By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The most important time of an NBA game is the fourth quarter. The importance of having a go-to guy in a close game is paramount, and the Philadelphia 76ers, after trading away Jimmy Butler and losing JJ Redick in free agency, find themselves without a clear solution for who can fill that role.
Butler was adept at taking over games in the fourth quarter and was not afraid of taking the last shot of the game. He averaged 6.4 points per game in the fourth quarter last season, by far his highest amount in any quarter.
Redick, the 76ers' sharpshooter for the previous two seasons, could always be relied upon to hit a key 3-pointer at any point in the game.
The 76ers, now without both of those players, are searching for a clear No. 1 option in the fourth quarter. Will it be Tobias Harris? Josh Richardson? Ben Simmons? All of those players have the potential to step up and take on the role of being the main option in the fourth quarter of games.
Harris will have the opportunity to expand his game now that he has a bigger role in the offense. One of the longer-lasting impacts of this offseason is the 76ers front office's decision to choose Harris over Butler. Butler got shipped to Miami in a sign-and-trade that netted the team Josh Richardson. Meanwhile, Harris received a five-year, $180 million contract to stay in Philadelphia.
Now with more room to develop his game, something that he has done every year of his career, Harris has the opportunity to step up and become the main option behind superstar big man Joel Embiid. Last season, Harris averaged 4.1 points in the fourth quarter, albeit on only 2.5 shots. He had a down season after being traded to Philadelphia mid-season, shooting only 32.6% from 3-point range. However, with the freedom to expand his game since Butler was traded to Miami, Harris has every reason to be able to step up and assume the "closer" role for the 76ers this upcoming season.
Richardson, the player acquired in the sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat earlier this offseason, is perhaps one of the least talked about players in the 76ers' starting lineup. He is a Swiss army knife, a player who can do anything on the court. He averaged career highs across the board last season while being the No. 1 option for the Heat.
A career 36.8% shooter from deep, Richardson has that skill in his arsenal. He also is a good passer, as evidenced by his career 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He can also score in clutch situations, averaging 4.3 points per game in the fourth quarter last season.
Everyone knows that Richardson's strength is his defense, but he has an underrated offensive game as well. Last season was important for Richardson because it showed he was capable of being a No. 1 option and taking over games when needed. However, Philadelphia is an upgraded roster compared to what he was playing with down in South Beach. There is a shot of him becoming the 76ers' main option late in games, but more than likely it will go to someone who has a more proven NBA track record.
Simmons is the most intriguing possibility of the group of potential No. 1 fourth-quarter options on the 76ers. Throughout his career, he has been dominant in all areas of the game, with one exception: jump shooting.
Through his first two seasons in the NBA, Simmons has taken a combined 17 3-pointers with most of them coming at the end of quarters. He has proven that he can score (averaged 16.9 points per game last season) even without incorporating a jump shot into his arsenal. However, the lack of one of the most critical skills in the NBA has severely hurt both his and the team's performance thus far in his career.
Simmons often brings the ball up court while playing the point guard position. His not having a credible jump shot allows the opposing defense to sag into the paint and make it harder for everyone else on the floor to get open. If he can develop a jump shot, it would go a long way towards helping improve the 76ers offense.
This offseason, multiple videos have surfaced of Simmons working out with current NBA players (Andrew Wiggins, Devin Booker) and taking jump shots, including 3-pointers. Fans have yet to see Simmons work in an actual NBA game or practice, with training camp and preseason coming up in the beginning of October. However, if he continues to take jump shots once the season begins, it transforms his entire offensive game.
Simmons has the ability to score from inside using his size and athleticism on drives to the basket, and if he can develop and begin to take a couple of jump shots each game he could become a true force on both ends of the court.
The 76ers will most likely go the route of not having a set No. 1 option in the fourth quarter to begin the season. They have multiple players who can potentially step into the role, and it will come down to seeing on a game-by-game basis which player steps up.
Harris would be the safest bet of the group discussed above to be able to step into the closer role. He can score from anywhere on the floor and his game will be opened up after the Butler trade this offseason. However, Simmons is also intriguing because of what he could become if he is able to add the jump shot to his arsenal.
My prediction would be that Harris ends up taking the role of the closer for the 76ers. In the first year of his new $180 million contract, he should have all the opportunity in the world to be able to expand his game and become the main option late in games. Harris, on multiple occasions throughout the offseason, has said that he will be more aggressive and be able to do more things on the court this season. Once the season begins, he will have his chance to prove himself.