Tennessee’s basketball opponents had the lowdown on Josh Richardson last season.
Richardson’s strengths and weaknesses were out there for all to see, especially anyone with a subscription to the video/analytics service Synergy. Richardson was rated by Synergy, which charted every offensive move he made, as an excellent short-range shooter (runners, pull-up jumpers) but a poor 3-point shooter. His average of 0.615 points per 3 attempt was in the bottom 10 percent in Division I. His percentage of .214 from behind the arc was the lowest among teammates who attempted at least 30 3s.
Thus, it was fairly easy for a defender to limit Richardson’s offensive contributions: lay back, defend the drive and dare him to shoot 3s.
“You could see how teams were guarding me the last couple of years,” Richardson said. “I couldn’t really shoot the 3. So Jarnell [Stokes] had to put up with a lot of double teams. That hurt our team, because my man could double off me.”
Richardson knew what he had to do over the summer.
“Josh has one of the best pull-ups in the country; when he gets in that lane he is as good as anybody,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “The growth for him is to develop the instincts to be an aggressive scorer, being ready to score. We want him to shoot 3s, but not just a case of the shot clock winding down and just throwing up a shot. He has the tools to be a good shooter from deep.”
Luckily for Richardson, the Vols have a shot doctor on staff. Assistant coach Kent Williams is the second-leading all-time scorer at Southern Illinois and the only player in school history to lead the Salukis in scoring four consecutive seasons. He played one season in the NBA D-League and led it in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage.
Williams is a student of the jump shot. And though he says not all players-depending on how out of whack their mechanics might be-can improve their shooting percentages, some can. Richardson is in the latter category.
“If you’re only tweaking a small piece, you can improve,” Williams said.
Richardson’s issue wasn’t so much mechanics as it was mental.
“When I see somebody that’s a good mid-range shooter and then he struggles from 3 or the free-throw line, it usually means that when he’s not thinking about it, he’s nailing it,” Williams said. “When you shoot a pull-up, it’s because you’ve gotten cut off, so you react, pull up and shoot it.
“From 3, Josh might have had more time to think. So what we worked on wasn’t anything mechanical. It was just, be down in your stance, have your knees bent when you catch and just go straight up into the shot. Let’s take the thinking out of catch and shoot.”
Richardson knew that in order to make shooting the 3-ball second nature, he had to get into the gym.
“I don’t even know how many shots I took,” Richardson said. “In the summer, it was at least 500 a day.”
Richardson started seeing results in the Rocky Top summer league, and again while playing for an Athletes in Action team in Jamaica.
Williams is also a proponent of prudent shot selection, another key to Richardson improving his success ratio from 3.
“As a player, my coaches preached to me you can get your percentage up by taking better shots,” Williams said. “Picking and choosing the right time is going to be the biggest key for shooting a better percentage.”
Richardson’s improved mindset and shot selection have paid dividends. Tennessee charts every shot a player takes, whether it’s in a drill or a scrimmage situation. So far in the preseason, Richardson is shooting about 60 percent from behind the arc, tops on the team.
“You can see the improvement without even looking at the numbers,” Williams said. “Now the next step is don’t rely on [the 3]. You’re 6-foot-6, and athletic. Don’t settle for 3s. Get to the rim, shoot that pull-up. Post people up. You want to be as versatile as you can, but especially with a guy like Josh, who has that ability.”
Richardson is still getting used to the new and improved weapon in his arsenal, but he’s been pleased with the results.
“It feels good to see the ball go in,” Richardson said. “Guys had been playing off me for the drive or the pull-up. Now, if they do that, I can raise up and shoot it.”