Josh Richardson has always flown under the radar. When he arrived at the University of Tennessee as a middling recruit from Oklahoma with an unassuming skill set, most fans didn’t set expectations for him because they didn’t know who he was.
In his freshman season, an experienced backcourt kept Richardson from getting much run. Every year thereafter, Richardson’s role significantly increased. His production followed suit, as he improved in nearly every major statistical category each subsequent season. Even after a coaching change following his junior season, Richardson continued to raise his level of play, often serving as the lone bright spot in an otherwise haphazard Donnie Tyndall offense.
As NBA Draft workouts began after his senior season came to a painful close, Richardson still found himself underneath the visible tip of the iceberg. He wasn’t even listed as a second-rounder on most of the notable mock drafts until just weeks before draft night, but hard work and undeniable skill enabled him to sky up draft boards to become an early second-round pick for the Miami Heat.
Richardson has never been a guy whose game garners him a great deal of attention, but not because he lacks ability. To be sure, he does myriad things well on the court, but he’s nary flashed a single elite skill. Luckily for Richardson, teams are searching for versatility as much as any other skill given the complexities of the modern game where so many different guys are capable of playing multiple positions.
Over the course of the Heat’s Summer League contests in Orlando and Las Vegas, Richardson was arguably the most steady player on the roster, averaging 10.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks. Summer League stats are mostly worthless, but in this case the stats show how much Richardson’s impact is felt across the board in any given game.
Dan Craig, the coach of the Heat’s Summer League squad, had a lot of good things to say about Richardson, praising how tremendous he was on both ends of the floor. Over the course of Richardson’s career at Tennessee, his offensive role largely transformed from a passive one off the ball to a much more aggressive role where he found himself serving more as a primary ball handler.
At Summer League, Richardson aptly demonstrated the offensive versatility he showed so often once given a chance in college. He showed that he’s capable of handling the ball and executing in the pick-and-roll by either creating a mid-range jumper for himself or an open look for another teammate, which the Heat like, and he also showed that he’s capable of patiently moving off the ball and scoring when opportunity comes his way. If Richardson proves that he’s able to run the point at a relatively high level through training camp, that might mean it’s time for the Heat to move on from either Tyler Johnson or Shabazz Napier. It would at least make the decision to cut ties with either or both players easier.
Assuming the Heat don’t plan to simply throw Richardson into the fire as the backup point guard from day one, the play below is a great example of how the Heat could use him early in his career as he fully adjusts to the speed of the NBA game. Richardson started the play positioned in the corner before circling back up to the wing for a dribble hand-off and stepping into a mid-range jumper, which might be his best shot at this stage in his development. The balance Richardson maintains on his high jump coupled with a high release makes his jumper difficult to block, as the big man stepping up to defend the shot in this play found out:
Richardson’s impact offensively won’t just be felt in the half court. He excels in transition, and he’s often the one that begins the break after forcing a turnover with his great effort on the defensive end. This ability was on full display in Summer League against the Pacers. On one particular play, Richardson dug down to help off his man to make it harder for the big man rolling to the rim to reach his destination. He often shows excellent awareness off the ball by placing himself in ideal spots to properly apply help defense, as he did in this case. As the big man caught the ball in the paint, Richardson met him and ripped the ball from his grasp.
As the Heat gathered the ball and transitioned to offense, Richardson sprinted out, filled the proper lane and received a pass as he was headed towards the rim with a full head of steam. He was fouled at the rim, and his hard work paid off in the end in the form of two made free throws. This play simply demonstrates that Richardson is able to wreak havoc all over the court. He’s a constant ball of energy, and that could be highly useful as an infusion for the Heat’s bench unit:
Richardson’s offensive versatility adds a nice dimension to his overall game, but the part of his skill set the Heat are dreaming about that likely got him selected in the draft is his potential as a lockdown defender. He possesses the size necessary to guard three positions (1, 2 and 3), and he certainly possesses enough lateral quickness to make him a viable option against most backcourt opponents. He demonstrated his defensive ability on multiple occasions throughout Summer League, but the following play was one of his best efforts.
He started off defending the ball handler on the right wing. He got stuck on the screen, but he fought relentlessly until he recovered to his man and made it difficult for his man to pass the ball to anybody in an advantageous situation. As the ball was swung to the other wing, Richardson found himself defending another pick-and-roll, but this time his man was the roll man. The Heat switched on the ball screen, and Richardson gave the ball handler no room to drive vertically towards the rim. This happens more often than not to players Richardson is tasked with guarding:
On another play in the same Summer League game, Richardson once again gave his man no space to drive, and he demonstrated his strength by not allowing the attacker to push him back at all with his shoulder. A poor mid-range jumper is all the attacker was able to muster, and Richardson smothered him enough to get a block:
It’s impossible to say for sure whether Richardson will have an immediate impact in the NBA. Although most rookies, especially those that find themselves drafted by hopeful playoff teams, don’t typically play huge roles.
Richardson has flashed enough skill over the course of Summer League to indicate that he’ll be able to make a positive impact someday in the NBA. Assuming this high level of play carries over into training camp and beyond, it’ll be tough for him to fly under the radar much longer.