Nick Richards Showcases Rim Protection, Two-Way Potential Throughout Rookie Season

by Sam Perley

One of two first-year centers on the Hornets roster this season, Nick Richards might not initially have had much opportunity in Charlotte, but he certainly showed significant promise and intrigue when given heavy minutes down in Orlando’s G League Bubble.

Taken by the New Orleans Pelicans with the 42nd overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and then traded to the Hornets in exchange for a 2024 second-round selection, Richards played quite sparingly at the NBA level this season. Over 18 appearances as the team’s fifth-string center, he averaged 0.8 points on 44.4% shooting and 0.6 rebounds in 3.5 minutes per game.

But when given the opportunity to play extended minutes in the G League, Richards shined and emerged from Orlando as one of the Bubble’s most productive big men. He put up 17.0 points on 52% shooting (7-of-14 from three), 10.3 rebounds and a G League-leading 3.0 blocks in nine outings with the Greensboro Swarm, five of which were starts.

“I feel like we adjusted to it pretty well on the fly,” said Richards, when asked about the NBA rookies’ unconventional first season. “Starting off, it was a little difficult. We were expecting all of this during the draft process and it took us months to actually get to the draft. Honestly, we tried to figure it out on the fly and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”

“On both sides of the ball, I just need to be more consistent,” he added. “Defense and offense, understanding the entirety of [Coach Borrego’s] system. Learning from the veterans this season – Cody and Biz – was very helpful for me, Vernon and the other guys. I feel like we’re just going to get better from here.”

Through no fault of his own, there just wasn’t any meaningful available playing time for Richards this season at the five spot behind Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, PJ Washington and fellow rookie Vernon Carey Jr. His skillset – particularly on the rebounding and rim protection fronts – is attractive though as Richards also flashed the ability to shoot from distance while in the G League after not attempting a single three-pointer in three seasons at Kentucky.

“I think it’s too early to figure out,” he said on his future role within the rotation. “Our job as players is to go into the offseason, get better and see what we can do to push ourselves to the limits. The coaching staff will do its job, figure out how to move the pieces around and make the players fit into their spots.”

With Zeller and Biyombo both hitting unrestricted free agency this summer and a more predictable structured offseason program underway, the opportunity is certainly there for the taking for the 23-year-old Jamaican native.

“Next season, I think we’re going to be a really good team. I just want to get better with my overall skillset. Since we’re having a more regular offseason, I think everyone can get adjusted a little bit better. We’re going to get a schedule for when we can get in the gym. I feel like this summer is going to be exciting for all of us. We’re all going to get better and see what we can do.”

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