Last night’s clash against the Oklahoma City Thunder marked the newly-acquired Josh Richardson’s first official game in uniform for the New Orleans Pelicans. So, how did he do? To find out, we took a deeper dive into the tape.
Richardson didn’t start the game, coming off the bench after a little over four minutes had passed in the first quarter of play. After verifying his substitution with the scorers’ table, Richardson sprung into action, determined to make his presence felt immediately.
On his first possession, he commandeered a dance with All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He started the sequence right in Gilgeous-Alexander’s grill, mirroring perfectly each and every one of his movements. Eventually, he took his foot off the gas, letting the Canadian creator get past him on a drive. But alas, this lapse was a mere ruse, as Richardson used his rearview pursuit angle to secure his first block as a Pelican.
This encounter set the stage for two common themes on the night. One, Richardson harassing and stonewalling Gilgeous-Alexander at every possible opportunity. According to NBA.com matchup data, Gilgeous-Alexander was 1 for 3 on shots where he was guarded by Richardson, even conceding a turnover on one of his rim rushes late in the third quarter.
And that play ties directly into theme number two: which is that Richardson was a defensive playmaking machine last night. In total, he collected a whopping six deflections, five steals, and two blocks (per NBA.com).
Having a perimeter defender who can create this kind of havoc is an absolute necessity for any team that wishes to exist in the top-10 in defense without great rim protecting big men (Pelicans are 23rd in blocks per 100 possessions).
Offensively, the facet many people believed he’d assist the Pelicans with the most was MIA yesterday. A big selling point in the Richardson deal was his ability to bolster the team’s marksmanship (he’s a career 36.4% shooter on 4.4 attempts per game). But unfortunately, his trusty three-point jumper failed him yesterday, accounting for all four of his missed shots.
With that said, diligent observers know that Richardson’s offensive game is about more than just his shooting. His time spent trying to compensate for the lowly San Antonio Spurs’ lack of on-ball creation turned him into a prolific mid-range shooter (89 percentile per Dunks & Threes) and credible pick-and-roll ballhandler.
His growth in these areas was put to the test early in the fourth quarter. The feisty Thunder had scrapped and clawed their way back into the game, leaving the Pelicans desperately clinging to a three-point lead entering the final stanza.
Just like the Spurs had multiple times before, the Pelicans leaned on Richardson to steady the team, calling his number on two pick-and-roll sequences with Jonas Valanciunas to start the frame. And just as he did many times before in San Antonio, he delivered.
His pair of buckets pushed the lead from three to seven. But he wasn’t done yet. In fact, what followed immediately after was undoubtably his most important sequence of the game.
At his core, Richardson is a two-way player. The kind who uses his defense to fuel his offense. So it only makes sense that his grand finale was pick-six that killed the Thunder’s momentum once and for all.
The Thunder would decrease the deficit again as the quarter progressed, but that six-point surge by Richardson sent the message that he wasn’t going to surrender the league. Not tonight. Not in his Pelican debut. The Pelicans escaped their road matchup with a 103-100 win, largely thanks to Richardson’s contributions.
Overall, Richardson finished the game with a stat line of ten points, five steals, three assists, two rebounds, and two blocks, shooting 4 for 8 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the charity stripe. An A performance, given his projected role on the team.
With this in mind, even with Richardson’s skill, it is impossible to expect a player’s A game every night. But if he can manage to be even 80 percent of what he was tonight on a regular basis, the trade that brought him here has a strong case to be the biggest steal of the deadline.