Last year over at NBAPlaybook, Sebastian Pruiti took a look at players who struggled during the season and looked at whether it was a fluke season or the start of a trend. This year, Sebastian is bringing the series to Basketball Prospectus.
What's interesting about Jason Richardson and his drop-off in play is that it came 25 games into this past season. Richardson, who was playing with the Phoenix Suns and having a very good season (building on the success he had in the 2009-10 season with Phoenix) was traded to the Orlando Magic in the deal that sent Vince Carter to the Suns. In Orlando, Richardson saw his minutes increase (from 31.9 MPG to 34.9 MPG), but his True Shooting Percentage (from 57.4 percent to 54.4 percent) and PER (19.19 to 13.26) sunk while his turnover rate increased (from 6.66 to 8.25).
Where Did He Struggle?
One of the reasons why Richardson was so dangerous with Phoenix was because he could do so many different things well, and the Suns understood that and used that to their advantage, putting him in a number of different situations that allowed him to succeed. However, with Orlando, Richardson turned into more of a spot-up shooter, catching and shooting on 30.4 percent of his possessions (versus 23 percent with Phoenix).
Now, that wouldn't have been a problem if Richardson was knocking down spot-up jumpers at the same rate as he did in Phoenix. With the Suns, Richardson was knocking down spot-up jumpers at a 46.5 percent clip and scored 1.238 points per possession on these plays, placing him in the top 5 percent among NBA players. With Orlando, Richardson shot just 37.7 percent and posted 1.077 PPG (putting him among the top 25 percent of all NBA players). Looking at it further, the reason for the drop off becomes rather obvious. With Phoenix, and with Steve Nash running the point, Richardson was able to get an open jump shot in catch-and-shoot situations 47.6 percent of the time. With Orlando, that number dropped to 40.1 percent.
In addition to spot-up shooting, there is one other category where Richardson struggled with after his move to Orlando: isolation possessions. With Phoenix, Richardson was scoring 1.129 points per possession when he isolated his man, putting him in the top two percent among all NBA players. With Orlando, that number dropped as Richardson was only scoring 0.659 points per possession, which put him in the bottom 25 percent among all NBA players.
So why the big drop off? Richardson didn't do anything different in terms of his style of play (his pull up vs. attacking the rim percentages were pretty much identical with both teams). However, what is different is the personnel on the court. With Phoenix, the Suns were playing with four or five guys who could knock down a jumper, so when Richardson attacked the rim, not only was there nobody taking up space in the paint, but defenses had to respect the shooting ability of all of his teammates, which meant help was less likely to come.
With Orlando, there was one big Dwight Howard in the middle, and that made things difficult when Richardson would attack looking to score:
While this is just one play, it is a perfect example of the problem Richardson has when attacking the basket in Orlando. Howard isn't a guy who can spot up and shoot jumpers. He's a guy who needs to be near the rim and be able catch and go right up with it before getting fouled. That clogs up the lane and prevents guys like Richardson from being able to attack the rim effectively. This allows defenses to pressure up on Richardson because they know he isn't going to be effective attacking the lane.
Can He Bounce Back?
While I don't think Richardson will return to playing at the same level he has been on the Suns, I do think he can play better than this past season with the Magic indicated. The open spot-up jumpers that he got playing with Nash just aren't going to be there anymore. Nash in the pick-and-roll commanded so much attention that Richardson was able to spot up behind the three-point line and just feed off of it. That won't be there in Orlando as much. However, I do think that becoming more familiar with Howard will help Richardson out in terms of attacking the rim. He'll start understanding where Howard is and where he needs to attack to be successful, and I do expect him to have more success in isolation situations.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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