MIAMI — Josh Richardson entered the season with high expectations after a standout training camp and preseason.
The 24-year-old has lived up to those expectations on defense, but offense has been a challenge for him since the start of the regular season. Richardson entered Friday averaging 8.8 points on 36.8 percent shooting from the field and 26.9 percent shooting from 3-point range.
But the third-year forward was the Heat’s most reliable scorer against the Hornets, as he poured in a career-high 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Richardson’s previous scoring high was 22.
Richardson, who signed a four-year, $42 million extension with the Heat in September, will look to carry the momentum from this performance into Sunday’s home game against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors (17-6).
“This is the player he looked like coming out of training camp and after the preseason,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after Miami’s win over Charlotte. “But you know what, you do have to credit J-Rich for his character, his competitiveness. Even while he’s been struggling from the field, he’s been an All-NBA defender. And you can ask anybody that we’ve played. They would agree with that.”
Just look at the numbers. Among the 178 players defending eight or more shots per game this season, Richardson is ranked third as he’s limited the opponent to 38.0 percent shooting — only Charlotte’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo are ahead of him on this list.
Richardson knew it was only a matter of time before his offense caught up to his defense. He’s shown signs of breaking out of his shooting slump recently, too, making eight of his last 17 3-point shot attempts over the past three games.
Before this recent surge from long distance, Richardson was shooting just 25.3 percent from 3-point range over the first 19 games of the season.
“Lately I’ve just been working a little bit more on the shot and getting more up,” said Richardson, who is a career 35.3 percent 3-point shooter. “It’s been falling a lot in practice the last three weeks. So the coach has been telling me it’s only a matter of time until it turns over to the game.”
But Richardson didn’t just rely on his 3-point shot Friday. He was more aggressive getting into the paint, driving to the basket seven times against the Hornets — up from his season average of 4.8 drives per game.
In fact, seven of Richardson’s 14 shot attempts came from within five feet of the basket.
“I feel like I play better when I’m aggressive,” he said. “Like very aggressive in every aspect. I’ve got to start doing that more often.”
That’s good news for the Heat (11-11) because they need Richardson to be an efficient offensive weapon more often.
“It was just great to see him play with that kind of passion, his enthusiasm was infectious to the rest of the guys and then obviously he’s seeing the ball go through,” Spoelstra said. “He made some big ones tonight. But everything he did was inspirational to the rest of the guys.”