I do get so excited about what I see with those two guys just stalking opposition backcourts. Their length, their spirit, their desire to play defense is beyond exciting.”
Simmons has certainly enjoyed the pairing.
“I love playing with him,” Simmons said after Tuesday’s 144-86 win over Guangzhou in the Sixers’ first preseason game. “Off the court, he’s a great person, and on it, he’s a dog. Defensively he’s amazing, and offensively he’s athletic and knocking down shots.”
While the first three-point field goal of Simmons’ pro career drew most of the attention Tuesday, the fact that he is feeling comfortable with Richardson is a much bigger deal.
Like Simmons, Richardson has great length. Not surprisingly, Richardson says their on-court relationship begins on the defensive end.
“Just from our defensive potential, we’re two great defensive guards. And I know he likes to run, so I’m just trying to make sure I’m one of the guys that can keep up with him, that’s out there with him, so he has passes he can make or bailouts,” Richardson said. “But he’s a smart player, I like to think of myself as a smart player. ... As our group has been coming together, I think the chemistry is good.”
Richardson is learning a lot about moving without the ball with Simmons as his point guard. He understands that if he gets open, Simmons will find him. Simmons is a “downhill guard,” according to Richardson.
“He’s very aggressive, just trying to find holes in the defense, trying to move around the perimeter for him and keep the lanes open,” said Richardson, who scored 16 points and hit 3-of-5 three-pointers Tuesday. “But just find space to get shots up when he wants that kick-out.”
Richardson averaged a career-high 16.6 points with Miami last season. While his scoring will be needed, his greatest attribute is on defense, where he will be counted on to cover point guards.
“For obvious reasons, it is great,” Brown said of Richardson’s ability to defend point guards. “We have had a few athletes in our program during our lean years that could really ... harass [on defense], but not to his skill level. For sure, it is a luxury.”
Both Simmons and Richardson alluded to the fact that the chemistry will continue to build, and there should be much greater familiarity by the Oct. 23 opener at home against the Boston Celtics.