Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
“Have faith. Dream big.”
It’s March 10th, a month after the trade. The transition from the Sacramento Kings’ organization to the Toronto Raptors’ has not been easy for Malachi Richardson. Though he just put up 20 points in his best game with Raptors 905, Richardson is shooting 30.6% from the field and 30.0% from deep in seven games with the team.
Picked up with only 14 games left in the regular season, Richardson not only needs to improve his shooting accuracy, but also heed the principles of the G League’s second-most efficient defence. A few weeks into his stint with the 905, he’s sporting a minus-24 rating over 162 minutes. Midway through the first quarter against the Canton Charge, Richardson checks in. He hits the side of the backboard on a tough step back and misses a three on his next attempt. Between errant jumpers, Richardson arrives late on a defensive rotation and fouls the driver. A minute into the second quarter, he’s subbed out. He never sees the floor again.
“It’s nothing about his offence,” says 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse. “He can take a shot, hit the backboard, or air ball. It’s about the defensive end. Seven minutes, minus 10 is what I see (Richardson was actually minus 6). I don’t care about missed shots. Never give a damn about missed shots. What I give a damn about is the other end.”
The trial by fire has not been seamless despite Richardson’s efforts.
“Me being thrown in here, towards the end of the year, it can cause some confusion with things and how we run things,” Richardson says. “I’m trying to figure it all out, and help the team win.”
Richardson claims his confidence is “always there”, but backtracks in the same sentence.
“It’s a strange thing that happens,” he says. “But you always have to remain confident in yourself, and just believe in the work that you put in.”
“I don’t think (his confidence) is as high as it could be,” says 905 power forward Kennedy Meeks. “He’s gotta get into our system a little bit. So he just has to adjust and he’ll be fine. It’s only a matter of time before he’s up there with (the Raptors) for good, and playing good games.”
Being written off is a familiar theme for Richardson. After all, the Raptors didn’t acquire him for his potential, but rather to free up cap space to possibly sign another player for their playoff push. Entering his freshman season with Syracuse in 2015, Richardson did not appear on most mock draft boards. And he may not have become a first round pick (or even declared for the draft) had his team not received a controversial bid into the NCAA Tournament (Syracuse was just 18-and-14 that season).
But Richardson took advantage of his team’s good fortune by averaging 15 points and a 37-percent mark from three in a magical run to the Final Four. Despite analysts like Syracuse legend Leo Rautins stating that Richardson should have stayed in school for his sophomore season, Richardson entered the draft, and was selected 22nd by the Kings.
“Growing up, guys said I couldn’t make it this far,” he says. “I wouldn’t be a McDonald’s All-American. I wouldn’t go to college and do anything in college. I wouldn’t get drafted. I prove people wrong.”
Have faith. Dream big.
Three days after getting that quick hook Richardson is back on court against the Green
sborough Swarm. While he goes only 2-for-9 from the field, the shots are mostly high-quality, and Richardson does well to keep the ball moving on the perimeter when his shot isn’t there. Defensively, he provides excellent contests on 3-point shooters and plays solid solid man-to-man defence – a big point of emphasis for Stackhouse, as Richardson played mostly zone at Syracuse.
Richardson’s “shining moment” comes with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter with the 905 up seven, when he takes a charge and the bench erupts.
“That (charge is) big time for him,” Stackhouse says. “That means he saw the rotation, saw an opportunity to step in and help the team and give us an extra possession. Big time play. We got a reward system for that.”
While Richardson finishes the game a plus-4 in 23 minutes, he does not appear pleased with his effort. Asked whether his bumpy pro career has tested his faith, Richardson takes a deep breath before responding.
“Man…yeah,” he says. “Not playing as well as I want to. But I got here, well, God got me here. I always believed. I’m a big believer in God, so that’s where it comes from.”
Richardson should also have faith he’s in capable hands with Stackhouse. From Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam last season to Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown this season, the team has been a model for helping turn works-in-progress into NBA contributors.
“I just want to show these guys a way to stay. I don’t want him out of the league in two years,” Stackhouse says. “I want these other guys to have an opportunity to extend their careers, maybe not in the NBA, but in Europe or somewhere. I think (Richardson is) getting the concepts really well. I’m proud of where he’s at. We’ll keep working with him.”
Richardson is under contract until the end of the 2018-19 season. While Stackhouse may use some tough love to drill the team’s concepts into Richardson, he doesn’t expect him to pick everything up so late in the season. Richardson still has a summer and a full season after this one to prove his latest batch of doubters wrong, and he can take comfort in the fact that Stackhouse is going to give him a chance in every game to establish himself.
Richardson is sure to go through more growing pains as his team revs up for a championship defence. But if he heeds the words emblazoned on his arms – Have Faith. Dream Big. – he ought to believe that at the very least, he’ll get a fair shot at showing if he’s worthy of a future in the NBA.