Everything that was so much fun and so good for Josh Richardson began after the All-Star break last season.
He’s hoping history repeats itself again because the first two-thirds of his sophomore season has been quite a drag.
“I’m excited to come back and make an impact,” Richardson said last Wednesday before the Heat (25-32) went into the All-Star break having won 14 of its last 16 games with the team’s 2015 second round pick playing spectator for all of it because of a strained left foot.
“I feel like I can get a lot of growth done still,” said Richardson, who has missed more games because of injuries (29) than he’s played in (28) thus far and is expected to be back on the court when the Heat resume play Friday in Atlanta. “There’s still a lot of time left... I think I’ve grown a lot, but I’d like to do a lot more on the court.”
The Heat, which will resume practice Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, initially had high hopes for Richardson (6-6, 200) and 2015 first round pick Justise Winslow heading into this season. But a season that began focused on the development of Miami’s youngest players getting valuable minutes and playing bigger, more important roles has quickly shifted to something else.
Winslow had season-ending shoulder surgery last month and Richardson, who was beginning to find his footing as he filled in for an injured Goran Dragic in late-December as the Heat’s starting point guard, has seen Dragic, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder strike a near-perfect balance in the three positions he plays – point guard, shooting guard and small forward – during his 19-game absence.
Even forward James Johnson has begun handling the basketball a lot more and the last thing Richardson said he wants to do is come in and mess with the positive chemistry the Heat has built while he’s been out.
“We have a lot of versatile guys. So I'm not exactly sure where I’ll be at,” Richardson said of how he’ll fit into the Heat’s rotation when he returns. “I’m just going to try and make an impact.”
And that’s exactly what Richardson did a year ago after the All-Star break.
He went from playing only 11.5 minutes a game in spot duty to shooting nearly 59 percent from three-point range, averaging 12 points and earning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors last March. In the playoffs, he played a valuable role as a three-point shooter and perimeter defender.
It was all supposed to lead to a stellar sophomore season. Then, just before the start of camp, he partially tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee dunking during a workout and missed eight weeks including the first four games of the regular season.
When he finally did get back on the court, a bulky brace slowed him down (he averaged 10.9 points and shot 39.4 percent from the field in his first 13 games) before an ankle injury forced him to return home from a road trip out West and cost him six more games. A banged up shooting wrist, meanwhile, has affected his shooting all season (39.4 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from three-point range).
All the while, though, Richardson said he’s tried to maintain a positive attitude and he says his teammates have helped.
“I'm good mentally,” he said. “I think the guys have done a good job of keeping me in good spirits and keeping me as part of the team. I’ve been traveling a lot with the team lately. I think it was good for me to get reincorporated with the guys everyday.
“It’s been tough just from never having to go through [injuries] before to suddenly missing so much time. But I think it’s good for me in the long run to be able to experience that, show patience and just be able to find a way to help the team out when I’m not on the court.”
Now, with Richardson set to return, it will be up to coach Erik Spoelstra to figure out the other part.