When Josh Richardson stepped to the free-throw line for the first time Wednesday night at the Bradley Center a section of Milwaukee Bucks fans began serenading the Heat’s second-round pick with chants of “Who Are You?”
“I didn’t hear anything at the line,” Richardson said after the Heat’s 114-108 loss to the Bucks. “I just block everything out.”
Whether he’s telling the truth or not, the 6-6, 200-pound, 22-year-old rookie combo guard has done a fine job introducing himself to the NBA during the last few weeks. Since backup point guard Beno Udrih went down for the rest of the season on Feb. 22, Richardson, who spent time down in the D League, has become one of three regulars off the bench for coach Erik Spoelstra.
And Richardson has thrived. He ranks ninth among rookies in points (8.4), 10th in minutes played (24.9), shot an eye-opening 61.1 percent from three-point range (11 of 18) and averaged 2.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks.
Against Milwaukee he had a series of impressive highlights including stopping a Bucks’ 4-on-1 break that ended with a block by Richardson and a dunk by Hassan Whiteside on the other end of the court. Richardson also made three three-pointers, including one with Jarryd Bayless in his face as the Heat rallied to take the lead in the third quarter.
And, about a minute after being taunted by Bucks fans, he drove past a defender and threw down a nasty right-handed dunk on Bucks center Greg Monroe. That earned him the No. 1 play on SportsCenter.
“It was amazing,” Whiteside said of the dunk. “I was really surprised by it. I know he can jump, but the way he took off. I had the best view in the house besides Greg.”
Richardson, taken with the 40th pick in the 2015 draft after four years at Tennessee, was a player the Heat gave a first-round grade to when they were scouting him. He has begun to live up to it and could prove key down the stretch of this season for the Heat, which still doesn’t have a true backup point guard behind Goran Dragic and is waiting until the last week of the regular season to add one to avoid going over the luxury tax threshold.
But at this point what Richardson is bringing the team as the backup point guard has been invaluable. And his excellent three-point shooting of late is badly needed on a team without much of it.
“I spent way too many hours in the gym not to be shooting the ball confident,” Richardson said of his three-point shooting. “When I first came in earlier in the year I wasn’t giving a lot of consistent minutes. I wasn’t really in the flow of it. But now I think I’ve got a better grasp on it and my shot feels a lot better.”
Wade said he has seen Richardson’s growth over the last few games and is impressed.
“He’s getting more comfortable on the floor, and I think he’s more comfortable in his role,” Wade said. “Defensively man, he’s so good. His anticipation off the ball is so good. He’s aggressive going to the basket. He’s shooting the ball a lot better. We need that. He’s giving it to us.”
Said Luol Deng: “Since the start of the year I think he’s bought into working hard. He’s always early in the gym. On the off days, he’s always in gym. I told him ‘Being in this league for 12 years, this game gives you what you put in.’ Right now, he’s getting back his hard work all year.”
Wade dubbed Richardson and first-round pick Justise Winslow Rook 1 and Rook 2 in the preseason, a play on Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing from The Cat In The Heat. Last week, Richardson had a red Rook 2 shirt hanging from his locker.
He and Winslow have embraced the nicknames.
“We’re just working hard, Rook 1, Rook 2, showing up early, leaving late,” Winslow said. “It’s kind of a mentality we’ve kind of embraced.
“When Beno went down I texted him that night and told him I knew we needed him. I kind of knew he was capable of it — playing like this. The other guys were more surprised. But working out with him, getting shots up, I knew he was a capable guy. It’s nice just to see someone you’ve grown to be close with going out there and really executing and performing.”
Richardson, Winslow and Whiteside – Miami’s bench mob – have grown tight this season. They spend a lot of time together on the road playing video games (FIFA soccer). Richardson and Whiteside prefer to play older video games on systems like Nintendo-64.
Still, as close as they are, Whiteside was surprised to see Richardson’s emphatic dunk Wednesday.
“I don’t know,” Richardson said of his jam. “I dunk sometimes if I see a lane. But I’m just not out there hunting dunks. I like shooting jump shots.”