For someone who only played a quarter of the team’s games this past season, Josh Richardson made a big impression on Spurs fans. The trade deadline acquisition went from not being in the rotation to playing a key part in the late season charge that landed the team in the play-in.
Assessing what Richardson did right in San Antonio is easy, and it doesn’t take long. The bigger question evolves around whether the soon-to-be 29-year-old, who has trade value and could help contenders, should be on the team going forward.
Traits, expected role and stats
Richardson is a 6’5” veteran wing that was acquired along with Romeo Langford and a first round pick in the trade that sent Derrick White to Boston.
He was expected to provide some depth behind the younger players that saw their roles increase after the transaction.
In 21 appearances, he averaged 11.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists while playing 24.4 minutes per game and shooting 44.4% from three.
Richardson season review
Richardson was having a passable but unimpressive season with the Celtics before the trade, so it wasn’t too big of a surprise that he wasn’t immediately in the coaching staff’s plan when he arrived in San Antonio. In his first nine games with the Spurs, the veteran wing just had two appearances in which he averaged over 10 minutes while actually being in street clothes or buried in the bench for five of them. He finally cracked the rotation for good with over 30 minutes in his 10th game, when the Spurs were missing Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker IV, and he might have seen his role reduced again after it if not for an ankle injury that sidelined Doug McDermott for the rest of the season. If health had been on the Spurs’ side, Richardson would have likely languished on the bench.
Some good came from those absences, because they allowed San Antonio to figure out that Richardson was a great glue guy for the 2020/21 squad and could be either a perfect stopgap for 2022/23 or a valuable trade asset. His scoring and assists numbers were markedly better with the Spurs, despite playing fewer minutes than he did in Boston, as he was asked to provide more on offense than he had to with the more stacked Celtics. Despite having more responsibility, Richardson didn’t try to do too much and still had plenty of energy to deploy on defense, were he was disruptive and physical without being careless. His outside shooting, which had been how he made his biggest contributions to his former team, actually improved as well. All his contributions combined to turn him into a fantastic utility wing.
Season grade: A-
Richardson only suited up for 21 games for the Spurs in the regular season, but when he was out there, he was close to perfect in his role. He played well both on and off the ball on both ends, showed a willingness to adapt to a new team, and even acted as a veteran leader, if reports are correct. At the team level, the Spurs was much better when he was on the court, with only a red-hot Keldon Johnson posting better on/off splits during that stretch run, showing how valuable Richardson was. The only aspect in which he struggled was finishing at the rim, where he shot a disastrous 42 percent, but he wasn’t really asked to be a slasher, so it’s hard to punish him too heavily for that weakness.
This is where it gets interesting with Richardson. He’s entering the last year of a contract that will pay him a very reasonable $12 million, when he’ll be 29 years old. He’ll be coming off a year in which he posted the 10th best three-point shooting percentage in the league in solid volume while playing average defense at the very least.
Richardson showed that he’s the type of well-rounded player any team, including the Spurs, would love to have off the bench. In San Antonio, he could serve as insurance in case Walker walks and/or Josh Primo doesn’t seem ready for a big role next season while not representing a big long term investment. He could also help set the tone and bring leadership to a team that could be adding even more youth through the draft. If the youngsters seem ahead of schedule and make him expendable by the time the deadline comes around, he could probably fetch at least a second rounder. There is a very good case for just keeping Richardson around, penciling him in for around 20 minutes off the bench at the wing, and focusing on other spots that might need more attention.
There’s also a good case to move him in the offseason. It’s very possible his three-point shooting regresses to his pre career-year level, which would make him a significantly less seamless fit with some Spurs’ lineups. Keeping him while retaining Walker or adding another wing via the draft could create a logjam with the veteran on the outside looking in, similar to what happened with Thaddeus Young. If it’s possible to avoid that while actually getting an extra first rounder before the season starts — which apparently wasn’t possible with Young — then it might be smart to do it and avoid any potential distractions. The very deal that brought Richardson to San Antonio shows that the team is in asset acquisition mode, so keeping a 29-year-old on an expiring deal might not make sense.
As was the case with Doug McDermott, there really aren’t any wrong answers as to what to do with Richardson. If the Spurs play it safe and keep him, they could likely use him or move him later. If they aggressively shop him for another asset, it would be congruent with their current direction.
For any team looking to round out its roster, a guy like Richardson makes perfect sense. But should the Spurs, as they currently stand, be prioritizing reliability over potential? The answer to that question will inform how they deal with a quality player that might simply not fit the timeline.