The Rise of Rook Two: How Josh Richardson Became a Key Contributor for the Heat

Where in the World Did Josh Richardson Come From?

Before the All-Star break, only the most observant Heat fans knew who Josh Richardson was. The rest of NBA followers had probably never even heard of the rookie out of Tennessee. Richardson didn’t receive a single minute of playing time in 30 of the Heat’s first 53 games, and the only opportunity he really got was during garbage time. He spent his time shuffling between the Heat and the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s Developmental League affiliate. Richardson averaged 5.0 minutes per game before the All-Star game and is now up to 28.0 since the break.

So, where exactly did Richardson come from?

Who is Josh Richardson?

Josh Richardson grew up in Oklahoma and attended the University of Tennessee for four years. During his time there, he averaged 9.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.1 steals, while shooting 45.6% from the field and 31.8% from the three-point line. These numbers aren’t too spectacular, but Richardson has always been known for his stellar defense.

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(Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

Throughout the 2015 draft process, the Heat always had their eye on Richardson. They frequently seem to take tough, gritty defenders who have decent offensive skills, which matches Richardson’s style of play. The main reason the team was attracted to him as a prospect? An assistant coach noted that he improved in each of his four years at Tennessee, showing that he still had plenty of room to improve. Miami had always viewed Richardson as a first round talent, and gladly nabbed him with the 40th overall pick.

Recent Success:

Richardson has been Miami’s savior since being thrust into a big role after the All-Star break. The Heat has been absolutely decimated with injuries, losing Chris Bosh, Beno Udrih, and Tyler Johnson for the regular season. This provided Richardson with the opportunity to receive some quality bench minutes, where he was able to prove his worth to this veteran squad.

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(Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Since the midseason festivities, he has averaged 10.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 28.3 minutes per game. He is also shooting 53.3% from the field and an absurd 60.3% from beyond the arc. Not many second round rookies get the chance to have this type of impact on a title contending team, but this opportunity wasn’t just handed to Richardson. He spends hours upon hours perfecting his craft, and his teammates have taken note of his dedication.

When Luol Deng was asked about Richardson’s work ethic, he responded with, “Since the start of the year I think he’s bought into working hard. He’s always early in the gym. On the off days, he’s always in the gym. I told him ‘Being in this league for twelve years, this game gives you what you put in.’ Right now, he’s getting back his hard work all year.”

Roster Makeup:

The Heat have two completely different lineups. Their starting lineup consists of four extremely unathletic veterans — Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, and Amar’e Stoudemire — that always find a way to get the job done. On the other hand, their bench unit is filled with three incredibly athletic individuals — Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, and Josh Richardson — who always control the game tempo with their defensive prowess and hustle.

Style of Play:

Richardson’s style of play fits perfectly with the Heat’s bench unit. It almost seems like someone is controlling him in NBA2K16; never letting him out of a sprint, but never running out of energy. He’s always on the ground diving for loose balls and constantly playing with a full head of steam. Richardson loves driving to the hoop and finishing strong, but can also stroke the ball from deep at a very efficient rate.

There aren’t many players who can throw down as thunderous of a slam as Richardson. He has been on Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays on numerous occasions. His most notorious dunk of the season occurred during the Heat’s matchup with the Bucks in Milwaukee. Richardson drove past Bucks guard, Tyler Ennis, from the top of the key. Bucks center, Greg Monroe, slid over to stop the speedy guard. Richardson proceeded to take off and throw down a ferocious dunk over the seven-foot giant.

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Three-Point Development:

Richardson’s three-point game has evolved like no one could have ever expected it to upon reaching the NBA. He was a career 31.8% three-point shooter in college, and never shot higher than 35.9% in a season. How does a guy that shot below average in college shoot one of the best percentages in the NBA? Richardson’s .500 three-point percentage doesn’t qualify because of his lack of makes, but this still doesn’t take away from his contribution to the team’s lackluster shooting.

It’s pretty clear that someone has worked with Richardson on his form. His technique is just about perfect. He makes sure he sets his feet before he even receives the ball, which is beneficial because it provides the opportunity for a much quicker release. This helps when attempting to thwart the efforts of incredibly athletic NBA-shot blockers.

Here is a perfect example of his excellent form. Watch as Richardson secures the pass from Wade. His feet are already set, and he holds his follow through until the ball is completely through the hoop. The arc on his shot is also exceptional.

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Even though Richardson is a rookie, I could argue that there aren’t many players with better footwork and overall form. Of course, this is from a very small sample size, but speaks very well of  Richardson’s ability to continue to develop throughout his career. When a player’s technique is sound, their ability to continue improving is increased substantially.

Defensive Mindset:

Richardson has always been a defensive-minded basketball player. He has never been known for his offensive abilities, which is why his development in this area is so out of the ordinary. He is a very pesky defender that sticks to his opponents like glue. Richardson has a knack for making all of the little plays that don’t go in the stat sheet.

Here is a perfect example of the defensive impact Richardson has.

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Richardson got switched onto Bull’s center, Nikola Mirotic. Bull’s guard, Aaron Brooks, went to pass the ball to Mirotic, but Richardson read the play perfectly. He intercepted the ball and took it to the basket for an easy, uncontested dunk.

Richardson’s defense is what got him into the NBA. He always takes on the best opposing guard, which is a daunting task for a rookie, let alone one that was taken in the second round. He always takes this task with pride, and plays with the unwavering confidence required to make plays in the NBA.

The Skinny:

Richardson started as a diamond in the rough for the Heat, and has become one of the most outstanding pieces in their display case. It seems like the Heat always have this type of luck though. Richardson’s three-point shooting has been a godsend for one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league.

Richardson is ultimately in a prime position to be an impactful piece of this roster for years to come. The Miami Heat are known not only for their ability to draft players, but also for their tendency to develop these players into big time contributors. As happy as the Heat are that they selected Richardson, he has to be equally happy that he landed in Miami. Under the tutelage of Erik Spoelstra and his staff, the future is very bright for one of the most pleasantly surprising presences on the 2015-16 Miami Heat.

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