The Dallas Mavericks had cap space on their mind this offseason. A trade for Josh Richardson cleared 2021 space and improved their team for 2020/21 despite sending an all-time great shooter to the Sixers.
Philly’s side of the deal has been praised. This is the rare trade that works for both teams. Richardson arrives in Dallas on the back of a difficult season with the Sixers. His win shares per 48 were the worst of his career, and he had a 0.1 VORP – again, the worst of his career. His assist rate dropped from his final year in Miami, too. All of these numbers are not a reflection of a player in decline (Richardson just turned 27), but of a team in disarray, an offense that didn’t fit and Richardson being thrown into an ill-fitting role.
He’s a good-not-great shooter. The Sixers need better than that next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. He’s a useful secondary ball handler. The Sixers often asked more when Simmons was injured or ineffective. For the Mavericks, Richardson will get more catch-and-shoot opportunities. He will have to handle the ball less.
The 2017/18 season was Richardson’s best year to date. He shot almost 38% from deep. In the two following years, he’s seen his usage rate increase, and a lower percentage of his three-point attempts have been assisted. Over 95% of his three-point shots were assisted in 2017/18.
Luka Doncic was second in the league to Giannis Antetokounmpo in usage rate. Only LeBron James had a better assist rate than the Slovenian phenom. Richardson will slot in alongside Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr., who enjoyed the most efficient season of his career in 2019/20. Doncic is a one-man offence. He, like LeBron, makes players around him better. Richardson’s shot quality will increase, and he will have less ball handling responsibility.
Doncic was second in the NBA in touches per game. He will run the offence, but his threat as a shooter off-the-dribble is important, too. Richardson had a lot of defensive attention last season, frequently being the second-best shooter on the floor for Philly. There will be occasions where he’s Dallas’ worst shooter in 2020/21.
Richardson can do a bit of useful playmaking. He had 7.4 potential assists per game in his final season with the Heat. There’s a decent fit for Richardson on offence, and reason to believe he will have a better season than he did with the Sixers, but it’s the defence that really matters.
Rick Carlisle masterminded the most efficient offence in NBA history – the defence is what let the Mavs down. Doncic and Hardaway are subpar on that end. Curry is targetable. If they can be a league average or above defence around Doncic, they will be a title contender.
Richardson is no Kawhi Leonard on the defensive end, but he’s got good length and he hustles. The ability to guard one through three is useful, and will make it easier to hide Doncic. The Sixers were a better team when Richardson was on the floor last season – the Mavericks unquestionably improve as a defensive unit with him on their roster.
This is a trade that makes the Mavericks a more complete team. It does so without compromising cap space, too. Richardson is a free agent at season’s end, and could be a player Dallas prioritise if Antetokounmpo re-signs in Milwaukee.
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