The last three games have started virtually the same way for Orlando.
Jason Richardson has found himself on the block against an opposing shooting guard, trying to use his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame to try and outmuscle often smaller defenders. And often, Richardson has found success on these post up opportunities.
Richardson scored 15 of his 16 points in the first half of Thursday’s win over New Jersey. He then added 13 of his 16 points in Friday’s game win over Charlotte.
And Richardson did a lot of this work in ways that he was not doing it last year. Namely, Richardson is not relying on the spot-up 3-pointer or screen and curl almost exclusively for his points. Richardson has shown some aggression, trying to attack more off the dribble. And Van Gundy has gone to him in different ways by setting up those post ups for the veteran.
It has led to a more active and offensively engaged Richardson in the early going this season.
“It’s definitely a concerted effort,” Richardson of his focus on attacking the basket more this season. “I worked on it in the offseason. I know teams and people know me in the scouting report as a shooter. So I put a concerted effort in just getting to the basket more, trying to get to the free throw line more and not just to be a jump shooter.”
Richardson had eight shots at the rim in the win over New Jersey, statistical proof that he is trying to get to the basket more. It certainly helped he spent most of the game defended by Deron Williams and Sundiata Games, two natural point guards. But he also now has 17 shots at the rim in four games this year, 4.3 per game. He is doing a lot of his work either by driving to the basket or from beyond the arc.
He recognized that with his 3-pointers not falling — his first make from beyond the arc came in Fridays win — he needed to get to the basket more. That focus has led to an early increase in his attempts at the rim. Richardson averaged 2.4 shot attempts at the rim last year with Orlando compared to his 6.0 3-point attempts per game according to HoopData. This after a career that has seen him average somewhere between 4.0 and 5.0 shot attempts at the rim per game.
In Orlando, he became too much of a spot-up shooter and did not play aggressively when he got the ball. That led to the stagnation in his offensive game as he averaged what would have been a career-low 13.9 points per game and a meager 52.8 percent effective field goal percentage in his 55 games in Orlando last year.
Right now, he is only averaging 11.0 points per game. Obviously the Magic would want that number a bit higher considering Richardson is the third or fourth option on offense. Stan Van Gundy said after Thursday’s game, he is consciously trying to get Richardson going and keep him involved in the offense.
“It’s a difficult thing for me at times, to be honest,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve got Jameer’s pick and rolls and he didn’t get many tonight and he was getting upset. Then you’re running Turk’s pick and rolls and you want to get Dwight the ball. Jason tends to be the guy left out a little bit and so I wanted to consciously make sure we got him involved early and he got us off to a really good start. But then, when he came back into the game, I didn’t do as good a job getting him involved. I’ve got to watch that because the guy is capable of being a big time scorer and can really help us.”
Richardson’s high with Orlando was a 30-point effort against Golden State — a shootout game that went into overtime. His next highest scoring game a 24-point, 9-for-14 effort against Miami in the come-from-behind win. Richardson hit six of eight 3-pointers.
One thing is clear, when Richardson is driving the ball he opens things up for everyone else on the roster. That is more what the Magic envisioned Richardson doing when they brought him in. They wanted him to be a driver and shooter, someone who could get the defense to rotate and open up space for everyone else.
Those are the basic tenants to offense that Dwight Howard particularly mentioned after Thursday’s game that the Magic needed to focus on to reach that offensive consistency.
“I think it’s important for our team just to move the ball and get a good rhythm on both ends,” Dwight Howard said. “Offensively when we have a guy like J-Rich coming into the game, scoring easy buckets and just getting his rhythm and confidence going, it’s great. Once all of us get that going, we’re going to be great.”
Obviously, four games is not a large sample size and it is yet to be seen whether the Magic and Richardson can keep this pace up. This newfound focus on attacking the basket and creating that ball movement and extra option is a positive sign in the early part of this season.