Cementing himself within an NBA rotation for the first time in
his career, Charlotte Hornets big man Nick Richards is the only
active Jamaican player in the league.
He joins only seven others from the country to have accomplished
that, including the legendary Patrick Ewing (and his son Pat),
Jerome Jordan, Samardo Samuels, Omari Johnson, Rumeal Robinson and
He looked up to Ewing for certain, but having competed in every
sport when he was growing up, Richards idolized one of his
countrymen in particular.
“Usain Bolt,” Richards told Basketball News at last Friday
morning’s shootaround in Cleveland. “When I was younger, I played
track and field.”
A 7-foot, 245-pound behemoth of a man, Richards is taking his
opportunity to show the NBA what he’s made of and running with it —
just like his hero.
Entering last weekend, Charlotte’s backup big came in as the
league leader in Offensive Rating (137.4) on a strikingly efficient
68.2% True Shooting percentage over a career-high 19.0 minutes per
Veteran center and Hornets teammate Mason Plumlee jokingly
answered for him before Richards could respond to hearing those
numbers: I want some more minutes!
“Best vet in the world (laughs). I don't know how I feel about
that honestly. Maybe Mase is right?” a grinning Richards said,
leaning back in his chair courtside.
“It feels good to get some minutes, get some reps in. The past
couple of games, [I’ve] been getting into a good flow. Just feeling
good. I'm contributing to my team in a positive way. But honestly,
we should be able to get more wins under our belts. We should just
learn from every single game and just try to get better from every
single loss that we have so far. Just locking in on details, just
getting better at playing for 48 minutes. As [Hornets head coach
Steve Clifford] said, we don't want to play good for [just] 30
minutes and not 48.”
(Note: Richards now ranks third in Offensive Rating [134.8]
with a slight dip to 66.2% TS. He's increased his minutes average
to 19.5 per game.)
An instant-impact player with the Hornets’ second unit, Richards
has been making the most of his newfound opportunity. Over the last
two seasons, his playing time was sporadic, honing his skills with
the Greensboro Swarm in the G League as a rookie, then, observing
the guys who’ve been in front of him in the rotation with the big
“Honestly I feel like the first two years were really good, were
really more important years for me,” Richards said. “I sat back and
learned from my vets that are in front of me. Just watched them and
how they play on the floor, and just try to duplicate that.”
Richards wasted no time doing it. To start the season, he put
together two double-doubles in three games, collecting a combined
39 points and 21 rebounds as Charlotte started its campaign with a
2-1 record. Over his last two contests, he's produced 24 points and
24 rebounds in total, notching back-to-back double-doubles.
To this point, Richards is putting up 18.1 points and 12.0
rebounds per 36 minutes.
“I think [it’s] just his approach. Being consistent in this
league is hard to achieve. For him, he's really been consistent for
us. And I think as a teammate, you appreciate that, the staff
appreciates that,” Plumlee told Basketball News. "Obviously he had
the games earlier in the year where he had incredible numbers, and
I think he'll have more games like that, but just knowing what
you're gonna get every night is a sign of maturity.”
One aspect of Richards’ breakout that Plumlee enjoys is watching
him take the mantle while taking a breather.
“It makes me feel great, and for our team, it really gives us a
chance,” Plumlee explained. “What's been fun is like... our
rotation is consistent, but other teams do it differently. So to
see him match up with the starting bigs too and do his thing has
also been exciting.”
Explosiveness plays a key part in Richards’ success. He is all
over the glass to keep possessions alive, trailing only Steven
Adams with his 16.6% Offensive Rebound percentage, per Basketball-Reference. In
addition, the Kentucky alum is scoring 1.42 points per possession
on putbacks, according to InStat.
“I can get up, but I have to load a little more," Plumlee said
of Richards' athleticism. "He's quicker. He's a quicker jumper.
Some of his dunks are really impressive."
“Honestly something Coach [Clifford] has been telling me is to
try to gather myself more instead of just trying to get it up there
quicker. But I'll probably focus on that,” Richards explained.
“Instead of just going straight up, you just try to gather and try
to dunk the ball.”
Asked to elaborate why Charlotte is asking Richards to use that
gather more, Clifford said it had to do with him getting his shot
blocked too often.
"If he gets a little bit lower, he gets his eyes up, he can read
the defense better to me and still make a quick move," Clifford
said. "Or, you know what they say, 'Look up and look out.' If
everybody's here [in the paint], just touch the ball out sometimes
too. So I think that's part of his development also."
Richards’ screening and handoff abilities are helping his
teammates too. Among two-man combinations that the Hornets
employ (min. 100 minutes), he and Terry Rozier lead the pack
with a plus-20.4 Net Rating. Next is teaming up with a rejuvenated
Dennis Smith Jr. (15.2), and then, the Richards-Kelly Oubre Jr. duo
(7.2). There’s also a great rapport with LaMelo Ball, though
they’ve only played three games together so far this year.
“We have really, really good guys that play really well off the
pick-and-roll. That's really what our offense is based around,”
Richards said of freeing his teammates up for good looks. “So it's
just more about knowing your role on the team and just also playing
your game within that role."
"I think right now he's the 35th-best screener in the league,
which is important to me," Clifford said on Friday. "I think for
our team, when we get everybody back, we have three guys who have
the potential to be really good pick-and-roll players, and you need
a good screener. And he's a good screener and he's getting better.
He's improving that way. His screening on the ball and off the
As a roller, Richards is seeing some progress as well. He is
getting smarter when it comes to diving hard toward the bucket, and
has begun timing his cuts at the right moments.
"I think he locks into the things that make him play well. He
doesn't worry about the other things," Clifford added. "He runs, he
rebounds, he brings physicality, he screens, and he's gonna develop
into a good roller. And if he does those things, I think he
understands that those are important skills to have in this league.
It makes him unique."
As we approach the quarter mark of the NBA season, Nick Richards
seems to be finding his niche, and Plumlee and Clifford both
recognize that growth and potential in real time.
“I think he's having a great year,” Plumlee said. “I think he's
impacted the game every time he's in it, and he's impacted both
ends. He's getting us second-chance points, he's defending the rim,
he's running the floor hard and he's been a big boost for our
"You look at Jarrett Allen, what's he do? He runs, he sprints to
the rim, he protects the rim; he's a terrific player," Clifford
said. "And I think Nick understands that he can become as good as
he wants to be by getting good at those things. Those are skills
that a lot of guys don't appreciate."