Josh Richardson had an elite season as a defender for the Miami Heat, but he's still not earning the kind of recognition the franchise believes he deserves.
On Wednesday, the 24-year-old swingman was the only Heat player who received votes for the NBA's All-Defensive team. But his three first-team votes were not enough to garner him first- or second-team recognition. He placed 16th regardless of position and 10th among wing forwards or guards.
First-team honors went to Sixers forward Robert Covington (he led the league in deflections with 321), Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (New Orleans allowed 9.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court), Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (he led the league with 2.36 steals), Pelicans center Anthony Davis (led the league in blocks) and Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
Second-team honors went to Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler (1.97 steals per game), Warriors forward Draymond Green (one of four players to average 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks per game), Spurs second-year guard Dejounte Murray, Celtics big man Al Horford (Boston led the NBA in defensive rating) and Sixers center Joel Embiid.
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Richardson (6-6, 200) was disappointed by the news that he missed the cut, tweeting a shoulder shrug and face-palming emoji shortly after the All-Defensive teams were announced.
“[Being named to the All-NBA defensive team] would be awesome, but I’m not going to be bent out of shape if I don’t [get it],” Richardson said shortly before the end of the regular season. "I know how those things go sometimes.”
The Heat felt Richardson had a strong case to be considered among the league's top 10 defenders.
He led the team in deflections (216, 13th overall) and held opponents to 41.6 percent shooting on shots he defended in the regular season. That ranked fourth among noncenters who defended at least nine shots per game. Only Boston's Jaylen Brown (39.6 percent), Washington's John Wall (41.0 percent) and Philadelphia's Ben Simmons (41.5 percent) were better among wing defenders. In the playoffs, Richardson held the players he guarded to 37 percent shooting (20 of 54).
In addition to deflecting a lot balls and applying pressure on the defensive end, Richardson also led Miami in steals with 121 steals while also blocking 75 shots (second most on the team) in the regular season.
“I think unquestionably, he's an All-NBA defender,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said shortly before the end of the regular season. "I think it's a shame. I don't think his name out there. I don't think people recognize the kind of defender he is except for the teams that he plays against. I think they see it.”
“Night in, night out he's going to have three of the toughest covers in the game… and he doesn’t even blink. And that's the expectation and how he’s developed that potential. He’s become a very disciplined, dynamic defender, one that can really guard multiple positions in a totally different way. He will challenge Dwyane [Wade] as far as a shot-blocking two guard if he's able to play that many years down the line. He's going to rack up a lot of blocks. And as we call them, one-on-one kills.”
The last Heat player to earn All-Defensive team honors was center Hassan Whiteside, who was named to the second team in 2016 after leading the league in blocks.
Only six Heat players have made an All-Defensive team during the franchise’s 30 seasons: Alonzo Mourning (a two-time Defensive Player of the Year), LeBron James, P.J. Brown, Bruce Bowen, Wade and Whiteside. Mourning and James are the team’s only ever first-team selections.
“I’m not too worried about it,” Richardson said late in the regular season about potentially receiving All-Defensive recognition. “I think I’m a top 10 defender in this league. I know in my own head. It’s gone from working harder to working smarter on defense, knowing guy's tendencies, knowing what spots they like to get to and trying to keep it away from them. That’s where I’ve gotten a lot better.”