In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we examine the work of Kentucky big man Nick Richards.
Nick Richards should be as disappointed as anyone that the college basketball season ended when it did. The junior big man was having a standout season for the Kentucky Wildcats when play suspended due to COVID-19. Though his archetype is difficult to project in the modern NBA, Richards does possess shooting indicators, such as his career mark of 73 percent from the free throw line.
Though Richards was a consensus top 20 high school prospect coming into Kentucky in 2017, he struggled to stay on the floor in his first two seasons with the Wildcats. He played less than 15 minutes per game in each year, mostly because he played a similar role to guys like P.J. Washington, who wound up being a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Richards started as a sophomore but only played a few minutes each half as head coach John Calipari deployed Washington as a small-ball center much of the time.
Richards is not a lottery-level talent in the way Washington was, even in a less exciting crop such as the 2020 class. He profiles as an athletic big who can provide both force and touch offensively, as well as verticality on the defensive end. Per Synergy Sports, Richards graded as very good or excellent in transition, half-court, when cutting, when posting up, and on put-backs off of offensive rebounds. He was a highly effective college big, and one of the main reasons Kentucky was still a solid team despite not having their typical cast of lottery picks to deploy.
Despite Richards entering the draft as a 22-year-old, there is still optimism he can improve a good bit. He never attempted a three for the Wildcats despite shooting 75 percent from the free-throw line as a junior. Overall, Richards ranked in the 98th percentile offensively, scoring 431 points on 367 shooting possessions (1.174 PPP), shooting 63.9 percent on field goals.
If Richards could develop his outside game even a little bit, it would make him more of a threat as a screener overall. There are question marks in terms of how much the traditional big’s game will translate as a whole, so the threat of an outside shot could do a lot to unlock Richards overall.
If he can’t shoot, Richards can still battle inside. His touch around the rim is one of his strengths as evidenced by his high percentages. He has a nice arsenal of post shots, ranging from little bunny floaters to more complicated moves involving drop-steps and spins. Scoring will, however, not likely be his meal ticket at the next level.
Richards’ best shot at sticking in an NBA rotation is to make an impact on the defensive end. He is quick for his size and has the ability to challenge shots vertically. With a 7’4 wingspan, he should have the length to impact shots at the rim. Richards averaged over two blocks per game for Kentucky this season. A weakness defensively is perhaps the fact that he does not have the quickest hands, as he totaled just ten steals in his college career. He is an anchor but, even with that caveat, that is still an insanely low steal rate for any player.
Richards was one of the best players in the country as a junior, and an NCAA Tournament run would have likely only improved his draft stock. He’s currently ranked 59th on ESPN’s NBA Draft board and 62nd on Sam Vecenie’s board over on The Athletic. Richards could easily go in the 40s if a team believes in his perimeter shooting. Otherwise, he could be either be a late second-round selection or an undrafted free agent.
Big-needy teams would be wise to scoop him up on a Two-Way contract and see if anything is there with the three-point shot. At worst, he is almost certain to be a good G League player right away. While not an outstanding overall prospect, there is promise and untapped potential with Richards, which is about all you can ask for at the end of the second round.