Analyzing Malachi Richardson’s long-term outlook in Sacramento

Malachi Richardson entered the 2016 draft after a laudable NCAA Tournament run in which he led a 10th-seeded Syracuse team all the way to the Final Four. He was one of the more unexpected breakout freshmen that season, and rode his hot hand all the way to the 22nd pick.

Now kicking off just his second season in Sacramento, Richardson has hit some early road bumps. Injuries have affected his development, and he’s now starting the 2017–18 campaign as one of the last players in the Kings’ perimeter depth chart.

A strong showing from Bogdan Bogdanovic has launched him into the starting group, while Justin Jackson, Buddy Hield and Garrett Temple all figure to out-pace Richardson in terms of minutes.

Once somebody who entered the draft earlier than expected, Richardson is now struggling to find his niche in the ever-changing NBA landscape.

There was always a lot to like about Richardson. Albeit not that explosive, he’s 6–foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan — something that gives him inherent potential on the defensive end.

He was also a noted shot-maker at Syracuse, showing a lot of craft off the bounce while emerging as one of college basketball’s more formidable options in isolation.

Somebody who can enter the game and get buckets like that always has a spot. Even though his shooting was streaky, good form and a clear knack for hitting difficult shots is enough to leave some hope — which, when combined with his defense — makes it far too early to count out success at the NBA level.

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The question now boils down to whether or not that success comes in Sacramento. The Kings are making it a point of emphasis to get their young talent on the court this season, yet Richardson has only played in six games while tallying 12.8 minutes per game.

A 45.5 percent clip from deep on 1.8 attempts per game is a promising start in that respect, but the limited sample size means it’s risky to put too much stock in that number.

That’s especially true when you consider his 28.6 percent mark last season.

To make matters worse for Richardson, his name was tied to several rumors about a potential Mario Hezonja trade.

Albeit a former top five pick, Hezonja recently had his option declined by the Orlando Magic after those trade talks fell through. That likely means Richardson’s stock is getting low in the Kings’ front office.

There’s a very real chance that Richardson, like so many other outcast first rounder’s around the league, simply won’t get an opportunity with the team he’s currently on. We’ve seen a similar trend with the aforementioned Hezonja, as well as players like Jahlil Okafor in Philadelphia.

Richardson could very well benefit from a change of scenery, as a new system and new guys around him could help revitalize a career that seems to be stagnating.

Until then, however, it’s our job to decipher his role and potential with the Kings. If he reaches his ceiling, there’s still room for him to crack a rather flimsy rotation — which could be the case with a few key improvements.

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Richardson’s best shot at a real rotational spot is defense. His length obviously gives him the potential to guard three or four positions, but upping his energy and focusing on becoming an impact player on that end could force Dave Joerger — who has preached defensive hustle already — to reconsider his current setup.

Even with offensive flaws, defense is something that can give any player a role. In general, you’re more playable with elite defense and flawed offense than you are with a high scoring clip and a revolving door defensively.

Richardson also needs to make a concerted effort to up his efficiency on a nightly basis. He won’t be the go-to bell cow he was with ‘Cuse, and that means his biggest (and most needed) adjustment could be settling into a more defined offensive role.

If he can knock down perimeter shots consistently above the league-average mark, that could persuade Joerger to give him more time.

Richardson hasn’t found his groove as the spark-plug many expected, but that may not be his best role at the NBA level. Rather than a volume scorer, perhaps molding himself into that 3-and-D archetype that so many teams crave is the best path towards success for the 21-year-old.

He’s only 28 games into his career, so it’s too early for definitive statements, but his leash is running a bit short in Sacramento. He’ll need to show out soon, or a change of scenery may be what’s best for his future.

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Christopher Kline
Special Contributor to Cowbell Kingdom. You can follow the rest of his work on The Sixer Sense and 16 Wins A Ring.

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