Vicky Graff photo
By LARRY VAUGHT
Whenever the NBA Draft occurs, Kentucky junior center Nick Richards figures to have put his name into the draft and is consistently projected as a second-round pick on most mock drafts.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has said for three years that Richards, a McDonald’s All-American, was on a “different path” from others who were one-and-done players at UK.
“I mean, so what (it took him three years). He was on a different path. He only started playing when he was 14, and now all of a sudden he became one of the best big men in the country, and I’m going to tell you, his stuff transfers (to the NBA),” Calipari said.
“His ability to guard pick-and-roll and move his feet, his ability to be a shot-blocker and protect that rim and in transition, how he runs the floor, that transfers and translates. Are you ready for this? How he shoots the ball from the perimeter, from the free-throw line.”
Richards averaged 14 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game last season. He shot 64.4 percent from the field and 75.2 percent at the foul line. He led UK in rebounding and blocked shots and was second in scoring.
If not for teammate Immanuel Quickley, Richards likely would have been SEC Player of the Year but he left a lasting impression on SEC coaches.
Florida coach Mike White said Richards gave UK “size and an anchor” at the rim.
“He has got to move as well as any 7-footer in the country. His switching on the perimeter guys (on defense) created obvious issues for us down the stretch in Gainesville (in Kentucky’s win),” White said.
What about the way teams tried to bully Richards with physical play to disrupt his game?
“I am not going there. He defended really well against us. I know that. He defended one through five against us this season and how many 7-footers could do that,” White said. “We tried to get Nick in a ball screen on the side to see if we could get to the rim and he kept our point guard in front of him. Again, how many 7-footers could do that?”
NBA scouts like the improvement Richards made this year and at times carried UK both offensively and defensively. He’s also one of the team’s hardest workers, something Calipari often emphasized but not everyone paid attention to.
Not only did Richards become a dependable post scorer, but he was so accurate from 15 feet that Calipari designed out of bounds plays to get him shots. He’ll need to expand that range a bit more in the NBA, but Calipari believes he will and so do NBA scouts I know.
Richards has terrific speed and mobility for a 7-foot player and the spacing and faster pace in the NBA should suit him. He had a tendency at times to get into early foul trouble but cut down on his fouls this season.
He’s not in the first round of any mock drafts I’ve seen but there seems little doubt he’ll be picked in the draft and at worst get a chance to hone his skills more next season in the G-League at worse.