Josh Richardson is Very Much A Part of Miami Heat’s Future
The Miami Heat scouting and development machine continues to amaze, having churned out yet another talented prospect at a point in time in which the team needs it most.
With the Heat handcuffed in its ability to execute any roster-building trade scenarios for more than a year by a lack of tradable assets, and possessing just three total draft picks over the next six years (the bare minimum possible under NBA rules), Josh Richardson, its 2015 second-round pick, has transformed himself into a crucial roster component, validating the first-round grade placed upon him by general manager Pat Riley.
Richardson was rated 24th on the team’s draft board. The Heat snagged him with pick No. 40.
Richardson is the latest in a string of unlikely success stories that also includes undrafted guard Tyler Johnson and banished former second-round draft pick Hassan Whiteside. The prospect for success on players selected at such levels across the NBA is notoriously low, yet the Heat appears to have converted an unprecedented triple play which has the potential to lead it to a promising future.
Richardson’s story has been particularly unlikely. Not highly touted out of high school in 2011. An adequate four-year college career at Tennessee, after which most draft analysts had him being selected late into the second-round if at all. The victim of a roster crunch with the Heat that could very easily have left him without NBA work. An uninspiring first half of the first year of his pro career, during which he shot just 25.9 percent from the floor while being shuffled back and forth between Miami and Sioux Falls.
His emergence was borne primarily out of necessity. After the trade of Mario Chalmers and subsequent injuries to Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih, Richardson’s minutes have started to soar. He now ranks seventh overall among rookies in minutes played since the All-Star break, 395, and first among second-round draft picks.
Still, to get those minutes in the game’s best league, one has to earn it.
Richardson has done just that — leading all NBA players in three-point shooting since the All-Star break at 64.1 percent, including an 83.3 percent mark versus tight defense and 60.6 percent when open. He’s hit at least one three-pointer in each of the last 10 games.
Such shooting has had a dramatic impact both on his own individual scoring output (18.6 points per 100 possessions), as well as on Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and the entire Heat offense.
Led by Richardson and Joe Johnson (57.6 percent), the Heat ranks seventh in the NBA in three-point percentage (37.9 percent) since the break. Over the past 10 games, the team is shooting a league-best 43.4 percent.
That newfound threat – for a team which ranked just 28th in three-point percentage before the break (32.3 percent) – has enabled the Heat to space the floor like never before, which in turn, despite the poor play and absence, respectively, of its two leading scorers (Dwyane Wade, who is shooting just 39.4 percent from the floor, and Chris Bosh), has allowed the team to increase its scoring output dramatically.
Miami’s pre and post break metrics are staggering.
The Heat is scoring 108.7 points per 100 possessions since the break (seventh best in the NBA), versus just 101.4 points before it (24th). With Richardson on the floor, it has increased to 110.7. With Johnson, it’s at 114.4. One or both has been on the floor more than 80 percent of the time.
That, in turn, has begun to free up space for Dragic and Whiteside.
Dragic, who initially struggled so much that some were calling his acquisition (at the cost of two future first-round draft picks) an unmitigated disaster, has now become the team’s most vital player — scoring 24.4 points (vs. 19.0 prior) and dishing out 10.6 assists (vs. 8.2 prior) per 100 possessions, shooting 48.0 percent from the floor (vs. 46.9 percent), and ranking eighth in the NBA in +/- (+116).
Whiteside, who initially had tons of highlight-worthy moments but the team’s overall performance while he was on the court suggested his presence was largely inconsequential, which, when factoring in a lack of consistency of focus and effort as well as issues of maturity, had some calling for an outright trade, has posted utterly ridiculous post-break numbers – 27.8 points (vs. 22.3 prior), 22.0 rebounds (vs. 20.1 prior) and 5.5 blocks per 100 possessions. And while lapses in judgment continue and areas for development abound, it is downright impossible to deny the dramatic impact his performances have had on the team’s success.
Imagine how dominant a Dragic and Whiteside tandem could be with the floor spacing provided by not just one but rather two (or even three) three-point shooters surrounding them in a spread offensive scheme.
Unfathomable as it may have been for a team for which three-point shooting was a source of embarrassment just one month ago, perhaps soon it will be a reasonable proposition — with Richardson (64.1 percent since the break), Joe Johnson (57.6 percent with the Heat), Tyler Johnson (40.9 percent on the season, excluding heaves) perhaps returning from injury before the end of the regular season, Bosh (who would dramatically improve the Heat defense as well, 38.5 percent on the season when open) with an unclear return date, and Gerald Green (who has thus far struggled, but is nonetheless a viable threat) from which to choose.
The Heat is shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and 42.6 percent from beyond the three-point line since the break when Richardson plays. When he plays alongside Joe Johnson, those figures increase to 50.5 percent and 62.5 percent, respectively.
Richardson’s three-point shooting has therefore been a huge deal, both for himself personally and for what it has provided to his team overall.
Of course, he won’t sustain his current level of excellence over the long-term. It’s simply not realistic. No player has ever shot higher than 54 percent, let alone his 64 percent, from beyond the three-point line over the course of a full season. His hot hand will eventually cool. Defenses will eventually adjust.
