Michael Jordan can have as much credit as possible when it comes to his track record as a basketball player. The same, however, cannot be said of his history as an executive.
His draft picks of Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison at the first slot in 2001 and the third in 2006 are just two standouts of a long trail of ineptitude that is renowned to the point that it need not be recounted here. Long story short, His Airness generally isn't likely to be getting much love in this space for his abilities from the suites.
But in light of a certain someone's 42-point effort last night against the Warriors, the time has come to at least give MJ more credit than some of us (read: I) gave him for one move in particular. Jason Richardson can really play.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
Brief refresher: Back on draft night in June, Jordan drafted 6-foot-9 North Carolina string-bean forward Brandan Wright and immediately moved him to Golden State for veteran swingman Jason Richardson. At the time, I was less than enamored with the move, going so far as to reflexively call the trade MJ's "dumbest move of all."
At the time, it apparently didn't register that Wright had long been maligned for his lack of bulk (he weighs just 205 pounds) and what was presumed to be a softness in the post, as well as the fact that he refused to work out for several of the teams with high lottery picks in the draft. What mattered was that he was simply a young big man with loads of potential and that, in principle, it is always worth being careful of mortgaging a talented big man for a swingman, as scoring guards and small forwards come are more attainable commodities than quality bigs.
Generally speaking, that principle still stands. Brandan Wright could certainly turn out to be a great NBA player who makes the words I once wrote appear wiser than they do now. But that possibility is all based on potential right now, and with Wright, one has to wonder just how great that possibility for actualization of that potential is at this point.
What isn't so uncertain is what Jason Richardson most certainly can do.
When Michael Jordan acquired Richardson from Golden State, he didn't just bring in a guard who liked to throw down in dunk contests. He brought in a six-year-veteran to his young team. That this veteran happened to have seen both the worst of times basketball-wise and more recently the beauty of a miraculous playoff run in Golden State only made him more appealing. This veteran was a player who was known to play hard every night and was reasonably expected to be a positive locker room influence for his teammates.
The fact that he was just 27 years old and a player with a history of scoring over 18 points and grabbing 5 rebounds per game for his career as a 6-foot-6 two-guard helped the trade make more sense than it was given credit for from a basketball standpoint, especially for a Bobcats team that had been short on scoring depth.
That he was heading into the prime of his career made thinking that the best might be yet to come a reasonable expectation.
And Richardson's performance this season has vindicated those who harbored that expectation.
Sure, J-Rich is a bigger part of the offense in Charlotte than he was in Golden State, but he is also playing on a team that hangs in the middle of the pack with regard to pace, as opposed to the frenetic style espoused by Don Nelson in Golden State. Yet Richardson is scoring with nearly as much regularity and more efficiency than ever before.
As bad as the 'Cats are, Richardson is assuredly not the man at fault. He is scoring 20.5 points per game, good for the third highest output of his career, and he is doing it on two field-goal attempts per game less than he did in those seasons. Never one for great field-goal percentages, Richardson is shooting a mere 43.3 percent from the field, but he is also hitting with an incredible 41.3 percent accuracy from behind the arc, easily the best in his career. This, along with his highest free throw percentage in five seasons (73.9) has helped push Richardson's true shooting percentage to 54.3 percent, another figure that is the best of his career.
Richardson continues to drive to the rim with the abandon that he did in his Golden State days, but he is also setting up to shoot the three-pointer with more regularity than ever (6.9 times per game, in fact) and is shooting it with high efficacy. He isn't scared of anybody in the lane but also loves to use his quickness to set himself up for step-backs and pull-up jumpers, both from mid-range and behind the arc. Though his rebounding figures are down, his 5.1 boards per game are still a solid figure for a guard, and the fact that he contributes 3 assists and less than 2 turnovers per game from the off-guard spot doesn't hurt either.
Despite playing on a Bobcats team that didn't take long to identify itself as unimpressive, Richardson has only stepped up his game since the turn of the calendar. After a rough first couple of months, Richardson averaged 22.5 and 20.8 points per game in January and February respectively. The Bobcats have started out March with three straight wins, and it should come as no surprise that Richardson has put up efforts of 30, 25 and 42 points in those games. That last performance seemed to come as a message to the Warriors -- the team that had the audacity to J-Rich up for Brandan Wright and all his untapped potential. Richardson shot 15-for-32 from the field, 5-for-12 from three and 7-for-7 from the foul line to put in his 42 while grabbing 7 boards as well in leading the 'Cats to a comeback from an early double-digit deficit at home.
Meanwhile, Brandan Wright remains less than three quarters of the way through his first NBA season, and there is plenty of time for him to realize all the potential he has. As such, we'll pass on completely reversing field on the Richardson-Wright trade until more time has passed.
But given what Jason Richardson has meant in Charlotte this season as a leader and player, it is clear that the deal wasn't as foolish as I was once dopey enough to presume it was.