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How About a Little Love for J-Rich?

Last year, the Suns acquired Jason Richardson from the Bobcats, along with Jared Dudley for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. At the time, it was thought that Richardson would fill the void Joe Johnson left as a SG with the size to create his own shot and post up defenders. Although most Suns fans were sorry to see Raja leave, the thought of having J-Rich's firepower in the lineup left most of us elated with thoughts that his acquisition would bolster our already potent offensive squad.

Richardson played reasonably well in the 58 games he suited up for the Suns, shooting 48% from the field and averaging 16 points per game. His per game averages for 3-pointers made and steals per game were above league average. But much of what Richardson did on the offensive end was overshadowed by his inability to play lock down defense like his predecessor, Raja Bell. It wasn't a surprise that Richardson often seemed to struggle on the court (many players did between the Porter/Gentry regime change); his game simply wasn't consistent. But consider the fact that he came from a Larry Brown coached team to Phoenix midseason and was forced to learn on the fly. On top of that, his off-the-court issues obviously must have played a role in his on-the-court inconsistencies.

Up until a couple of days ago, this offseason for the Phoenix Suns was marred by some heavy criticism from fans and media alike. Most of the consistent complaints by fans have been aimed at Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver. The Amare Stoudemire trade rumors have also contributed to much anger and cynicism. But the consistent rancor still continues for Jason Richardson. The calls to "dump J-Rich" can usually be categorized as follows:

  • He isn't worth the money he is being paid
  • He had too much off the court trouble last year
  • He can't play defense
  • He's got a low basketball IQ
  • He was inconsistent last season and not the "superstar" we thought he'd be
  • Leandro Barbosa should be starting

There is no doubt that Richardson has tremendous athleticism, but like many players in the league, he has not been able to become a complete player on both ends of the court. While his defense leaves much to be desired, he is a consistent offensive threat, capable of dominating a game from the three point line or by posting up a smaller defender. Yet over the years, he has steadily settled for shots farther away from the hoop. In 2005-2006, Richardson averaged a career high for Golden State with 23.2 PPG. That year he shot 477 three pointers. In 2006-7 Richardson missed 23 games with a broken right hand and only ended up playing 52 games. But in 2007-8 he played in all 82 games and managed to hoist up a career high and league leading 599 3's and made 40% of them. Of course, that was only good for 24th in the league.

Richardson's numbers from 2008/2009 overall with the Suns don't look too bad on paper:


Of course, these numbers don't tell even half the story about Richardson -- the inconsistency from the three point line, the untimely turnovers, the less than adequate defensive effort. But keep in mind the Suns didn't go out and get Richardson thinking he would by an NBA All-Defensive player. They wanted offense, and that was what they got. You may recall a five game stretch where J-Rich simply went off -- this, of course, was during the Suns infamous 6-game winning streak:

Anything pop out at you as you look at these stats?

3/15 GSW 11 15 4 5 31 3
3/18 PHI 9 16 2 7 25 7
3/21 WAS 13 18 6 9 35 7
3/23 DEN 7 13 1 5 22 5
3/25 UTH 9 16 3 5 21 5

Only once in those games did Richardson have more than 4 three pointers in a game, and he shot nearly 50% from behind the arc. What's my point? Richardson wasn't simply sitting outside bombing away. One conclusion we can come up with is that Richardson was locked in, doing what he does best: posting up his man, driving to the hoop, running the floor and finishing.

As we all know, Richardson was sentenced to a day in jail which certainly should have an effect on him. What that effect will be is anyone's guess. I don't know much about J-Rich's personality, but I'm hoping he is looking to redeem himself in a big way to the fans as well as his teammates. This team should have a renewed focus and Rich's role should be clear to him. Further, he will have had a full offseason under his belt with his current teammates, which should help. Although I don't forsee J-Rich all of a sudden turning into a lock down defender, I predict a solid year from him that will keep the naysayers quiet. So what do you think?

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