Josh Richardson has a pretty good idea where he would be right now if he wasn’t knocking down three-point shots or dunking on people for the Miami Heat.
“I’d probably still be in college — probably until I was like 30,” the 22-year-old Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for March said. “I was a kinesiology major at Tennessee. That’s the scientific study of human movement. I wanted to be a surgeon. I was working on cadavers, doing labs studying hearts and brains. I loved that stuff.”
Then Richardson paused and smiled and said, “but this is a lot better.”
Second-round picks who go down to the NBA’s Development League rarely make their way back up and into the rotation of an NBA playoff team. Richardson might be among the even smaller group who kind of shrugs his shoulders like it’s no big deal.
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He does the same when you tell him he posted the second-best three-point shooting month (.589) in NBA history last month or that Hall of Fame-bound center Shaquille O’Neal nicknamed him BRA (Baby Ray Allen) on TV last week.
All of that for Richardson “is cool,” but he says he “can’t really think about it too much.” To accept the adulation is almost to admit that he’s satisfied. His bar is always set higher, and it’s everybody else’s prerogative to be surprised with what he has accomplished thus far.
“You’ve got to understand we’ve watched him for years,” his mother, Alice, a retired lieutenant with the U.S. Air Force, former high school basketball referee and an active ordained Baptist minister said by phone.
“We’ve traveled with him all over this country watching him play. So, I guess since we have seen the progression, it’s not a complete surprise. I’m just very proud of him, of all the hard work he has put in, in order to be where he is.”
Said Josh’s father, Michael: “From the beginning we didn’t pray for him to get drafted in the first round or No. 1 or anything like that. We just prayed for the right fit, right place and the right home and we felt like he got that.”
The hard work started early for Richardson. Before he dribbled a basketball or his grandmother taught him how to play the piano, Michael, a retired firefighter who still refurbishes homes, put a hammer in his son’s young hands and put him to work.
“It was important for me to teach him that tools weren’t toys,” Michael said. “So, he helped build a storage unit when he was like 4 or 5.”
Josh said he graduated to power tools when he was about 9 or 10. Whenever his father would take on a project to refurbish a home, Josh said he would come along and help. All throughout elementary, middle and high school, Josh spent time with his father tearing out cabinets, installing floors, showers, bathrooms and new kitchens.
Now, somewhere back home in Edmond, Oklahoma, where Josh was born and raised, Alice said Josh’s 3-year-old nephew owns the same “itty-bitty” orange Home Depot apron Michael gave Josh nearly two decades ago.
“We just wanted to instill a strong work ethic in him,” Michael said of Josh. “We wanted to make sure that he had a broad understanding of many different things and was not afraid of any kind of challenge.”
That’s something that spilled over onto the basketball court for Richardson.
After moving from the wing to point guard his senior season at Tennessee, the Heat drafted Richardson with the idea he would become a combo guard. But after injuries to starting point guard Goran Dragic in January and then a season-ending injury to backup Beno Udrih in February, Richardson was thrust into point-guard duty.
At first it was a struggle. But Dragic, who has been helping Richardson adapt to playing the point, said Richardson has done a much better job since the All-Star break of setting up the Heat’s offense as his new backup. All the while, Richardson also has gained the confidence from his teammates to take the three-point shot when it’s there. Sometimes, Dwyane Wade said, the Heat trusts Richardson to make them even when he isn’t open.
“He’s not scared and that’s an important thing,” Dragic said. “Sometimes as a rookie you don’t find the game right away, but he figured that out pretty quickly. He’s just going to get much better.”
Although he’s still backing up at point guard, Richardson (6-6, 200) could end up playing the point, shooting guard or small forward down the road. Asked what position he fits best, Richardson said he sees himself simply as “a basketball player.”
One thing is for sure: His length, athleticism and defensive skills are no longer the only parts of his game attracting attention. Since since the All-Star break, he has proven to be a lethal three-point shooter (he leads the league at 58 percent among players with at least three three-point shots per game) and dangerous at the rim. Richardson said his series of highlight-reel dunks since the break are a product of better spacing than he had in college.
Asked to pick a favorite dunk Friday night, Richardson said he couldn’t. “It’s like having kids,” he said. “You can’t have favorites.”
Center Hassan Whiteside has a favorite Richardson dunk: “I think that [dunk in Milwaukee over Greg Monroe], just kind of set him off, put the confidence in his leaping ability,” said Whiteside, who has grown close to Richardson. “I told him, ‘You’re more than just a shooter. If they run you off the [three-point] line, go dunk on somebody’s face.’ Now, I can’t even talk to him directly. He’s too big-time. I’ll have to get his assistant on the phone or something.”
Next up for Richardson, Whiteside and the rest of Miami’s young group of players is their first venture into the playoffs. Richardson, who took Tennessee to the Sweet 16 as a junior, said he’s not planning on changing his approach. He’s still not going to leave the gym until he has knocked down at least 70 of his 100 three-point attempts, and he’s still going to come in to work on off days.
“I’m just going into to be as aggressive as possible,” he said, “and play like I’ve been playing all year.”
▪ The Heat is beefing up its roster with added depth for the playoffs. The team reached a partially guaranteed, three-year agreement Saturday with D-League point guard Briante Weber, who is expected to join the team before Sunday’s regular-season home finale against the Magic.
Weber, 23, will fill one of two open spots on the roster. Veteran swingman Dorell Wright, 30, could be the other.
The team was working toward formalizing a contract by Sunday with Wright, a 2004 first round pick for the Heat who played with the Portland Trail Blazers last season and spent this season playing overseas in China.
Sunday: Magic at Heat
When/where: 6 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790; WRTO 98.3 (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 60-46.
Scouting report: Orlando beat Miami for only the second time in their past 16 meetings Friday at Amway Center, 112-109. Center Nikola Vucevic and guard Evan Fournier combined to score 57 points and badly exposed the Heat’s defense on pick-and-rolls. … Miami leads the season series 2-1 and badly needs a win to keep its hopes of having home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. … Guard Victor Oladipo (concussion) is out for Orlando.