If the first step in solving a problem is identifying the issue, consider Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson well past that.
Two of the Heat’s most important young players, in whom the franchise has invested $92 million worth of contracts over the last two summers, are well aware they’re off to horrific starts offensively.
Richardson, the team’s starting small forward, is shooting 37.8 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from three-point range, and Johnson, last year’s leading scorer off the bench, is making 34.5 percent of his shots and 29.9 percent from beyond the arc entering Wednesday’s game against the streaking Celtics.
Even more important than being aware, Richardson, Johnson and coach Erik Spoelstra believe they know ways to fix it.
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Richardson, 24, started on his path in Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Pacers, going a combined 6 of 8 from the field in the paint and restricted area, two places he’s taken a smaller percentage of shots thus far than he did a year ago. That, he promises, will change.
“All we want from [Richardson] is to be aggressive, not just be a spot-up guy,” Spoelstra said. “And he’ll continue to get better with that. Now, his shooting, I think that will change and improve no matter what. Our shooters, we want them having a green light. He’ll continue to have that neon green light. But it always helps you when you get a couple easy ones and he got some layups. He got some drives, he got some random opportunities just by being aggressive before the catch [on Sunday].”
Johnson, meanwhile, will require a little more help from Spoelstra, who has to find a way to get the ball in his hands more often — especially in pick-and-roll situations that Johnson thrived in last season with James Johnson.
The two entered Wednesday’s game a combined minus-40 in the 16.4 minutes they’ve averaged on the floor together this season. Last season, the Johnsons were plus-45 in the 21.5 minutes they averaged together.
“I feel like I’ve got to find ways to get myself in rhythm as opposed to just kind of being in a corner and waiting for other people to kind of get me going,” said Johnson, who is averaging nearly 18 fewer touches per game than he did last season and whose scoring average is down from 13.7 points per game to 9.7 this season.
“Last year I didn’t even realize how much more I was handling the ball in pick and rolls,” he continued. “Even if I wasn’t getting a shot, I was getting the ball in my hand and getting in rhythm. So that way when I came off [a pick] the next time, I knew what I was doing. It wasn’t so new.
“[This season] I’ve kind of for whatever reason found myself drifting to kind of the corner instead of being aggressive. Not only aggressive for myself, but aggressive to get other guys open. I didn’t realize how much I was doing that. Also, a lot of people were out [with injuries] last year at different times. So, it was more mandated [that I had the ball in my hand] than it has been this year. I mean it’s just a new year, new challenge. I can’t dwell too much on the shooting. I feel like eventually it’s going to come.”
Spoelstra, though, believes he can help Johnson.
“Obviously we need to get him in better rhythm,” he said. “I need to get him in places where he can be comfortable and aggressive. And his decision making also has to be better. So, there a lot of different factors. He’ll be fine.”
Richardson, who came off the bench last season and didn’t move into the starting lineup until Rodney McGruder had knee surgery just before the start of the season, said Spoelstra told him last week he’s been settling too much for jumpers and needed “to take advantage of closeouts and screens and start getting to the bucket a little bit.”
Sunday was the first time Richardson said he made a concerted effort to do that.
“I just kind of found myself [playing passive] because that’s the type of person I am,” said Richardson, who is averaging 9.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 33.2 minutes per game. “I don’t know, I care about the team more than myself sometimes. But me getting going is for the team and I have to keep that in my head.”
As for his three-point struggles, Richardson, who led the NBA in three-point percentage the second half of his rookie season, said he feels like he’s just missed shots that have been open. It’s the same for Johnson.
The stats back it up. Only six of Richardson’s 81 three-point shots have not been classified by the league as open or very open. He’s converted only 29.3 percent of those. Johnson, meanwhile, has only had two of his 66 three-pointers contested. He’s shot 31.5 percent on the open ones.
“They’ve been good looks,” Richardson said. “Some of them have been tough. But it’s basketball. That’s what it is. No shots are going to come super easy. I’ve just got to start making them.”