Miami Heat: The Josh Richardson Dilemma

Josh Richardson is on the verge of returning to the Miami Heat from his month-long injury, but his return creates more questions than answers for Erik Spoelstra.

It was recently reported by the Miami Herald that Josh Richardson was targeting a return to the Miami Heat team before the All-Star break. Richardson has missed the past 18 games with a muscle tissue injury and the Heat have surprisingly gone 14-4 in this time span.

Whilst Richardson’s absence probably hasn’t been a major factor in the Heat’s winning run, it is clear that upon his return, he will have to fight for a spot in the Heat rotation, and this could create a problem for Erik Spoelstra.

Over the course of the winning run, Miami have evolved from a team using a nine-man rotation into a team using a 10-man rotation.

New signing Okaro White has become the bench stretch 4 and James Johnson has been used more often as a ball handler, which eliminated the need for recently released Derrick Williams.

Before his injury, Richardson was a pivotal part of the Miami rotation, as he was averaging 31 minutes per game, starting 20 of the 28 games he played.

His role was largely increased after the injury to Dion Waiters in late November, but his production wasn’t as impressive as it probably should have been as he shot 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from three overall.

Spoelstra is now presented with a dilemma, because the Heat have shot better than 40 percent from three during their incredible spell and the players in the wing positions have all shot incredibly well.

The players currently in Richardson’s way are Rodney McGruder, Tyler Johnson, Waiters and Wayne Ellington and it is difficult to justify drastically reducing the minutes of these players.

McGruder appears to be the weakest link of these four on the surface, but he has performed admirably since he was made a starter and he has shot 39 percent from downtown during the Heat’s last 15 games.

While McGruder isn’t a terrific defender, his offensive value is higher than Josh Richardson’s because of his versatility. He was described as a “scavenger” by Goran Dragic and this style of play is a huge reason why he needs to remain a big part of the rotation.

Richardson, on the whole, is a poor shooter who has very little driving ability and this is why the Heat are six points better off per 100 possessions when he is on the bench.

He is a terrific defender as shown by the fact he only allows his opponent to shoot 39 percent from the field, but the Heat are a good defensive team whether he is on the floor or on the bench.

While I expect Spoelstra to try and get Richardson back into the rotation, the consequences of him doing this could be disastrous. The Heat have played good defense all year and it is the offense that has drastically improved in their winning run.

They have shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc and adding a player like Richardson who ranks in the 27th percentile on spot up shooting and the 30th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler, while also ranking in the bottom ten of offensive real plus-minus among shooting guards, makes very little sense.

As of now, Miami has a winning formula and teams aren’t able to handle them because of the excellent outside shooting.

Miami is a team that ranks second in drives per game and for this to be an effective strategy, you have to force defenders to bite on pump fakes and over-commit to defending the three-point shot.

The current 10-man rotation that Spoelstra is using is packed with top three-point shooters, and the defense isn’t suffering, as Miami has the third-best defensive rating over the last 15 games.

Richardson should not return to the Heat rotation if they have playoff ambitions, purely because he has the potential to be a disruption on the offensive end of the floor.

The team is firing on all cylinders at the moment,and Richardson simply doesn’t have enough offensive value to justify his inclusion in the rotation.

A potential strategy is to use Richardson situationally; he could be a useful player in periods where the Heat need to shut games down and stop other teams from getting open perimeter looks.

He is a player with the ability to play one-on-one defense against the opposition’s best player, so he could still be a useful option for Spoesltra even with his non-existent offensive game.

Spoelstra is a loyal coach who has consistently spoken highly of Richardson, but this is an issue he will have to tackle carefully. Regardless, this is a nice dilemma for Spoelstra, as his team was 11-30 just a month ago and was in the running to win the draft lottery.

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