I have fond memories recapping that game because it was the one game where I saw a lot of potential in Richards. He led the team by scoring 16 points in a short amount of playing time.
It wasn't the points that were impressive, it was the way that he scored them.
Richards displayed his versatility on offense by making 3-pointers, squaring up his defender and sinking a jumper in his face, finishing in the post with a left-handed hook shot and attacking the rim with force.
Defensively, he was so quick that when he was switched onto small forwards or guards, he could match up with them relatively well.
Fast forward to Richards’ Summer League game on Sunday, in which the Spurs defeated the Atlanta Hawks 82-76, Richards once again displayed those same skills, but he also showed why he’s still a very raw prospect. Through the course of the Spurs’ five games in Vegas this week, I’m going to be analyzing Richards’ game on both sides of the ball and I’ll have a final assessment next week on whether or not I think he’s ready to play at the NBA level.
Against the Hawks, Richards didn't play in the entire first half. He was finally inserted into the game at the 7:05 mark of the third quarter.
One of the first noticeable attributes of Richards is his size. Yes he’s got the height and length at 6’11”, but his body looked very lanky, it didn't look like he had a lot of muscle compared to the rest of the players on the court. Our own Trevor Zickgraf, who was at the game, said Richards does look a little smaller in body size, but with Eric Dawson playing at 250-pounds, it made Richards look a lot thinner. Almost “Kevin Durant” thin.
One of his first plays was a turnover. As Kawhi Leonard was holding the ball at the top of the key, Richards was trying to gain position in the paint, he was called for a three-second lane violation.
A few plays later, Richards was given the ball in the post. He received the ball about 8-feet away from the basket, posted his defender two feet in, then spun around his defender quickly to attempt a left-handed hook shot. He missed the shot, but his quickness and ability to spin so fast made it clear his defender had no chance of blocking the shot.
A few plays later, Richards was trying to get position in the paint and he got called for an offensive foul for pushing his defender. Though it was another turnover, you have to like that Richards never stops moving. He’s constantly either in the paint trying to get post position, or rotating around the perimeter to attack from the top.
On the next play, he made a bad read on defense. As he was involved in a pick-and-roll, he hedged toward the guard, but left his player with too much room to cut in for an easy dunk.
A few plays later, Richards displayed his quickness on defense. He was involved in a screen-and-roll and had to defend a small forward on the perimeter. As the small forward tried to cross Richards and drive at the basket, Richards was so quick to prevent the move that the offensive player was called for a travel. Having this skill to rotate and guard any player on the floor can be a real plus for Richards as long as he continues to work on his decision making and footwork on defense.
Richards’ only two points came on a play where he set a screen, and rolled to the basket and got fouled. After Richards set the screen for Cory Joseph, Joseph quickly fed Richards the ball, Richards immediately used a hop-step to get into the paint and draw contact from two defenders.
On another play when a Spurs guard was trapped on the perimeter, Richards made his way up to the top of the key, he received the pass and shot a long 18-foot jumper, he missed the shot. It’s not that he missed the shot that’s to note, it’s that he knows how to get the ball in his hands. He’ll first go into the paint area and try to get position in the post, if that’s not working and the guards are having trouble feeding the big men, he’s lucky enough to have a perimeter game that he runs right to the 3-point line so the guard can feed him the ball. That’s a skill DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter lack, the ability to play inside and outside.
One area I noticed where he needs improvement is in his anticipations when defending the pick-and-roll. He had trouble hedging either too little or too late on several plays when he had to be involved in defending a pick-and-roll.
One of his last plays touching the ball was in the third quarter. He tried to post his defender from 15-feet outside the paint. A double-team came when he was posting, and he almost lost the ball. A teammate picked the ball up to save him from another turnover.
Richards played half of the fourth quarter before Luke Zeller and Dawson finished the game in the frontcourt. But in his five-minute fourth quarter stint, Richards displayed his ability to draw contact. He caught the ball at 18-feet above the key, similar to where Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks catches the ball, and Richards immediately started to post his defender. After throwing a few shoulder fakes and shaking his defender, he drew a foul because he was so quick to make a move and get free.
One of his last plays of the fourth quarter was a missed wide open 3-pointer before being pulled out of the game. Again it’s not the miss that’s intriguing, it’s his ability to know where to go on the floor to get open shots or points of attack.
One area he also needs to improve on is his rebounding. He either doesn't seem aggressive at trying to nab boards, or just doesn't have the physical frame to grab them from the post players with more strength. The reason I’m going to analyze each game is because if you didn't see the game, you’d think Richards did nothing by looking at his stat line.
11:07 minutes, 2 points, 0/3 shooting (0/1 3-PT), 2/2 FT, 2 rebounds, 1 foul, 2 turnovers.
Yes it doesn't look like he did much, but Richards finished the game with a +/- rating of +5. Richards is very raw, he had two early turnovers on his part, but once he got settled in, he looked more comfortable on both ends of the floor.
It’s just a one-game sample of Richards in Summer League play, but as the Spurs prepare for the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of strides or setbacks Richards has in his next game.
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