The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.
PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among last season’s PER leaders, the Top 20 players were 21.8 and higher while Nos. 21-40 ranged from 18.9 to 21.6.
VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a league average player. Among last season’s VORP leaders, the Top 20 were 3.5 and higher and Nos. 21-40 ranged from 2.2 to 3.4.
This week we’ll look at the trajectory of center Nick Richards.
2021-22 results and league ranks
2021-22 Stats: 50 G, 7.3 MINS, 3.0 PTS, 1.7 REB, 0.4 BLK, 66.7% FG
PER: 15.9; unranked due to lack of minutes
VORP: -0.1; unranked due to lack of minutes
Career trend overview
Let’s just state the obvious up front: Nick Richards has not played nearly enough minutes for his advanced stats to be viewed as credible. Directionally correct, perhaps, but nothing to take to the bank.
As a rookie in 2020-21 he played a grand total of 63 minutes over 18 games. This past season he played a total of 367 minutes over 50 games, but it’s hard to even break a sweat in 7.3 minutes per outing, let alone fully integrating yourself into both the offensive and defensive schemes and play to your full potential.
That said, we only have the data that we have, so let’s take a look at it. I’d rather put Richards’ advanced stats out there with the major caveat that they are far from reliable rather than just avoiding the topic altogether.
Nick joined the Hornets in the 2020 NBA draft as a second round pick, No. 42 overall. Charlotte traded a 2024 second round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans to draft the 7’0”, 245-pound big man from Kentucky. After being a role player during his freshman and sophomore years in college, Richards had a solid junior season averaging 14.0 points on 64.2% shooting, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game.
As a rookie with the Hornets he played just 63 minutes, as previously mentioned, but found success in the G League with the Greensboro Swarm. In nine G League games he averaged 17.0 points on 52% shooting with 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. That’s promising.
This past season, Nick’s second year in the NBA, he demonstrated the ability to at least be an end-of-the-bench guy with the pro club. His Per-36 minute averages of 14.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks are actually quite healthy, but the vast majority of his minutes came against the opposing teams’ second units or when games were getting out of hand.
In 2021-22 there were five games in which he played at least 15 minutes and was more involved in the action. Over those five contests he averaged 18 minutes and produced 8.6 points on an impressive 70.8% field goal mark with 3.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. If you like watching Nick Richards play garbage time minutes, here are his highlights against the Suns when he scored eight points with seven rebounds and two blocks.
ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus metric ranked Richards at No. 73 of 85 NBA centers. Overall he’s a bit behind schedule for a No. 42 pick entering his third season.
What this means for the Hornets
In Richards the Hornets have a 24-year-old big man who made noticeable improvement in Year 2, which is a positive. What they don’t have in Richards is a difference maker.
Charlotte selected center Mark Williams in the first round of this year’s draft, still have Mason Plumlee, but didn’t re-sign Montrezl Harrel. The Hornets rotations among big men will be interesting when considering guys like JT Thor and Kai Jones will also be clamoring for minutes, though their skills differ quite a bit from what Richards brings to the table.
The other major variable is how new coach Steve Clifford will use his bigs. Richards offers upside as a rim protector and it will be interesting to see if Clifford will use him more often or deploy him differently than former coach James Borrego did over the last two years.