Rookie Recap: Josh Richardson is Good, But How Close Can He Come to Great?
Defying the Odds:
Josh Richardson was supposed to be a nobody. He was supposed to bounce around the Association for a couple of years and then find himself playing professional ball overseas, just like most second round picks. He was supposed to never even have the opportunity to make a name for himself on the largest professional basketball stage in the world. Fortunately for Richardson, some things don’t turn out as expected. The 40th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft shattered all expectations during his rookie season with the Miami Heat.
Richardson’s freshman year was a lot more impressive than his statistics indicated. He averaged a measly 6.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.7 steals per game. Before the All-Star break, Richardson only sniffed the court during garbage time. However, post All-Star break was a completely different story. Mario Chalmers’ departure, as well as season ending injuries to Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih, forced Josh Richardson into a huge role in Miami’s rotation.
What he Brings to the Court:
Richardson has incredible athleticism for someone who fell into the mid second round. The 6’6” combo guard has great leaping abilities to go along with a 6’10” wingspan. This gives him the opportunity to display poster-worthy dunks on a nightly basis. He arguably has three of the top ten to fifteen dunks from the entire 2015-16 season.
You can be the judge, but all of these dunks require insane amounts of athletic ability. There is no doubt in my mind that dunks of this caliber will become a frequent sight in South Florida for years to come.
Everything the Heat needed, Richardson provided: defensive intensity, non-stop grit and hustle and, most notably, three-point shooting. Richardson shot 46.1% from beyond the arc this season, which would rank 3rd highest (right in front of Stephen Curry) in the league if he qualified. This was not expected considering the fact that he was a below-average shooter in college.
Miami’s spectacular coaching staff focused on tweaking the angle at which he released the ball. This gave him more arc on his shot, which massively improved his overall touch on the ball.
Watch how beautiful his shot is.
Even though Richardson’s opportunity came when both backup point guards went down for the season with injuries, he wouldn’t have been able to stay in the lineup and thrive without his new and improved outside shooting.
Richardson is known by his peers as a gym rat and a tireless worker, so it’s safe to assume that his shooting will only improve as time goes on.
While his three-point shooting literally came out of thin air, his defense is always what made Pat Riley smirk.
After watching him intensely throughout the season, I noticed that his defense is actually underrated. His man rarely gets past him and his long wingspan disrupts passing lanes on a regular basis. His hands are continuously up and moving and he has a knack for deflecting passes.
Notice here how he knew exactly where the ball was going and stuck his hand out to deflect it forward. This lead to an easy, uncontested transition dunk.
Richardson’s defensive IQ is through the roof. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and is one of the main reasons why Miami had a top five defense in the Association last season.
My favorite aspect of his game is his ability to get back on defense and block transition opportunities for the other team. At least once a game, Richardson chases down an opponent and blocks a wide open layup. He does it with such ease and grace, which can be attributed to his deadly combination of hustle, athleticism and length.
Watch here as he turns the ball over against the Detroit Pistons. Instead of giving up on the play, he races back on defense and blocks Tobias Harris’s easy layup opportunity.
In the NBA, scoring two points is the same thing as saving two points. Even though he only scored 6.6 points per game on the offensive end this season, he saved substantially more points on defense.
Room for More Growth:
Expect J-Rich to be a primary ball handler when Dragic is out of the game. This will allow Richardson to excel in something that we haven’t really seen him execute: the pick and roll. In college, he was very good working out of the pick and roll and often found teammates for uncontested looks. With the new three-point transformation in the NBA, there’s a lot more room to operate in the pick and roll than there was in college. This will only benefit Richardson’s playmaking abilities and, in turn, accelerate his development as a young player.
However, Richardson isn’t too much of a playmaker outside of the pick and roll. His ball handling is average at best and he doesn’t attempt to utilize his teammates’ strengths.
I’m not calling him a selfish player because he’s the farthest thing from that. What I am saying though is that he will pass the ball off to a teammate if nothing opens up for him. True playmakers will do everything they can to put their teammate in the best position to score or make a good play, and that’s just not Richardson’s style yet.
The Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in March is well aware that he needs to work on his ball handling and playmaking. According to NBA.com, Richardson stated after the season that, “Going into this summer, I just want to get as much accomplished and get as much better as I can. Ball handling and playmaking and then probably just shooting more.”
If he uses his incredible work ethic properly, he will turn his undeniable weaknesses into strengths and can potentially become Miami’s next cornerstone combo guard of the future.
The defensive-oriented guard will take his game up another notch or two with a highly expanded role in the offense. Richardson’s transition from college to the NBA seemed so natural and effortless, which bodes well for his professional career as a whole. He still makes rookie (now sophomore) mistakes, but the young stud has proved time and time again that he can compete against (and even sometimes dominate) the most talented basketball players in the world.