During the 2015 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat were fortunate enough to draft a player out of a well-established program, a rookie who might be able to steadily contribute as he adjusts to a position change, using his elite athleticism to gain an advantage. He was raw on offense but considered a defensive stalwart. The Heat had anticipated that he'd be selected higher and were surprised to find him still available when it was to time to choose a player that they expected to be a long-term factor.
Of course, I'm referring to Josh Richardson, the team's second-round pick this past June.
The irony is that the description applies to their other draft selection, Justise Winslow, who somehow slid to 10th-overall despite his obvious talents. Richardson, although not quite as coveted, was still a draft day steal by his own right. Largely an unknown in South Florida, the team seemed to know exactly what they were getting in the 6-6 swingman.
While many expected him to have to challenge for a roster spot (especially given Miami's propensity to build around veteran players instead of unknown rookies), the team made the unprecedented move of selling Richardson jerseys shortly after the draft.
He showed flashes in the preseason, earning raves from his more experienced teammates as well as the coaching staff that recognized a tireless work ethic. But all the potential in the world doesn't mean anything without a chance to shine and there was undoubtedly an adjustment period for the first-year player out of Tennessee. He was an inactive for 11 of the team's first 16 games, playing spot minutes at the end of games but hardly making a tangible difference. All the while, Richardson would gain experience with the team's D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, in the hope of continuing to develop consistency, for both this season and beyond.
Then, following the All-Star break, Richardson would get his chance. Following the season-ending injuries for Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih, "J-Rich" would get an opportunity to play backup minutes and has played in each of Miami's last 10 games. He played a season-high 35 minutes in a Feb. 20 win over the Wizards and would chip in a career-high 15 points on Feb. 24 in a highly competitive game versus the Warriors. Though his production has still been inconsistent, he showed that he won't shy away from the team's biggest moments, knocking down clutch shots against one of the best defenses in the league.
Richardson clearly has work to do. His ball-handling is an issue at this stage and his overall shooting needs work (at just 37.6 percent). But he seems to possess the intangibles that generally lead to sustained greatness. There's a constant effort, a willingness to sacrifice himself, a leave-it-all-on-the-floor level of play that bodes well.
He may not be the team's best option at point guard but he fits a versatile mold that can play a number of positions. In an era that sees an increased willingness to embrace "position-less" basketball, Richardson's future seems bright.