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Why Nick Richards is the perfect center for Charlotte’s young core

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Meet the defensive-minded lob threat that will help LaMelo ball flourish

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The youth movement in Charlotte proved that it meant business last season. Miles Bridges improved his scoring, Devonte’ Graham was a candidate for Most Improved Player, and PJ Washington was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Add third overall pick LaMelo Ball into the mix and the Charlotte Hornets have a young starting lineup to move forward with. However, they are missing one thing—a center. Now when you first look at Charlotte’s selections in the 2020 NBA Draft, your eyes may go straight to Vernon Carey Jr. out of Duke, but let me introduce you to Nick Richards.

The 6’11”, 245lb center out of Kentucky is originally from Kingston, Jamaica. It wasn’t until 2013, when a scout discovered him at a local basketball camp, that he moved to the United States to focus on playing basketball at a higher level. He attended St. Mary’s High School in New York (no, not the Lebron school), and was rated a five-star recruit coming out of high school. He had a few Division 1 offers but chose to attend the University of Kentucky, where he played with fellow Hornet PJ Washington.

Richards played three seasons at Kentucky, and actually struggled a bit in his first two. In his freshman and sophomore seasons he averaged only 5.1 and 4.0 points respectively. After his second year he had originally declared for the NBA Draft, but ended up withdrawing, choosing instead to return to Kentucky for his junior season. What a great decision this turned out to be.

In his third, and eventually final year playing under coach John Calipari, Richards saw immense success. He put up 14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, leading the Wildcats to a 25-6 record, good for first in the SEC. Although his stats may not jump off the page as an elite NBA center, the impact he has on the floor can only truly be appreciated by watching him play.

Whenever Richards is camping the paint, opponents must be cautious when taking layups. He is like a seven foot tall fly swatter around the rim, denying anything that comes close to the hoop. His junior season he was second in the SEC in blocks per game, seventh in defensive rating, and was even named to the SEC All-Defensive team. Last year, Bismack Biyombo, Willy Hernangomez, and Cody Zeller combined to average 1.5 blocks a night (the Hornets were 28th in BPG as a team). Bringing in a defensive-minded center like Richards is exactly what the Hornets needed.

While Richards may not have too much versatility on the offensive end, he does know his way around the paint. He’s not a guy that can get the ball in the post and make something happen, but if the ball handler can find him cutting or matched up with a smaller defender, you may as well count the bucket. Richards shot 64.3% from the field his junior year (1st in the SEC) and had an offensive rating of 127.8 (1st in the SEC). What makes Richards even more valuable to the Hornets, though, is that he is the exact thing Ball needs to succeed as the franchise point guard - a lob threat.

One of Calipari’s favorite things to do in Richard’s junior year was to allow sophomore guard Ashton Hagans control the ball, have Richards cut to the rim after setting a screen, and let Hagans throw it up for an easy lob. Richards wasn’t afraid of contact, either, running through anyone who got in the way of him finishing the play. Richards is big, athletic, and quick, making him the perfect alley-oop partner to pair with Ball, especially on fast breaks.

In terms of offense, think Clint Capela during his days in Houston. A relatively quick, big-bodied center that can catch alley-oops like it’s his job (because it kind of is). Defensively, think of a Jarrett Allen type of guy. Although Richards isn’t there yet, he has the awareness and fearlessness to be as good of a shot blocker as Allen is. Richards might not get a ton of playing time next season since he was a second-rounder, but don’t be surprised if he comes out of the woodwork to surprise everybody. This guy is the perfect young center to pair up next to Ball and the rest of the young guys in Charlotte.