By Kevin Condit, Sports Talk Philly Writer
On June 30th, 2019 the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Josh Richardon for Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade-deal with the Miami Heat. This was a move that confused many 76ers fans who thought we were not getting enough in return for Butler, who carried the team in the previous postseason. The hard truth to swallow is that Jimmy Butler wasn’t going to end up a 76er anyway, so picking up Richardson was a very solid consolation prize.
Josh Richardson has improved in each of his first four years in the NBA
Richardson is a very teachable player and the evidence is in the progression of his career thus far. He has improved every season while bringing the fire, dedication, and intensity that coaches and fans alike love. After a four-year college career at Tennessee, he was drafted 40th overall by the Heat, the place he would spend his first four NBA seasons at.
Josh Richardson's Career Numbers by Season
Richardson demonstrated improvement every single season with Miami. During his rookie season (2015-16), he bounced between the Heat and their G-League affiliate Sioux Falls. Even as a rookie, he was a more than serviceable defender, but his offense left something to be desired. He only averaged 6.6 points in about 20 minutes per game that season. The former Volunteer shot a very impressive 46 percent from 3-point range but on only around two attempts per game. Richardson gradually earned more minutes throughout that season, eventually building up to just over 29 minutes per game in March. He took advantage of the increase in play by averaging 12.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game in the month of March, good enough to earn him the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Award. Overall, the second rounder had a promising rookie season.
Richardson did not suffer from the dreaded “sophomore slump." The 2016-17 season was when he started showing some serious two-way potential. Injuries derailed part of his second season in the NBA (he missed 29 games due to injury), but he still started 34 games and became a bigger part of the Heat’s offense. His usage rate and shot attempts both went up (usage rate went from 13.3 to 16.5, shot attempts went from 5.2 to 9.7), which led to him averaging 10.2 points per game, an improvement from his rookie season (6.6 points per game). This uptick in production influenced the Heat’s front office to sign him to a four-year, $42 million extension that turned out to be a team friendly deal and part of the reason he was so highly coveted by 76ers' general manager Elton Brand.
The 2017-18 season was yet another year of improvement for the young wing player. Richardson started all 81 games that he played, showing that he could stay healthy throughout a full season. He once again saw an uptick in usage, shot attempts, and points, all while having the best shooting season of his career. More importantly, he was able to increase his shooting efficiency across the board in his third NBA season. He shot 45.1 percent from the field, 37.8 percent from 3-point range and 84.5 percent from the free-throw line. His increase in percentage shooting from outside was not as a result of taking a small amount of shots, as he took over four threes per game that season. Richardson also became much more crafty around the rim, showing flashes of a developing floater and scoop shot.
On the defensive end, Richardson's tenacity continued to grow, averaging 1.5 steals and nearly one block per game. The tenacious defender was one of the only players in the league to record at least 121 steals and 75 blocks during the 2017-18 regular season. Down the stretch, there were games when Richardson was the go-to-guy late in games for a young Miami Heat team. The Heat made the playoffs that season just to get eliminated in the first round by Richardson’s future team, the 76ers. Philadelphia made quick work of Miami, eliminating them in five games. However, Richardson had a good series, proving on the national stage that he has some elite two-way skills.
Josh Richardson's Shooting Efficiency each Season
By the start of the 2018-19 season, Richardson had already garnered respect around the league as a young two-way-star on his way to entering the prime years of his career. Richardson’s offensive game started to become more well rounded as he became the Heat's main scoring option. He also added another aspect to his game, showing that he could be used as a point guard in short bursts. He averaged a career-high 4.1 assists and only 1.5 turnovers per game. He struggled to maintain his efficiency from the previous season due to a massive increase in shot attempts and usage rate (usage went up from 17.6 to 21.5). Defensively, he was still the same in-your-face tenacious defender who was not the least bit afraid to mix it up, as he showed the previous postseason in a very physical series against the 76ers. With Dwayne Wade aging and in the middle of his “farewell tour," Richardson showed that he was capable of becoming the Heat's best player.
Richardson's fit and impact in the 76ers' starting lineup
Fast forward to July 1, 2019, the day after the sign-and-trade deal between Philadelphia and Miami which, on the surface, only looks like a swap of Jimmy Butler for Josh Richardson. From Brand’s seat though, he was able to get a young, legit budding two-way star on a team-friendly contract of only about $10 million per year. Richardson's excellent contract allowed the 76ers to still have the flexibility to sign Al Horford. The two moves together cost around what it would have taken the team to re-sign Butler (around $40 million per year).
During the 76ers' post-free agency press conference, Brand had this to say about the move: "Josh Richardson is one of the best two-way players in the NBA with his spacing ability and his defense and his creation. Proud to have him and I'm glad we could get that deal done."
Richardson will enter the 2019-20 season as the 76ers' starting shooting guard, which is the spot that was vacated when JJ Redick signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the opening night of the NBA's free agency period. Richardson is not the elite shooter Redick is, but he has the capability of getting hot and hitting six threes on any given night. On the defensive end, Richardson provides a huge upgrade as he is truly blossoming into one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. He also brings an element of playmaking that Redick did not bring. He has enough abilities as a ball handler to be able to play some point guard at times in the 76ers offense when head coach Brett Brown wants to throw Ben Simmons in the post to expose a mismatch.
Richardson creates shots for himself and runs some pick-and-roll and isolation plays much like Butler did for Philadelphia last season, but he is a better spot-up shooter than Butler. To Brown's delight, Richardson is familiar and efficient with the dribble-handoff play that Brown used to love to run so often with Redick and Joel Embiid. The four-year veteran is a true threat on all three levels with a much improved mid-range game that includes a lethal floater and the ability to pull up from anywhere on the court. Richardson exhibits great body control around the rim leading to strong, crafty finishes at the rim with the ability to occasional put down an obliterating dunk. He may not be great at any one thing, but he has a complete game and the versatility on both ends that coaches love in today's NBA.
On paper, Richardson seems like the perfect back-court mate for Simmons. The starting five of Simmons, Richardson, Horford, Embiid and Tobias Harris is considered among the best in the league and must have Brown salivating. He finally has the versatility and switchability on defense that he has wanted since he has been the head coach of the 76ers. Richardson will be an important cog in Brown's frequently switching defense as he is able to very effectively guard small forwards, shooting guards, and most point guards.
Fans will fall in love with Richardson's intensity and fearlessness. He is not afraid to go head-to-head with anyone and truly enjoys a challenge on the court. Richardson goes all out every play whether it's diving for loose balls, jumping passing lanes or making the smart hard foul.
Fellow Tennessee alumni Tobias Harris seems excited to play with his new teammate.
“I remember Josh [Richardson] coming in, it was the lockout year so I was going back to school because my mom made me," Harris said in the team's introductory press conference earlier this month. "I just remember it was a brand-new coach that came into Tennessee and brand-new freshman, and Josh was one of them. Just seeing him in the gym, how hungry he was and he wasn’t a five-star recruit, he was always in there working. One of the coaches came to me one day and was like, 'That kid Josh Richardson is going to be a pro.' And I was like, 'He’s always in the gym so there is a chance.' I’m not knocking anybody who works their tail off and sure enough he was drafted by Miami. One of the most underrated players in the NBA.”
Richardson is entering his fifth season and has taken a step forward in each of his first four years in the NBA. I expect him to take another step forward this season, especially with this talented group of co-stars that Brand has assembled for the 76ers. One thing is for certain, Philadelphia will be a blast to watch and are likely to get a slew of nationally-televised games.