Whenever we approach the trade deadline, one or two Boston Celtics players find their names linked to a new team almost every day. In recent years, Marcus Smart has fallen victim to the media circus, usually due to his defensive impact and low-cost contract, and while he’s still being floated in a ton of rumors this year, he’s not the first name on everybody's lips.
To begin the month of February, Kevin O’Connor noted how Josh Richardson had been receiving admiring glances from the Utah Jazz on the Bill Simmons podcast, primarily due to his defensive upside and secondary ball-handling. The following day, Jared Weiss reported that Richardson had been part of a failed trade proposal on behalf of the Celtics, as the team attempted to acquire sharpshooter Malik Beasley.
Whenever a player's name is floated around in this manner, their performances can go one of two ways. Either the player will struggle for confidence, or they will be boosted by the interest and find a new swagger in their step. Richardson seems to have fallen into the latter category, as against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, he provided Boston with a stellar performance off the bench.
“When I was catching it, I was just taking my shot, I saw a couple go in. Once I see a couple go in, I’m like ‘Ok. it’s about to be a long night for somebody,’ so, my teammates did a good job of moving the ball and finding the open guy. And guys were just knocking shots down.” Josh Richardson said after single-handedly outscoring the Charlotte Hornets bench 23-19.
A common gripe amongst Celtics fans this season has been the lack of bench shooting available to Ime Udoka. Richardson, who went 6-of-8 from deep against the Hornets, somewhat strengthened those calls for additional shooting to be added to Boston’s roster. Or maybe, the 6’5’’ wing was showing that he can help fill that role if he remains on the team beyond February 10. Of course, there’s also the chance that Richardson got hot from deep and Boston rode the hot hand.
Whatever his motivations, the Celtics needed one of their bench contributors to step up against an offensively charged Hornets team that turn every contest into a slug-fest. And with Udoka sticking to an eight-man rotation, Richardson answered the call.
“It’s not planned, we went with eight because Josh and Grant (Williams) played extremely well in their stretch in the first quarter. A lot of times we’ll monitor how that first quarter's going, and possibly switch Payton, Romeo, or Aaron in the second quarter. But those guys were rolling so well that we extended their minutes. And then Jayson and Jaylen’s rotation remained the same. So, we shortened it due to them playing well,” Udoka told Mark Murphy during the team's post-game press conference.
The most encouraging part of Richardson’s shooting night was how his shots came from different areas of the floor, and with passes hitting him at different angles, which indicated Richardson was in rhythm. Another interesting aspect was how the veteran made use of his teammates scoring gravity to manufacture open shooting pockets on the perimeter.
After almost three full quarters of play, it was clear the Hornets were loading up the paint to limit Tatum’s effectiveness on the drive. So, by setting an inverted screen for Tatum (smaller player screening for the bigger player) Richardson is able to create some confusion between Charlotte’s defenders. LaMelo Ball continues to guard Tatum man-to-man, but Miles Bridges anticipates a Tatum drive and sags onto the mid-post to offer help should Ball get beat off the dribble.
However, Bridges’ decision to limit Tatum’s impact leaves Richardson wide open as he pops back onto the perimeter. Richardson now has the time, and space to enter his shooting motion while Bridges scrambles to contest the shot.
Another example of Richardson utilizing his teammate's gravity and/or tendencies is how he relocated once the Hornets reacted to Robert Williams receiving the ball in the short mid-range area. With no post-game to his name, the Louisiana native has become incredibly effective at operating a fulcrum when getting the ball into second-side actions.
At the start of the possession, you can see Richardson begin to set a back-screen to allow Grant Williams to sink into the corner, yet no contact is needed, as both weak side defenders jump onto Williams to remove the swing pass into the corner. While the action is unfolding, Richardson is taking advantage of the increased attention Williams is receiving and ghosts out to the perimeter. Once the rock eventually finds the veteran wing, it’s another easy three for the Celtics.
Richardson, a career 36.2% three-point shooter, may not be a pure scorer like many want to see coming off the bench, but it’s been evident for some time now that the Oklahoma native is a valuable member of the team's rotation. When Tatum and/or Brown go to the bench, Richardson can take on some of their ball-handling duties and has been a valuable offensive outlet throughout the year.
But, with the Celtics wanting to get under the luxury tax, and Richardson having an additional year on his contract, it makes sense that the Celtics would be shopping him to any interested parties. After all, performances like the one against the Hornets show how valuable a multi-skilled wing can be off the bench, especially one shooting 41% from three, 43% from mid-range, and 65% at the rim.
However, if Richardson remains on the Celtics roster beyond the trade deadline, there’s no doubt we see more of these performances between now and the end of the season.