Ethan J. Skolnick

Miami Heat’s Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside rewrite NBA’s rules

Josh Richardson says the basket "is big right now"

The Miami Heat rookie leads the NBA in three-point shooting since the All-Star break including making 22 of his last 30 attempts. March 21, 2016. Video by Manny Navarro.
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The Miami Heat rookie leads the NBA in three-point shooting since the All-Star break including making 22 of his last 30 attempts. March 21, 2016. Video by Manny Navarro.

This is not normal.

Josh Richardson must know this is not normal.

To repeatedly shoot 3 for 4 from three-point range, again on Monday against the Nets?

To connect on 63.5 percent from behind the arc in March, when Ray Allen, among the all-time marksmen, never shot higher than 51 percent in any of his dozen full months with the Heat?

To post an NBA-best accuracy rate of 62.3 in the 20 games since the All-Star break, after playing in only 23 games prior, when he was just a second-round rookie shuttling between Miami and wherever D-League affiliate Sioux Falls was stationed?

Unequivocally, unquestionably, undeniably not normal.

“It’s pretty normal at this point,” Richardson said, laughing. “I don’t know, I’m finding good spots. My teammates are driving, I’m relocating, and they make it easy on you.”

The Miami Heat rookie leads the NBA in three-point shooting since the All-Star break including making 22 of his last 30 attempts. March 21, 2016. Video by Manny Navarro.

This isn’t arrogance. That’s not him. His closest childhood friend, Chad Johnson — not the Ochocinco guy — calls him “go with the flow” and “cool, calm and collected,” but also “jovial” and “upbeat” and “goofy, always looking for the next joke,” with eclectic tastes, from piano to long-boarding to FIFA soccer video games to rock concerts.

“He’s always been his own individual, which is a good thing,” Johnson said.

But not arrogant. Not at all.

Nor is he nonchalant, even if his answer might seem so. Jordan McRae, his two-year University of Tennessee roommate who is currently a Cavaliers reserve, didn’t deem Richardson to be “the cleanest person,” though the Edmond, Oklahoma-raised Richardson was resourceful, creating all sorts of “struggle meals,” from pepperoni and cheese on toast or sprinkled cheese on nachos as anytime snacks or even the occasional dinner. Plus, Richardson — whose father, Micheal, is a retired firefighter and mother, Alice, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and an active ordained Baptist minister — was disciplined when necessary, not only earning a degree in psychology but also earning bigger basketball roles each season.

“When he came into college,” McRae said, “his [defensive] man sagged in the lane. So for him to develop his shooting the way that he has, he worked hard. Hard worker.”

But here’s the hard truth:

Plenty of players work hard. Plenty of second-round selections show promise.

It’s not normal for any to work like this.

So much has propelled the Heat to a 14-6 record since the All-Star break, all in Chris Bosh’s absence. Goran Dragic finding his pace, Luol Deng finding his role, Dwyane Wade (30 points Monday) finding some Father Prime form, Amar’e Stoudemire finding pride in his defensive side, Justise Winslow finding the rookie wall is made of flimsy cardboard rather than stout stone.

Still, the Heat’s rally is mostly because of its two most fantastical finds.

After all, Hassan Whiteside would be the runaway most remarkable revelation on any other roster, outcast-turned-outlier, from the YMCA to potential All-NBA. He’s also in the mix for Most Improved Player, All-Defensive Team, and even Defensive Player of the Year, with even Wade (an occasional critic) lustily endorsing his candidacy Monday.

“That’s a conversation that needs to be happening,” Wade declared.

Dwyane Wade scored 30 points and dished out nine assists in 31 minutes to lead the Miami Heat to a 110-99 win over the Brooklyn Nets on March 28, 2016.

Whiteside is not in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year; he has started too many games to qualify. If he were eligible, his numbers in that role (16.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, 62.1 field-goal percentage) would make him a shoo-in. No one has been close all season. No Sixth Man of the Year since the award’s inception in 1982-83 has averaged as many rebounds or blocks, or shot as accurately.

This history anomaly is happening even as Whiteside is “no secret” now: “Guys, they see me, they pass it out. They try to get me in foul trouble. They try all kinds of schemes. They try to put a shooting big, make me run through pick-and-rolls, all kinds of stuff.”

Yet the numbers keep growing. Whiteside credited the Heat front office for recognizing talent. The Heat coaching staff has developed it too. But talent must also decide to keep developing itself.

Whiteside said something about praise Monday that will please Heat officials. He said it shouldn’t go to stat-padders on losing teams: “When you’re putting up numbers and you’re winning, that’s when you’re actually doing something.”

Hassan Whiteside, who scored a season-high 27 points in the Miami Heat's 110-99 win against the Brooklyn Nets on March 28, 2016, shows off the 'Agent Block' slippers that teammate Dwyane Wade gifted him.

He called all of this a “blessing.”

“Especially coming from where everybody told you that you couldn’t do something,” Whiteside said. “And now they’re talking about being one of the top players in the league at the center position.”

While Richardson has been the league’s best long-range shooter, for more than a month.

“It’s crazy,” Whiteside said.

It is.

This is not normal, for three players so inexperienced — including Winslow — to contribute so much on a playoff contender. This is not normal, for someone who once struggled as a shooter, to characterize his confidence this way:

“High,” Richardson said. “I feel like if a team leaves me open, it’s going in.”

Not normal.

Richardson shrugged.

“I don’t know,” Richardson said. “It’s dope.”

Another shrug.

“It’s dope.”

For the Heat, it’s hope.

Wednesday: Heat at Lakers

When/where: 10:30 p.m., Staples Center.

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 Spanish.

Series: Lakers lead series 30-25.

Scouting report: Kobe Bryant plans to play every game until the end of the season, after missing the teams’ first meeting, in Miami. So he and Dwyane Wade will go at it one last time. The Lakers, having a historically awful season, just lost by 48 in Utah. The Heat is expecting to have Goran Dragic (illness) back in the lineup. Justise Winslow, who banged his knee late in Monday’s win against the Nets, is also expected to play.

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