A year ago, Josh Richardson and the Tennessee Volunteers prepared to welcome Vanderbilt to Knoxville.
Almost 500 miles away in Washington, the Warriors’ Stephen Curry was busy dropping 32 points on the Wizards, just another casualty of Golden State’s run to the NBA title.
Richardson has since traded his orange-and-white threads for the Heat’s red and black, and when he checked into Wednesday night’s game with 5:04 to go in the first quarter, he trotted over to guard Curry, league’s reigning MVP.
“I had an idea,” said Richardson when asked if he could have imagined the situation last February. “By the end of the year, I figured I would have a good chance to play here.”
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Richardson did more than simply show up during the Heat’s 118-112 loss to the Warriors. The 6-6, 200-pound rookie point guard displayed flashes of potential as he switched between Curry and Klay Thompson for much of the evening. Whether he was picking up Curry 90 feet from the basket or wrestling a ball away from Thompson in the lane, Richardson said he did his best to make the NBA’s best backcourt uncomfortable. Although Curry finished with 42 points, he needed 29 shots to get there.
That’s not to say Richardson didn’t receive his fair share of learning moments. Curry buried a three in the first quarter when Richardson ran under a screen, and Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston both jetted by Richardson in the lane in the fourth quarter.
He also got a taste of what Dwyane Wade called Curry’s “unlimited range.” As time ran down in the first quarter, Curry sank a 40-footer over Richardson’s outstretched arm.
“Man, I don’t even call that three in the first quarter a bad moment,” Richardson said. “That’s a Steph moment. There’s nobody else that can make that as consistently as he does.”
The 2015 second-round draft pick fared better later in the game when he forced Curry into a turnover with the clock running down in the third quarter.
Man, I don’t even call that three in the first quarter a bad moment. That’s a Steph moment. There’s nobody else that can make that as consistently as he does.
Josh Richardson, on Steph Curry’s 40-foot three-pointer
Richardson, who said he could guard the one-to-three spots and fours on switches, also made himself heard on offense. He scored 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting and knocked down all three of his three-point attempts. Though he didn’t record an assist, Richardson turned the ball over just once and took several players — including Curry — off the drive.
“He’s scrappy,” Curry said. “He made some big shots for them on the [offensive] end. I know with their injuries he’s going to have to play a lot of good minutes for them. I’m sure he’s capable of going out there and making an impact. He’s in the league for a reason.”
Because of previous moves, Miami has few draft picks remaining for the foreseeable future. Barring any trades, Richardson and Justise Winslow will be the young building blocks around which the Heat builds. There’s certainly precedence for development. Former Heat point guard Mario Chalmers, who was a key piece of Miami’s two championship teams, was drafted by Minnesota in the second round of the 2008 draft before his rights were traded to Miami.
With Beno Udrih out for the season, Richardson will get his chances. His minutes have increased, and he said Wednesday’s challenge taught him the intensity he needs every night.
“[Richardson] fits our personality, our DNA and this is something obviously that we can build on,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Who knows what another season might bring.