The Ryan Richards project
He wasn’t the best player on the team, nor was he the most well-known, but for those who follow the Spurs closely, Ryan Richards was someone fans wanted to see play at the Las Vegas Summer League. Having been drafted by the Spurs in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft, Richards was an unknown foreign prospect before donning the Silver and Black in Sin City.
All that was known was that Richards was a 6’11″ big man with a nice shooting touch. Imaginations immediately ran wild with thoughts of a Dirk Nowitzki Spurs fans could call their own. As much as San Antonio hates Dirk, nobody would argue with their own version of the Mavs’ jump-shooting big man.
After one season of development lost due to a shoulder injury and another limited by bouncing around the mid-tier of Europe, even jumping ship from the British National Team, the viewing public wasn’t sure what to expect from Richards. Summer League would be his first chance to impress, or disappoint, Spurs fans.
What happened is somewhere in the middle. Richards appeared in four of the five games for the Summer Spurs, averaging 3.3 points per game and 2.8 rebounds. As we know, though, stats don’t tell the whole story.
“I thought [Ryan] was in control, he played hard,” new Orlando Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn said at the end of the week in Las Vegas. “The Summer League reveals things about you.”
Richards is big. He measured a shade under seven-feet tall at the pre-draft combine when he was 19 years old and I’d heard reports that he’s grown since then. Unfortunately, I can’t find evidence of those reports, so take it with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, he’s still a very large individual and has a 7’2″ wingspan to go along with his height. He’s also got age on his side. Richards is only 21 years old right now, still a pup.
With his size, Richards also moves well. He runs the floor hard in transition and isn’t slow. He’s not LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the fast big men in the league from end to end, but he put effort in to beat his opponent down the floor and get position down low. Richards is also nimble for a man of his stature.
On one play in the first game of summer league against the Hawks, Richards rolled to the basket on a pick-and-roll, received the pass and was able to side step the help defense that rotated over, without travelling, and draw the foul. Not a lot of seven-footers can make moves like that. Then he hit both free throws. A big man going 2-2 from the free throw line cannot be understated.
Knocking down free throws should be a frequent occurrence. Richards has a good shooting touch. While I think a lot of people thought Dirk when he was first drafted, I don’t think that’s accurate. With the limited amount I saw him in Las Vegas, I thought Kevin Garnett. NO, I AM NOT SAYING HE’S AS GOOD OR WILL BE AS GOOD AS KEVIN GARNETT. I’m just saying that he plays a similar game to KG.
A lot of big men who can shoot the ball are afraid to mix it up inside. Some, like Richards’ summer league teammate Alexis Ajinca, prefer to float around the perimeter and avoid the physical contact down low. Richards didn’t seem to have that problem. Time after time he was the first big man down the floor and fought for position down low, eagerly awaiting a post entry pass that wasn’t going to come. He did the same on defense, trying to hold his position on the block and keep the offensive player from getting theirs. He spent plenty of time away from the basketball offensively, but this was by design more than habit.
He also has a couple of good attributes on defense that the Spurs are missing. Richards did an adequate job at defending the pick-and-roll during the summer league. He wasn’t jumping out on Chris Paul or trying to recover to a spotting-up KG, but he was playing against borderline NBA players, which is something for Richards. He’s also got the springs to get up and block shots. His timing isn’t great, nor is his discipline, but he’s got the ability to do it as he matures.
As I said, he’s undisciplined. Richards hasn’t had much basketball stability in his life since being drafted in 2010. Because of that, he hasn’t been afforded the consistent coaching many others have had. He commits dumb fouls, though the unfamiliar speed of the game could have something to do with that as well, and takes bad shots.
On one play against the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs were fortunate to have a rebound come off of a Dallas Mavericks player and out of bounds as the shot clock was winding down. The referees gave the Spurs a fresh 24 and the in-bound under the basket. Richards created space and got a pass on the baseline about 18 feet away from the basket, and immediately jacked a jump shot with 22 seconds on the shot clock. I can’t imagine how quickly Richards would’ve been taken out if Gregg Popovich was coaching, and the game actually mattered.
Much of this can be attributed to the lack of coaching and stability Richards had over the last couple of years, but this begs the question: is Richards a head case? He left one club team for “personal reasons,” and even quit his national team, which is rare. The basketball landscape is full of players bursting with potential who were never able to figure things out between their ears. Hopefully Ryan Richards isn’t next to join that group.
Where do we go from here? Where should we go from here? Well, there’s another positive to Ryan Richards. He’s willing to play in the D-League. He’s said as much publicly (in that video he at least seems like he’s got his head on straight).
Playing with the Austin Toros might be the best thing for Richards this season. It would give him some basketball stability and get him in the Spurs system, gaining some much-needed corporate knowledge. As was discussed with Scott Schroeder on the 4-Down Podcast a couple of weeks ago, there is a way for the Spurs to get Richards to Austin without using up one of San Antonio’s roster spots.
Richards would have to sit out training camp with the Spurs. He can’t be an official member of the team, though he can hang around and workout on his own. After the D-League Draft ended and the season started, Richards would wait until the Austin Toros had a high enough spot on the waiver wire — hopefully the top spot, just in case — and then join the D-League player pool. When he did that, the Toros could sign him to a D-League contract.
The beauty of it is that because the Spurs own Richards’ draft rights, no other team could call him up. Richards could spend the rest of the season in Austin, learning the Spurs system and working on his development. From the Spurs’ end, it wouldn’t cost them a valuable roster spot or put them in luxury tax territory. They would still have the option to call him up and sign him to an NBA contract if they were so inclined.
Ryan Richards piqued the interest of many a Spurs fan when he was drafted two years ago. While his time in Vegas didn’t scream “future star,” it did show that he had some NBA qualities that could be nurtured with further development. With the a combo of size and shooting touch that is hard to find, the Spurs would do well to get Richards into the system sooner rather than later.