Nick Richards Provides Depth at Hornets’ Center Position

Following an unusual rookie season, Nick Richards took a handful of noticeable steps forward this year in offering rotational depth at the center spot for the Charlotte Hornets.

Over 50 appearances and five starts, the second-year big man averaged 3.0 points on 66.7% shooting, 1.7 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in 7.3 minutes per contest. He also shot just under 70% from the free-throw line (30-of-43; 69.8%) and scored a career-high 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 6.

Like most everything in the 2020-21 NBA campaign, Richards’ rookie year was disrupted by the tremendous uncertainty revolving around COVID-19, leading to no NBA Summer League and limited G League and practice reps. A more normal situation plus the input from two seasoned vets helped the Kentucky product find some more secure footing at the NBA level this year.

“I’ve learned a lot this season,” said Richards during exit interviews. “Just being around Mason [Plumlee] and Montrezl [Harrell], getting advice and learning the game from them, I felt like they helped put me in the best position. They’re both very professional, good at their job and have been in the league for a very long time. Whether it be on the court, off the court, certain situations where you’re getting frustrated and how to deal with it, [I asked] how they went through it when they were in my position. Just little things like that.”

Richards served as the team’s primary backup five for significant stretches earlier in the season, while Plumlee and PJ Washington dealt with various injuries and absences. However, a healthy frontcourt plus the acquisition of Harrell at the trade deadline caused his playing time to dwindle after the All-Star Break, leading to just nine such appearances.

Still though, Richards proved to be a capable center option for the Hornets, thanks to his rim-running and physicality standing out, in particular, at times. And after undergoing what was essentially a redshirt rookie season, the now 24-year-old former track and soccer star took advantage of his first full NBA campaign.

“You have to just find the little things to do to stick in the league,” he said. “They say the game is changing with the center position, but I feel like all the centers are just getting better. I think I’m doing a really good job of that and going in the right direction. Being a center isn’t just about defense – it also helps a team on the offensive end.”

Richards is under contract with the Hornets for another year and like nearly all his Charlotte teammates, has his sights set on a busy summer in the team facilities and hopefully, a larger role heading into next season. 

“I plan to be in the gym with the coaching staff, watching film, figuring out what I can do to get more playing time,” he said. “Working my butt off every single day. From now until training camp, it’s just going to be about how much I’ve gotten better. My track record shows that I’ve gotten better every single year. I’m nowhere near where I can be. Just putting one foot forward and going in the right direction towards my goals. Hopefully everything works out for me.”