With A Potential Extension Looming, Josh Richardson Must Prove His Worth
Entering his third season in the NBA, Josh Richardson is still somewhat of an unknown commodity. After making a strong first impression with his lights out shooting and eye-catching physical tools, the Miami Heat shooting guard disappointed many with a sophomore year plagued by injury and inconsistency.
Now, Richardson enters a crucial third year looking to earn a role and prove himself as he seeks a second, substantially more lucrative, contract. Stacked at the shooting guard position and short on cap space, Miami will have to decide whether their 2015 second-round pick is worthy of a long-term financial commitment.
As the year unfolds, fans and front offices will look to answer one simple yet significant question: “Is Josh Richardson worth it?”
So… is he?
The answer isn’t simple, especially considering the Miami Heat’s roster situation. After committing big money to Tyler Johnson last season ($18.9 million in 2018, $19.6 million in 2019), Miami decided to lock in Dion Waiters to a lucrative four-year, $52 million deal. With such a large portion of cap space already devoted to the shooting guard position, one could argue that it doesn’t make sense to keep Richardson around long term.
Factor in the continued presence of Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder — both coming off impressive seasons — and it can be difficult to see where J-Rich fits in. One could refute this, arguing that basketball is positionless and Miami could successfully play multiple shooting guards at the same time. However, even ignoring team fit, there are many questions surrounding whether Richardson is a good investment for the Heat as currently constructed.
With barely over 100 games under his belt, Josh Richardson has been wildly inconsistent and still has a lot of developing to do before he is ready to become the complete player that many hope he’ll be. Richardson’s primary tools as an NBA prospect are his shooting ability and his athleticism/defensive potential. During his rookie year, J-Rich displayed a lights out shooting ability along with a combination of length, quickness, and aggressiveness that could help him tremendously as a defender and finisher as he develops.
Over the course of his sophomore campaign, Josh took a step back. Injuries prevented him from ever finding a rhythm, and his shooting suffered significantly. He also showcased some of his deficiencies on defense, often taking bad angles or generally just not knowing where to be on that end of the floor.
He shouldn’t be judged too harshly for his play considering his inconsistent health, but with a very up and down beginning to his still young career, it is difficult to predict which of “good Josh” or “bad Josh” is the real player. And considering Miami’s very limited cap flexibility over the next few years, it can be difficult to rationalize committing yet another big contract to a still unproven player
However, there are many reasons to believe that Richardson is definitely going to be worth a long-term contract extension, which he is eligible to sign on August 3 worth up to $44 million over four years. First, let’s look at his primary competition at the shooting guard position: Johnson and Waiters.
Johnson has shown consistent growth since entering the league and has been a valuable combo guard off the bench, contributing with his shooting, passing and energy. Unfortunately, his small stature limits his upside especially on defense and he doesn’t seem to have the playmaking skills to be a primary facilitator on offense despite having point guard size.
Waiters, on the other hand, certainly has the size to compete with other NBA shooting guards. His athleticism and strong frame made him valuable as a pest on defense and as a slasher on offense. However, Waiters has a significant track record of being an inefficient player whose poor decision making and overconfidence hurts a team more than helps. It is true that Waiters had a very good stretch for the Heat during the second half of last season, but it is difficult to say whether such a small sample size can be trusted considering his past.
Richardson, however, is the youngest player of the three by about two years and is arguably the one with the most potential. When Richardson was healthy and in a consistent role, his 3-point shooting impressed everyone. Despite an injury-plagued sophomore year, Richardson still has a career 3-point percentage that ties Johnson and beats Waiters.
His length and athleticism also gives Miami a potential for defensive versatility that can’t be offered by Johnson and potentially not even Dion Waiters. While still learning on that end of the floor, Richardson has shown flashes as a guy who can get his long arms into passing lanes and switch onto multiple positions.
This year will undoubtedly be huge for Richardson to prove whether he can stay healthy and continue to grow as a player, but his long-term potential is as high as any player on the team. Given Miami’s limited draft picks in the near future (Heat cannot trade any first-round picks before the draft until 2023), it would be wise of them to hold onto as much high potential, young talent as they possibly can.
The question of whether Richardson deserves a contract extension will be answered over the course of the NBA season. Now healthy, J-Rich will look to build on his game (finished with 15 points per game, 14 total steals and eight total blocks over Miami’s final six games last season) and show the Heat why he can be a key contributor within Miami’s future core.
Whether he will return to the caliber of play that got him noticed by fans or continue the inconsistency that drew concerns will be seen (Editor’s note: Could go either way). But between staying healthy and finding a consistent role in a crowded backcourt, Richardson will have a lot to overcome if he wants to get his payday.