PHILADELPHIA – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra sees it “night in, night out,” which is why any All-Defensive team he sees that does not include Josh Richardson isn’t even worth the time it took to calculate the votes.
“He’s All-NBA defense,” Spoelstra said. “Night in, night out he’s going to have three of the toughest covers in the game. … and he doesn’t even blink. And that’s the expectation and how he’s developed that potential. He’s become a very disciplined, dynamic defender, one that can really guard multiple positions in a totally different way.
“I think it’s a shame, I don’t think his name out there. I don’t think people recognize the kind of defender he is except for the teams that he plays against. I think they see it.”
The 6-foot-6 Richardson finished fourth in the league – and first among small forwards – in field goal percentage defense among those who defended at least 10 shots per game. The players Richardson guarded shot 41.6 percent, which was 3.4 percent below their normal field goal percentage.
Richardson also was third among small forwards with 135 steals and he was second in blocks for players under 6-7 with 75.
And Spoelstra is right, Richardson is not getting the recognition in the small sample we have seen so far for season awards. Richardson is not among the five players listed in one ESPN All-Defensive team, which has Philadelphia’s Robert Covington as first team, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler as second team and honorable mention going to OKC’s Paul George, Houston’s Luc Mbah a Moute and Utah’s Royce O’Neale.
Sports Illustrated has Covington and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis as the first team All-Defense forwards and Golden State’s Draymond Green and Boston’s Al Horford second team.
Richardson, though, is not concerned if his name is not among those being recognized. In his mind, he knows he belongs.
“I think it would be awesome but I’m not going to be bent out of shape if I don’t,” said Richardson, the three-year veteran out of Tennessee. “I know how those things go sometimes. I’m not too worried about it. I think I’m a top 10 defender in this league. I know in my own head.”
“I’ve gone from working harder to working smarter on defense,” he said. “Knowing guys tendencies, knowing what spots they like to get to and trying to keep it away from them. That’s where I’ve gotten a lot better.”
Richardson and Covington will be matched up in the Heat’s first round series with the Sixers that starts at 8 p.m. Saturday in Philadelphia. While Covington will mostly be focused on stopping Richardson, expect Richardson to draw several other assignments, including guarding point guard Ben Simmons.
“He’s proven himself the whole season,” Goran Dragic said. “He’s guarding the best guys on other teams. He’s challenging the guys, blocking shots. I think I already said it before the season that he’s the best blocking guard in the league.”
Richardson had a chance to join 26 others by playing all 82 games but a left foot injury kept him out of a March 14 game in Sacramento. He settled for 81 games, something his is proud of after playing in 52 games his rookie season and 53 games last season.
“Last season I was hurt a lot, my first season I just didn’t get to play a lot of the games,” he said. “Just being out there for my teammates every night. I really take a lot of pride in that.”