When the Charlotte Hornets traded a 2024 second-round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the draft rights to 42nd overall pick Nick Richards, it was a sign that they believed he could maximize his physical gifts at the next level — not just enough to draft him, but enough to trade a future draft selection and get back into the mid-second round for him after having taken Vernon Carey Jr. 10 spots earlier.
Like Carey Jr., the pandemic didn’t afford Richards any luxuries (nor the rest of the planet) and it was difficult for him to get a true grip on his role as a rookie. Oftentimes, the young bigs were forced to play one-on-one against each other or with coaches so they could get some semblance of action during a jam-packed season. That’s a difficult environment to develop in for any player, much less a center, a position that shoulders more responsibility than others in a lot of defensive schemes.
As a rookie, Richards wasn’t given starter minutes at any point like his counterpart, and he totaled just 63 minutes on the entire season, all of which came during “garbage time” according to Cleaning The Glass. In the G League bubble, however, he flashed the athletic shot-blocking (3 blocks per game) and interior defense the Hornets could use from him while knocking down 7-of-14 attempts from long-range. Once Richards fully grasps the scheme and what head coach James Borrego wants him to do on the court, the role of rim protector should be one he’s capable of filling.
In contrast with Carey Jr., Richards is a capable defender at this point, but his offensive game lags behind. Throughout this preseason, he’s dropped some bread-basket passes that’ve harkened Hornets fans back to the early-Bismack Biyombo days, and he’s not been a great pick-and-roll partner for his guards; this is something he’ll have to improve upon to see the floor consistently, even if he’s defending well. LaMelo Ball is a truly unique, one-of-a-kind passer and his bigs need to be ready to catch the ball and go up strong at all times, because he will find them if they’re open.
Richards has logged about 40 preseason minutes compared to Carey Jr.’s 13, indicating that Richards may be winning the “battle” of sorts between the two. The team didn’t play well at all during the time they shared in the frontcourt together last season and that was never an ideal developmental circumstance going forward, either. Richards has gotten the preseason minutes so far— only another week before we’ll see how the regular season rotation pans out.