This article was originally published at AllUCanHeat.com. Read the original here.
When Dwyane Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls in the 2016 offseason, Josh Richardson had to have seen a window of opportunity.
The six-foot-six then rookie guard, spent the 2015-16 season jockeying for minutes behind established veterans like Gerald Green and Joe Johnson. And when he saw some daylight to contribute to the Miami Heat’s playoff efforts that season, he quickly proved to be serviceable.
Richardson, who was held to an average of 21 minutes per game during the 2015-16 regular season, saw a bump in his playoff usage, increasing his minutes to over 27 per game.
Discussants and critics were unsure of Richardson’s ceiling, but he became a capable contributor in bursts off the bench for Miami during that time. Despite averaging only 6.6 points during those playoffs, Richardson was a rallying force for the Heat, providing a competent backup guard to give the veterans breathers, as both of the Heat’s playoff series dragged into seven games.
Two years removed from his playoff appearances, and Richardson is performing marginally better than he was as a rookie. After averaging career-highs across the board in 2016-17, Richardson’s scoring this season has dipped back into single digits (9.3 points per game) while his 3-point percentage has dropped, and he commits more turnovers per game (2.3).
What’s more perplexing, is that Richardson has shown growth in his defensive capabilities. The lanky guard can pressure opponents’ top scorers, most recently as he did in contesting Bradley Beal’s shot to tie the game against the Washington Wizards on November 17.
Offensively, however, Richardson continues to struggle, which is problematic considering his role in the starting lineup.
This season, the Heat are lacking consistency.
Essentially the same squad that went for the fabled 30-11 run last year, is finding offensive stability an issue, as no Heat player scores more than 18 points per game. Sharing the scoring burden is fine; Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters each have had their share of late-game takeover moments. But that no one player can be called on to weave through opponents’ defenses, is continually worrisome.
All of this is to say that as Miami continues to experiment with lineups and rotations, Richardson might be better utilized off the bench. Starting along Whiteside, Waiters, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow has hid his problems with steady offensive contributions, as the Heat have trended towards strong first halves before getting outscored in the second.
When Waiters knocks down a deep 3 or Dragic is driving to the hoop for a layup, Richardson’s poor shooting can largely be ignored. But when the score gets tight down the stretch, Richardson’s 28.4 percent from beyond-the-arc resonates with his bottom-three appearance among Miami’s players in field goal percentage (37.8 percent).
For the last two seasons, Richardson has made his living off of the catch-and-shoot, with 60.1 percent of his shots (up from 45 percent last year) this year coming from those possessions. And unlike Winslow, who’s lack of shooting has been subverted by an increased focus on attacking the rim, ballhandling and defense, Richardson is currently suffering as a one-trick pony who forgot his routine.
Heat Nation has every right to want more from their swingman. But they also should give him time to find his groove. As head coach Erik Spoelstra continues to tinker with lineups, Richardson has to keep plugging away, finding his rhythm to help elevate Miami’s young core.
That might mean focusing on defense and passing over scoring, but ultimately a positive (and flexible) mentality is key to getting Richardson back on track.