Malachi Richardson: Humble and Hungry

“With the 22nd pick, the Charlotte Hornets select Malachi Richardson out of Syracuse,” echoed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in the 2016 NBA Draft. After shaking Silver’s hand wearing the Hornets draft cap, the then 20-year-old shooter quickly found out that he was headed to Sacramento, potentially being the missing piece of the Kings’ shooting guard puzzle.

Before Sacramento’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks Friday night, Richardson spent a couple of minutes in the locker room with Cowbell Kingdom, and he spoke about the first half of the season as an NBA player.

“Looking back at it, I never could’ve imagined how everything would go, how the season would be. I never knew it would be anything like this,” Richardson said.

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In the early stages of the season, Richardson spent a lot of time bouncing between the Kings and the Reno Bighorns. True to its name, the Kings were hopeful that the young shooter could get the reps he needed in the NBA’s Developmental League instead of riding the bench with the main roster.

“It definitely helped me a lot, getting to go down to Reno and get some games in,” Richardson said. “Those are guys who have either been in the NBA or overseas, who are just trying to get a job in the NBA. It (was) good to go out there and compete, getting to show what I can do…”

In 11 games with the Bighorns, Richardson averaged 21 points on 42 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Along with four rebounds and just under two assists a night, his confidence in his outside jumper earned him a quick call up to the main roster, where he has remained since Dec. 12, 2016.

His last game, on the 11th of December, he scored 32 points on 54 percent shooting in a loss to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

“I think it’s very over-hyped,” Richardson said when asked about the talent gap between the D-League and the NBA. “I am not saying the D-League is the NBA, but you have a lot of guys who can come and play in the NBA.”

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While he recognizes that there is nothing like the NBA, he was quick to dispute any claim against the talent in the D-League.

“You have draft picks that go down there and do what they are supposed to do, and guys who don’t get drafted who are there that should have been drafted,” Richardson said. “I don’t think there is a huge gap in between. Yeah there is no LeBron James there but there are plenty of guys that can play.”

Especially with the recent injuries to Kings guards Garrett Temple and Ty Lawson, Richardson has started to develop an every day role with Sacramento. While still playing limited minutes, Richardson has become a perimeter scoring threat that opponents are learning to respect.

His first double figures scoring game of his career came against none other than the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, where he missed all but one shot and finished the night with 12 points.

Fans are starting to get behind the exciting young scorer in bunches, hoping that he can fill the shooting guard position that has plagued the franchise for multiple seasons.

“I definitely hear (them). You can’t read too much into that stuff. With this sport and this game I have learned very quickly that one minute they can love you and the next they can hate you,” Richardson said. “If I was to go out there and have a bad game or miss a game winning shot, who knows what those same fans would be saying.”

Despite his cautiousness with the praise of fans, Richardson didn’t deny his happiness to have them in his corner.

“I am happy that I am being supported by the fans and I just want to go out and play. Hopefully I can continue to be loved by them,” the rookie said with a grin.

Head coach Dave Joerger is not afraid to mix and match his rotations on a night-to-night basis, and that inconsistency can often prove frustrating and discouraging to a young player like Richardson, but the New Jersey native has maintained a positive attitude and work ethic throughout.

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“That’s just the life (of the NBA). You have to be ready. You have to put in the time, Richardson said. “As you see with our team, anyone can get hurt and you can get thrown into the fire. You just always have to be mentally prepared and physically.”

The development of a rookie is not a journey done alone. Even coaches aren’t the most influential and necessary guides. Every rookie needs that veteran leadership in the locker room, to teach them the lessons and un-written rules of the NBA lifestyle.

While every teammate can help teach and mentor the young player, typically they all have their one veteran who takes the bulk of that responsibility. For Richardson, that veteran is fellow shooting guard Garrett Temple, who has played for six different NBA teams.

“He has been the guy, from the very beginning,” Richardson said. “He does everything right no matter what it is, on the floor and off the floor. He has definitely helped me a lot.”

Temple’s influence, and what it has meant for the young guard, was evident in Richardson’s eyes and smile while praising his mentor. He continued to emphasize the way that Temple handles himself both on and off the court as the absolute correct way to do things. There are not too many in the NBA better for the young man to learn from.

But that’s not to say that Temple, and his fellow rookies, are the only ones he consistently spends time with.

“We are a close group. We all talk. We all hang together. It is exactly how they say it is,” Richardson said. “Some guys but heads every now and then but that happens, we are around each other so much. Just like a brotherhood. We fight together and play together.”

Based off the incidents that have taken place this season alone, whether it be the night club brawl in New York or DeMarcus Cousins’ clash with the Sacramento Bee, many would, and have, assumed that the Kings’ locker room was a very tense and uncomfortable place, especially for a rookie. But Richardson was emphatic about how close the group really is, scoffing when national media articles were brought up.

There is still a long way to go for Richardson, but his upside is not something to be dismissed, like many Sacramento Kings rookies before him.

Syracuse provided the Sacramento Kings a player that, quite honestly, can be looked to as a steal in the 2016 draft three years from now. Don’t expect All-Star appearances or MVP-like numbers, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Richardson can’t be one of the better role players in the league. Not to mention, a much needed piece by a Sacramento Kings team starving for his kind of talent. Only time will tell.

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Matt George
Producer & Board Op: CBS Sports 1140 KHTK's The Drive 6am - 9am. Host of the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast.

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