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Josh Richardson’s Journey to the Spurs

Josh Richardson is the ultimate success story, but is he right for the Spurs?

NBA: Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

A fun addition to the Spurs at the trade deadline was Josh Richardson. In contrast to Goran Dragic and Tomas Satoransky, the Spurs are not waiving Mr. Richardson. Therefore, with this Professor’s corner I felt is was high time to take a look at the shooting guard from Oklahoma.

Richardson was traded to the Spurs in a deal that involved sending Derrick White to the Boston Celtics in exchange for him, Romeo Langford, a 2022 first round pick and a 2028 first round pick swap (Spurs pick best option). The deal made sense for both teams. Boston obtained a player that will likely bolster their closing five, while the Spurs obtained potentially theur third pick in the first round of this summer’s draft and a chance for a better pick several years later. Richardson is in the 4th year of a 4-year, $46 million contract that was extended by the Celtics for an additional, fully-guaranteed 5th year. Although it is possible the front office could simply waive him in the off-season, it’s more plausible the organization will retain him until the 2023 trade deadline as a wing spacer in the second unit to help develop the younger players. As a result, I feel we should take a few moments (and charts, of course) to become acquainted Mr. Richardson’s journey to now wearing a Spurs uniform.

The Journey Here

After 4 years at the University of Tennessee he was selected 40th overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Miami Heat. Richardson gradually worked his way into the rotation in Miami and eventually became a starter for every game he was available for 2 of his 4 seasons. The best statistical season of his career was his 4th year, where he led a 39-win team in minutes (34.6 minutes) and scoring (16.6 ppg) at slightly below league average efficiency. Following his 4th season with the Heat, he was traded to Philadelphia in the 4-team “Jimmy Butler Trade.” After a solid year in Philly he was traded to Dallas for Seth Curry and Tyler Bey. In his single year with Dallas he started 56 games and averaged 12.1 points in those contests. Unfortunately, he fell out of the rotation in the playoffs and was traded to Boston in the off-season. For Boston, he averaged 24 minutes and 9.7 points over his 44 games as a backup wing.

Richardson’s primary offensive play types have varied with time and organization. His time in Philadelphia involved him being used as the pick-and-roll ball-handler MORE than as a spot up shooter in which he was league average in both categories. In contrast, in Boston, he was nearly exclusively a secondary action/weak side spot up shooter in Boston. Roughly half of his offensive possessions were spot ups and nearly 70% of those are jumpers with no dribbles. He was above the 70% percentile in points per possession when taking shots off the catch, but his relative effectiveness declined when he put the ball on the floor. Currently, with the Spurs, it appears we’re getting a blend of both with Richardson taking more opportunities to put the ball on the floor.

Overall, Richardson, who turns 29 in September, is solid enough to stay in a rotation but hasn’t been vital enough to be declared untouchable — hence the 4 teams in 4 years. He’s comfortable catching and shooting, and he’s fine taking a couple dribbles, but he rarely drives completely to the basket. Floaters aren’t his thing and nor is getting to the line —which is unfortunate considering he’s been a very accurate free throw shooter (career peak of 91.7%).

Josh Richardson: Usage and True Shooting Over Career

And it is exactly his accurate shooting that keeps the paychecks coming for Mr. Richardson(1). This chart displays usage and true shooting percentage over Richardson’s career. His usage peaked during his final season with Miami and his first season with the 76ers and there has been a gradual decline since. It is notable that an average usage of a rotation player is ~19.7, so Richardson has never been a high usage player. The decrease in usage can be substantially attributed to his teammates. In Dallas and Boston players like Luka, Jalen Brunson, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown consume a disproportionate volume of this statistic.

Richardson: 3-point Volume and Accuracy over Career

This chart displays Richardson’s 3pt shooting volume and accuracy over his career. His volume peaked in the ‘18-’19 season with a stout 6.3 attempts per game (460 total) with slightly above league average accuracy. The volume has steadily declined to 3.5 attempts (projected total of ~205), but the accuracy has steadily increased. Currently he is shooting an impressive 41.7% from behind the arc will is near the top 15 most accurate outside shooters in the league.

Moving Forward

The ideal version of success in this situation is to trade Josh Richardson and the teams that would likely pursue a 29-year-old wing are those attempting to bolster depth in a title run. The next two seasons will be the apex of Josh Richardson’s value to a contender. Following those seasons the age-related decline in athletic ability, in combination with his size (a smallish wing), will make it difficult to contribute deep in a playoff run. Nearly every top team would love to add another wing that could shoot accurately from the outside. We can imagine teams like the Jazz, Lakers (healthy/brickless version), Nuggets, and several others happily adding Richardson as a backup combo guard/forward. But where imagination ends reality begins and that transition in the NBA always involves money.

A couple interesting things didn’t happen at the trade deadline that are notable to this situation. Gary Harris (Orlando) and Eric Gordon (Houston) we not traded. Both guys were logical additions to several contenders. But NBA trades rules, thankfully, make this a reasonably challenging process. Trades require ingoing/outgoing contracts to be within 25% of the player’s salary. Furthermore, to get players like Harris and Gordon contenders won’t trade away better players, so they’ll attempt to trade worse contracts/players to obtain a player, and this requires the contender to include a developmental asset (young player/draft pick) to make the deal possible. Unfortunately, many of the contenders have already emptied the draft asset piggy banks to become, you know, contenders. As a result, Gary and Eric stayed home.

Next year there might be several teams interested in Josh Richardson but they’ll need to match his $12.2 million in salary. And since many of the contenders will already be above the luxury tax line sending out less money and taking back Richardson’s salary would further increase their tax bill. Thus, some teams will be forced to ask themselves not if Josh is worth $12 million but if he’s worth $15 million. That’s a more difficult decision.

In Summary

Josh Richardson is a success story. He’s a four-year college player drafted in the second round who has gone on to start 300 of his 422 NBA games, play over 12,000 minutes, and score over 5,000 points. In addition, it appears the Spurs fanbase already likes him. He’s demonstrated the ability to bring energy and defensive aggressiveness to the floor. But the highest version of success here is for him to NOT play for the Spurs for the rest of his contract. The goal is to trade him, but I urge the fans to be very cautious in their expectations. Several good, veteran players currently on the worst teams in the league were NOT traded at the deadline this year. Moreover, things won’t likely get better next season, so don’t expect a first-round pick to magically appear. NBA front offices from across the league are too smart now. My advice is to enjoy his competitive intensity and the professionalism of a veteran player as he shows the young players how to keep getting employed at the highest level.

  1. This is primarily a piece about the offensive side of the ball, but I think fans can agree that Richardon’s defensive intensity has been a pleasant treat since joining the spurs.