Ground Zero: What’s The Deal With Josh Richardson?

Insight

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Following Josh Richardson’s play in his not-so-even-two-year career has felt like an elaborate roller coaster ride.

He was objectively terrible during the first half of his rookie season. He played sparingly, shot poorly and generally looked like a chicken with his head cut-off defensively.

Something clicked after the All-Star break. He randomly became one of the NBA’s best shooters from trey-land, putting Wisconsin on posters like he was starring on “That 70’s Show” and caused havoc on defense with his length, activity and athleticism.

Statistically, the contrast was more drastic than a Lil Kim before-and-after picture:

 

This season, Richardson has battled injuries while also adjusting to a larger role. The results have been mixed.

He’s putting up 10.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists — pretty decent base numbers all things considered.

His shooting percentages have plummeted, though. He’s shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep on over five attempts per night.

He had a six-game stretch in November where he averaged 15-3-2-1-1 with a 44/40/71 shooting split.

But over his last six games, he’s put up 8-3-3 with a 30/21/89 split. Again, it’s been a roller coaster.

The perception around Young Rich God has fluctuated with his play. Richardson’s early play in his rookie year made him look like a long-term D-League fixture.

Then he heated up, and was dubbed by some as a better player than lottery pick Justise Winslow:

With the inconsistent play on both ends of the court this year, the tide seems to be turning again. Even our Heat Twitter President has been fed up:

This begs the question: Did we overrate Richardson based on his hot stretch last season, or are we overreacting to his struggles because this season has been tough to deal with?

My hot take: It’s a little bit of both.

Richardson hasn’t taken a leap into Eddie Jones territory like some thought he could. That may very well happen down the road—he has the physical tools, shooting stroke (in theory) and the motor to become very good—but it hasn’t happened this year.

On the flip side, we have to remember that:

• Richardson missed most of training camp and the beginning of the year with a torn MCL.
• Regardless of the injury, Richardson is in year two of his NBA career and is still finding himself.

It was probably too early to throw the Jones comparison on him. It’s also too early to throw him away and give up on his potential because he hasn’t put it together (yet).

Context is always needed when evaluating players. Context is needed a lot more when evaluating younger/inexperienced players like Richardson.

For the time being, let’s get a detailed look at what Richardson is right now. We’ll start with some stats (word to Coach Tony!), then get into video examples.


THE NUMBERS

His per-game numbers (10.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.7 steals) are decent. His shooting percentages (37.3 percent from the field, 30.3 from deep) are not.

A brief look at Synergy (subscription required) describes Richardson as “average” on both ends of the court.

 

Those numbers paint a picture that vibes with the eye test. Let’s explore that, shall we?

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THE EVIDENCE

Richardson is much more comfortable flying in transition than in the half-court, dealing with set defenses. He’s a springy young lad that doesn’t mind finishing over defenders that dare to challenge him:

He also loves leaking out to the corner for easy transition threes:

Richardson is still trying to find himself as a shot creator and passer. After watching a chunk of his pick-and-roll possessions, I came away intrigued.

He has a good enough handle to create separation. Combining that with a quick first step, he generally can generate a solid look for himself or others.

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson ICE’d the pick here to force Richardson baseline. Richardson obliged, drew Robin Lopez, then fired a difficult cross-body pass to Hassan Whiteside for the easy bucket.

Here’s a subtle, yet impressive play from Richardson:

After coming off the screen (very well done by Luke Babbitt), Richardson could’ve attempted to blow by Bismack Biyombo, and there’s no telling how that would’ve gone. Instead, Richardson kept D.J. Augustin on his hip, froze Biyombo with a hesitation dribble, then fired an on-point bounce pass to Whiteside.

Those are the kind of plays that indicate that the game is slowing down for Richardson. He’s far from a finished product in that aspect, but considering his experience initiating the offense, progress in the margins is encouraging.

The pull-up, free-throw line jumper seems to be a favorite of his. As bad of a reputation mid-range jumpers get in the three-point era, elbow jumpers are still pretty efficient looks:

Richardson still doesn’t seem comfortable finishing at the basket, which is odd considering his size, athleticism and whatever vendetta he has against the Milwaukee Bucks.

After only converting 52.3 percent of his shots inside of six feet last season, that number has slightly dipped to 51.6 percent, via Basketball-Reference.

Part of that is due to him recovering from a knee injury. A big part of it, however, seems to be iffy fundamentals.

It often feels like he has no plan whenever he gets into the lane, and it results in some awkward footwork, awkward contorting of his body, and ultimately, awkward misses.

Peep this layup against Tony Parker:

Sure, there’s an argument to be made that he was fouled there (I think he was, and clearly he thinks so, too). Beyond that, what was the point of going with his right foot there?

Look at this layup attempt against the Memphis Grizzlies:

Richardson had his head down for most of the drive and had no shot at getting a good look when he finally looked up.

This seems correctable. Getting stronger should help him fend off contact on drives, which could also help him get cleaner looks at the basket.

Defensively, Richardson is much more of a mixed bag. He has virtually everything you want from a defender: length, lateral quickness, active hands and a never-ending motor.

Sometimes, those things come together, like this closeout-block-dime sequence against the Los Angeles Lakers:

Even if he’s beat on the pick-and-roll—a theme because he takes some of the most head-scratching angles I’ve seen—the fact that Richardson rarely gives up on a play always gives him a chance:

But like many young players, sometimes Richardson’s desire to make a play gets in the way of playing solid team defense:

Richardson had good intentions here; he stepped up to help contain a potential drive or pull-up jumper from John Wall. However, he lost track of his own man in the process, then compounded the issue by committing a foul.

Let’s relive the Orlando Magic mess from last week for a moment:

The heartbreaking notable part from this sequence is the #OfCourse shot from Serge Ibaka. Lost in the shuffle was Richardson (and Tyler Johnson) completely botching the screen action.

Evan Fournier set a down screen for Jeff Green. Tyler Johnson was in position to switch the play and seemed to do so. Richardson grabbed Fournier, and was either tossed like a rag doll or flopped (after watching this exactly 17 times—don’t ask why I counted—it looks like the latter), leading to the open look.

The shot missed, but if Richardson stays connected there, that could’ve led to a much tougher shot for Fournier, or it could’ve forced him to put the ball on the floor first or make an extra pass. Either of those options would’ve taken more time off the clock, which could’ve tilted the outcome in Miami’s favor.

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