Nick Richards, pictured, is averaging 14.6 minutes played since SEC play began. If Kentucky wants to put things together, Richards plays a major role in doing that. Photo by Keyli Chisesi (Go Big Blue Country).
Kentucky freshman Nick Richards has given fans flashes of how good he can be but through 23 games, he has struggled to consistently stay on the floor.
Richards, a 6-11, 240lbs center from Kingston, Jamaica, is averaging 6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 16.7 minutes per game. Richards was averaging 18.6 minutes played per game during non-conference but that number has dipped to 14.6 in conference play.
The UK big man usually starts with a bang, as he scored six points in the first five minutes of an overtime win vs. Vanderbilt and three points in the first two minutes in a loss at Missouri. Yet, something happens after the first media timeout.
On Saturday at Missouri, Richards started strong, getting to the free throw line early and following that with a dunk off a lob from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However, he missed a dunk a few possessions later, allowed an offensive rebound and didn’t close out on a shooter, resulting in him finding a seat on the bench.
Over the last two weeks, Richards has played 12 minutes or less in three of four games, including a scoreless performance in 11 minutes vs. Mississippi State. It’s not like he can’t be a factor. It was only one game but Richards scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a win vs. Fort Wayne in November, his only double-double of the season. While that level of production would be better than ideal, if he could just chip in ten points and grab 8-10 rebounds a game, it would provide a huge boost.
Richards’ loss has been Sacha Killeya-Jones’ gain. The sophomore forward has provided a steady lift off the bench this season, averaging 4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.4 minutes. SKJ’s ability to step out and knock down mid-range jumpers is a nice compliment to Richards but the Wildcats need both to be playing well if they want to reach their full potential when the calendar turns March.
When Richards arrived at Kentucky, he came with an overlooked offensive package, believed to be just a rebounder and rim protector for Kentucky this season. However, Richards has shown a nice touch on his jump hook and the ability to hit free throws, as he is shooting 75.4 percent from the line this season.
One thing that is preventing Richards from staying on the floor is his inability to stay connected and alert for long periods of time. Foul trouble was the issue early on but that hasn’t been a factor the last few weeks. Richards doesn’t get a high number of attempts to score, only 31 shot attempts in the last 11 games, but he has to convert on easy plays near the rim.
If Richards can find his footing and provide a consistent presence inside for Kentucky, it would be a huge lift for a team that is missing that presence on both ends of the floor. It shouldn’t be expected for him to post up and bully his way to a double-double but there is no reason why he shouldn’t get easy baskets off lobs and offensive rebounds. The Wildcats desperately need that down the stretch because after Saturday’s less than stellar offensive performance, Kentucky needs as much easy as it can get.
He’s only posted one double-double in 23 games but if Kentucky wants to make noise in March, it’s going to need a few more of those from Richards.