But defenders can’t be omnipresent. Adjusting to the threat of a Richardson 3 inherently means adjusting away from his more scoring-intensive teammates, which is why what he has thus far provided – an ability to space the floor, to play well off the ball, and to allow his team to play at speed – is such a coveted skill-set around the league.
And though it’s still early, Richardson himself has already shown a propensity to be able to adjust to an adjusting defense. He’s draining catch-and-shoot 3s at an incredible clip right now, but he’s also shown an ability to step around a closing defender and into a pull-up jump shot or floater, and even to attack the rim when the situation calls for it. Richardson has been shooting 65.5 percent within five feet of the rim since the break, often off penetration finished with a nasty dunk. While his primary value to the Heat right now is in playing off the ball, he can certainly be effective when he gets it.
And lest we forget, for as good as he has been at the offensive end, his forte has always been his defense. After all, his 3s are packaged in the body of a 6-foot, 6-inch player with the speed and athleticism to guard point guards and the length to guard small forwards (in time). That’s big-time versatility.
He’s had plenty of awesome defensive moments, both in the the half court – pressuring the passing lanes and stealing the ball from his opponent (1.1 steals per game) – and in transition – skying in from behind for a chase-down block ala LeBron James (0.8 blocks per game) – but he’s also had his share of rookie-type lapses. He lacks the strength to fight through screens, and allows his counterpart to shoot at a better than average rate (46.3 percent, versus their 43.6 percent average). But, given his effort level, there is every reason to believe his actual production will ultimately match his talent level.
Of course, it’s inherently dangerous to project the future based primarily on a 15-game sample size. But if he is able to level off his shooting at a respectable rate for a wing spacer, and as his defense progresses, his role for the Heat should continue to expand.
And if his shooting levels off at a strong rate for a wing spacer, is it all that unreasonable to project him to be a starting caliber guard in the years ahead?
The Heat locked up Richardson to a three-year contract at the minimum salary, and the final two years are fully non-guaranteed. How good is that? Miami was the only team in the entire NBA to be able to extract a three-year deal at the minimum salary from its 2015 second-round pick, and to get the final two years non-guaranteed on top of it was absurd.That Riley snagged him on such a great contract (see here for how he tried to make it even better) will only help to facilitate that reality.
The Heat can wait until August 1 (that’s well after all its other primary free agency plans will have been executed) to decide whether to keep him for a second season or cut him at no cost. But cutting him would effectively save just $331K of cap space anyway, so he’s not going anywhere this coming summer.
And while it’s still early, if he proves to be the versatile 3&D player the Heat has long since coveted, he’ll surely be here for the full three years.
And what would happen at the end of those three years?
The beauty of Richardson’s contract situation lies not only in the fact that the Heat has secured his services for a minimum of three years at the minimum of salaries, but also in the intersection of three distinct truths about when it’s all over in the summer of 2018: (i) he can be made a restricted free agent, (ii) he will have accrued full Bird rights, and (iii) he will enter the summer having played at the minimum salary the season prior.
Because he can be made a restricted free agent, the Heat would have the right to match any contract he signs with another team.
Because it will have accrued his full Bird rights, the Heat will have the means to either match any contract he signs with another team or to sign him to any contract outright.
Because he will enter the summer of 2018 having played at the minimum salary in the prior season, his cap hold(1) will be just $1.1 million. And if the Heat were to extend him a qualifying offer(2), his cap hold would increase only very slightly, to just $1.3 million(3).
These three truths, taken together, produce one powerful result: Whatever the Heat has planned for the summer of 2018, at a cost of no more than $1.3 million(3), it can use up all of its cap space (if any) to do it. Then, after all of its cap space is used up, the Heat can circle back to Richardson, utilizing his Bird rights to give him (or match) a contract that exceeds the salary cap.
Josh Richardson, therefore, is very much a part of the Miami Heat future.
(1) Cap holds are placeholder charges against team salary for a team’s own free agents. They are designed to protect against a team using all of its cap space to sign outside free agents and then circling back to its own free agents utilizing their Bird rights, which allow teams to exceed the cap to re-sign their own players.
Cap holds can be released in order to free up the cap space, but it comes at a cost. To release such cap holds, a team can either re-sign the free agent, at which point his cap hold is replaced with his new salary, or renounce him, at which point his team forfeits his Bird rights.
The amount of the cap hold depends upon several factors, including the player’s previous salary and what kind of free agent he is. Cap holds for most players are between 120 percent and 250 percent of their previous salary, but for players on minimum salary contracts are equal to the portion of the minimum salary not reimbursed by the league.
(2) In order to make its free agent a restricted free agent, a team must submit a qualifying offer to the player. A qualifying offer is a standing offer for a one-year guaranteed contract, which becomes a regular contact if the player decides to sign it. This ensures that the team does not gain the right to match any outside offers without offering a contract itself.
(3) Josh Richardson’s qualifying offer could potentially increase slightly if he were to meet the starter criteria in the 2017-18 season, or in the average of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. The starter criteria are based on starting 41 games or playing at least 2,000 minutes in the regular season. If he accomplishes that goal, his qualifier offer would increase to $2.9 million.