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Kentucky Basketball

Nick Richards Is Coming Back: What Should We Expect?

May 28, 2019

Nick Richards, in a lot of ways, is an excellent representation of the state of big men in today's game. He is extremely athletic and has incredible potential, but is also raw and looks completely lost at times on the court. We've seen him go eight games with fifteen combined rebounds only to grab fifteen in the Arkansas game this year. We've seen him go long stretches of the season struggling to score at all, but then break out for 25 on 9-10 shooting against Ft. Wayne last year. Richards has all the potential in the world. Calipari reiterated this in his statement about Nick coming back. However, in his Junior season, Richards will need to bring more than just potential. He and his team need consistency. 

As a critical part of Kentucky's frontcourt this year, Richards will need to expand his role in his third season. While he will likely never be a highly-polished big man for UK, expectations for Junior Nick Richards will be high. What could it mean for Kentucky if he reaches those expectations? 

Let's start with how much we should expect Richards to play in general. Kentucky's frontcourt, even if EJ returns, will need Richards to increase his minutes. After averaging just under 15 MPG in his freshman year, Richards saw his minutes drop to 12 MPG as a sophomore. Due to Richards' inability to stay out of foul trouble, 20-22 MPG is a reasonable range to expect in 2020. That number could go up, but Richards will need to lower his 6.8 fouls called per 40 minutes (FC/40) if he wants to play more. John Calipari historically is near the bottom of the country in terms of two-foul participation, so improved foul management is necessary for Richards to see the floor more.

On offense, Richards is much better than he seems on the surface. His 118 offensive efficiency rating was second on the team last year behind Tyler Herro. While Richards will likely live within 8 feet of the basket, he has shown flashes of a jump hook with both hands and is always a lob threat. He is also a 70% career FT shooter which lends itself well to his 4.8 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (FD/40). After averaging 4.0 PPG last year, 7-8 PPG is doable. Kentucky's guards should be able to penetrate at will, opening up Richards for dump-offs and lobs. Couple that with the increased playing time and 8.0 PPG is a reasonable goal for Nick.

Kentucky's team looks to be a team full of scorers but will be smaller than most Calipari teams. On the boards will be Nick's most significant contribution to the 2020 Kentucky team. He averaged just 3.3 rebounds but had elite offensive and defensive rebounding rates in his limited minutes in 2019. His 16.3% offensive rebounding rate would have been fifth among qualified players (>16 mpg) in 2019. Improving his defensive rebounding is a must, but 7.0 rebounds is a floor that Richards needs to hit for this Kentucky team to reach its potential. 

Rim protection is the last piece of the puzzle and will be another aspect that sits squarely on Nick's shoulders. His 12% block rate would have been 12th in the country if he played more than 16 mpg. For reference, that 12% block rate puts him 4th in the Cal era behind Davis (13.8%), Nerlens (13.2%) and sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein (12.3%). If he can cut down on his fouls and continue to improve as a shot blocker, he can easily average at least 2.0 blocks per game. 

Junior Nick Richards will need to be a more significant contributor for Kentucky's team to reach its potential in 2020. He has shown flashes, but if he continues to put it together, he can be exactly what his team needs. He doesn't need to be Karl Towns-like star, but 8.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 22 minutes per game will take him from a role player to a critical piece in year three. I'm excited to have Nick back, and the BBN should be too.

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Nick Richards Is Coming Back: What Should We Expect?

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