Hornets Player Grades: Nick Richards

How did the Jamaican's fourth year in the NBA shape out?
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Only the 6th player of Jamaican nationality to be drafted into the NBA, the 26-year-old followed in the footsteps of none other than Kingston-born Knicks-Legend Patrick Ewing, amongst others. Richards’ first year only saw him getting some garbage time play, seemingly losing ground on his draft class peer Vernon Carey Jr. who played considerably more minutes. Flash forward to the 2022-23 season and he had not only outlasted Carey in Charlotte but also played a consistent role in Steve Clifford’s rotation for the first time.

What was supposed to be a second consecutive year at the backup center spot for Nick Richards quickly turned into something completely different. As number one option Mark Williams sustained a serious back injury in the early stages of the season, Richards had to fill in for him and play by far the biggest role of his relatively young career, starting in 51 games while playing an average of 26.3 minutes. As Williams is likely to retake his spot in the rotation after completing his recovery process, how was his Standin able to perform in the 2023-24 season?

Glass Half Full

“Big Nick”, as Hornets fans nicknamed the 7-footer, was a dominant presence on offense. He improved on his already good efficiency, despite having to take on a considerably larger load in comparison to previous years. Amongst all NBA players who took at least five field goal attempts per game, Richards ranked third in field goal percentage, converting 69.1% of his shot attempts.

Dunks are the Jamaicans' bread and butter, but he managed to add to his repertoire, making 59.2% of his 49 hook shots, after only hitting 23.3% of his 30 tries last season. Playing large parts of the season without a true point guard, Richards also profited massively from Charlotte’s trade deadline acquisitions. Besides Miles Bridges, the players who assisted the big man the most were Tre Mann, Vasilije Micic, and LaMelo Ball. Neither of those played more than thirty games in a Hornets uniform in the past year, so it should make life on offense for Nick even easier if he gets to share the court more consistently with any of them next year.

Glass Half Empty

As reliable of a finisher as Richards was, that is pretty much all there was to his offensive game. If not for his solid free-throw percentage of 73.7%, he would fit the description of a stereotypical big man – He rarely leaves the restricted area, where he shoots 75.9%. When he does, his great efficiency leaves with him, plummeting to 45.7%.

His offensive deficiencies were also visible through an Assist to Turnover Ratio of 0.74, meaning he commits considerably more turnovers than he makes assists. Demanding offensive fireworks from a center who was supposed to come off the bench is unfair, but there is still room for some very realistic improvement, nonetheless.

The same goes for the defensive side of the court, where the Kentucky product struggled guarding some of the best bigs in the league. According to the NBA, players who were primarily defended by him shot just about 50%, which ranks close to the bottom amongst players with 40+ games played. On top of that, only three of the 21 players who attempted 10 or more shots against him had a shooting percentage below 50. These stats should generally be taken with a grain of salt, but it was pretty obvious that Richards was not cut out for some of the matchups he had to face as a starter.

Best Moment of the season

26 points on 10-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks vs the Jazz

Despite the Hornets falling short of a comeback, the former McDonalds All-American put on a show, swatting shot after shot on the defensive end and finishing with career-highs in points and field goal makes.

Worst moment of the season

Postered by James Wiseman in Loss to Detroit

What’s worse than getting dunked on by one of the biggest draft disappointments in recent years? It happening in a blowout loss to the worst team in the association. And what’s worse than that? Losing the season series against said team by sweep, handing them three of their total 14 wins on the year.

Overall Player Grade: B-

If anything, this year showed exactly what can be expected of Nick Richards in the future. He is not a starting-caliber center, but he managed to handle the sudden role change relatively well, staying true to his strengths. Despite some weaknesses to his game, the Hornets should be comfortable going into next season with him as the second string big. It is also important to remember that he was chosen with the 42nd pick in his draft class – making his development since then even more remarkable.

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Albert Bottcher