Despite a disappointing 6-10 start for the Heat, Josh Richardson has made major improvements to his offensive game. Can it last?
Coming off an average 2017-18 season, the Miami Heat desperately needed ways to improve. With a lack of financial flexibility ruling out the possibility of a free agent splash, and no draft picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, internal improvement was the last resort.
Much of the hope for growth rested squarely on the shoulders of Josh Richardson. The fourth-year wing showed incredible defensive acumen last season, often guarding the opponent’s best player. Ultimately, he displayed a body of work worthy of an NBA All-Defensive team selection, even though he didn’t make the cut.
Questions about his ability to reach another level have been solely related to his offense. While he increased his scoring averages and flashed nifty moves like a scoop layup, the Heat needed him to morph into something along the lines of a primary scorer.
So it was worth asking: How much could Josh Richardson improve? Could he begin carrying the offensive load night-to-night? Were future All-Star appearances a possibility?
Thus far, he has not disappointed. He is averaging 20.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on shooting splits of .445/.448/.879. His 6.6 3-points attempts per game are a career high by significant margin.
He has scored 27 or more points five times already, something he managed only three times all of last season. At times, the Heat have leaned heavily on him in late-game situations:
From a team perspective, the Heat are 14.8 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Josh Richardson on the court.
What areas has he specifically improved upon? For starters, he has been noticeably better at creating his own shot. Per Cleaning the Glass, he has been assisted on only 79 percent of 3-pointers this season, good for the 86th percentile. Last season he was assisted on 95 percent of his 3-pointers, around the 36th percentile.
Taking a look at his shot frequency gives you an even clearer picture. Pull-up jumpers consist of 35.2 percent of his shots, while catch-and-shoot jumpers make up 31.2 percent of his shots, per NBA.com. For contrast, 25.7 percent of his shots were pull-up jumpers last season, while 43 percent were catch-and-shoot jumpers.
He has also doubled his amount of free throw attempts, at 3.6 per game (although he could still do well to raise that number). He is only drawing fouls on 7.4 percent his shot attempts (50th percentile), per Cleaning the Glass.
Many of the league’s best stars have included drawing fouls in their arsenal — it is a skill that can be worked on. How Richardson leverages his ability to attack the rim and create jump shots into high-efficiency, low-pressure shots could determine whether he reaches his ceiling.
Admittedly an improvement from last season, his so-so assist percentage (an estimated percentage of made shots by teammates that a player assists) of 15.4 percent is also worth keeping an eye on. It may highlight another area for him to improve upon — passing and/or finding open teammates.
The early returns on Josh Richardson’s offensive play are extremely encouraging. The Heat are in dire need of a player to carry an often sputtering offense. With a steady uptick in usage, 3-point attempts and late-game opportunities, Richardson should continue to shine.