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Josh Richardson is ready to return to form with the Celtics

Moving from a Luka-centric offense to Ime Udoka’s team-first scheme could provide Richardson a chance for a bounce back season.

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2021-22 Boston Celtics Media Day Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

This time in 2019, Josh Richardson was regarded as a key piece of the Philadelphia 76ers future. After an impressive 2018-19 campaign with Miami, he was the Sixers’ return for Jimmy Butler, in an attempt to recoup some value from Butler’s decision to leave for the Heat.

Two short years later, Richardson’s perceived value across the league has dwindled. A disastrous 2019-20 season for Philly led the Sixers to deal Richardson for Seth Curry to Dallas where he never truly fit alongside Luka Dončić.

Today, he finds himself in Boston after President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens fit him into the remainder of the Gordon Hayward TPE, attempting to regain footing in the league with his third team in three years.

“Everywhere is not going to be the best fit, so that’s not a knock on anybody,” Richardson said at Media Day. “Going forward, I’m excited to show everybody that this hopefully is a good fit.”

New York Knicks v Dallas Mavericks
Richardson and first team All-NBA guard Luka Doncic in Dallas. Richardson was traded for Moses Brown on July 30.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Richardson’s usage rate dropped 2% playing with Dončić, as he was forced into more of a spectator role on offense. His per game stats took a hit, too; his 10% improvement on his free throw percentage was his only major statistical growth.

“I think last year, mentally I just kind of got on a rollercoaster,” Richardson told The Athletic’s Jared Weiss. Contracting COVID-19 after just eight games in Dallas derailed his season as well, forcing him into a two-week quarantine away from his new teammates. “It’s tough. It’s a long season and there’s a lot of outside factors these last few years that have been going on, and then everybody has their own personal stuff. Going forward, I just gotta stay confident and try to be more consistent with my shots. But so far, I think I’ve been doing it.”

A ball-handling, shot-creating guard with good length and defensive chops, Richardson’s path to personal redemption is clear in Boston: play your role and win games. Richardson expressed comfort in his new teammates and coach Ime Udoka, whom he worked with in Philadelphia.

“I’ve known a few of these guys for a few years. I know how they play just from even matching up against them,” Richardson said. “I think I’ll be able to accentuate some of the other guys’ strengths and maybe play to mine, too.”

After failing to create chemistry with Joel Embiid and Luka Dončić, Richardson will now look to find a supporting role next to another rising star in the league, Jayson Tatum. “Luka is very ball-dominant, he can get his wherever, and it’s kind of ‘get in where you fit with Luka,’ because he can do whatever and it’s so tough to guard that,” he said. “Once JT gets to his spots, he’s great, it’s just about making him as successful as possible. I’m going to figure it out.”

Below Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III and Al Horford at the least, Richardson will be fighting with veterans and youngsters for minutes and a definitive role within a new system.

Richardson spent 73% of his minutes in Philly at the two guard, then 80% of his minutes in Dallas at the two as well. Slotting as more of a two than a wing (especially with Tatum and Brown on the roster), his main competition for minutes looks to be Dennis Schröder, Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard and Romeo Langford.

As CelticsBlog’s Adam Spinella detailed in his piece “How Josh Richardson Bounces Back,” Richardson has shown he’s deft and impactful coming off screens:

In 2019-20, Richardson took 50 shots off screens, going 24-50 (48%) and posting a fantastic 1.143 points per possession. A year before with the Heat, his volume off screens was quite high: 65 shots, making 44.6% of them.

Reuniting with Horford, a pick-and-pop threat and intelligent screener, could give Richardson plenty of open looks on pin downs, flare screens or short-roll screens.

As Udoka aims to improve the team’s ball movement, Richardson’s ability to come off screens and fire will put him in position to make an impact off-ball. On-ball, he’s shown a knack for shot creation, which could bolster the second unit should he come off the bench.

On defense, Richardson has been known for his versatility, possessing the length to guard 1-3. Alongside other versatile defenders in Smart, Schröder, Brown and Tatum, Richardson expressed excitement for the revamped Celtics’ defense.

“We have a lot of guys that want to guard, from Marcus, to myself, Dennis, Jaylen, Jayson, Rome, Aaron, Payton ... everybody competes,” he said. “We can pick people up 94 feet if we want to and make life difficult for opposing ball-handlers.”

In the thick of training camp right now, Richardson isn’t concerned about starting or coming off the bench.

“As long as I’m playing, I’m fine. Roles will be defined eventually, and we’ll just have to go from there,” he said in a press conference Thursday.

2021-22 Boston Celtics Media Day
Richardson in his No. 8 uniform at Celtics Media Day.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The path for personal redemption is laid out in front of Richardson. After a tumultuous two-year period, his goal closely aligns with Al Davis’ famous motto: “Just win, baby, win.” He’ll also benefit from some job security after he signed a one-year extension, tying the 28-year-old to Beantown until 2023.

“Hopefully, it goes as planned and we can bring a championship these next couple years ... I’m going to do everything I can to help us do that,” Richardson said.

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