Malachi Richardson became a widely circulated name very early. We began to track him as a prep freshman as he already had generated significant momentum in New Jersey. Richardson's sophomore season brought him a national top 20 ranking and appearances at high-profile events, and heading into the 2013 spring he'd gained offers from Miami, Indiana, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Rutgers, Seton Hall, SMU and James Madison.
He impressed on the travel circuit that summer and chose to accelerate his recruitment. Last fall, he cut his list to six: Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Rutgers, Syracuse and Villanova. He pledged to the Orange in November to give Jim Boeheim's storied program yet another early commitment, a specialty at SU in recent years.
Richardson performed inconsistently to kick off the spring. He enjoyed some outstanding moments playing for Team Final in Sacramento, at the first EYBL event, scoring 22 points in one contest, but only six in another. He and Team Final competed very well for a stretch, including one 26-point, 7-10 outing at the Hampton event, but then followed that up with a four-point outing in a dreadful 70-39 defeat.
He ironed out the inconsistencies to a great extent at the Peach Jam, never topping 19 points in a game but always scoring in double-figures over six contests. His refined play earned him the No. 27 overall ranking in our post-summer list.
Richardson stands 6-5 but plays taller than that thanks to long arms. He brings a presence defensively thanks to his 6-10 wingspan, obviously a great fit for a team like Syracuse that relies on players' length to disrupt interior passes as part of its zone approach.
He's also a quick slasher and has above-average hops. Richardson doesn't possess elite body control but certainly isn't deficient in that regard, and he's a very fine handler and passer for a big wing.
|Around the rim, Richardson has improved markedly|
Because he can create for himself or finish along the baseline, he causes mismatches depending on a given defender's style. Also carrying a solid frame, the opportunity exists for Richardson to develop a post game to punish smaller opponents.
It's very encouraging how he attacked the basket so much more physically this year over 2013. Having attempted 75 free throws in 15 games a year ago, he raised that number to 140 free throws in 21 contests as a rising senior. And when he gets there he shoots over 76 percent, a strong mark that bodes well for his short- and long-term future as a slasher.
He's also a solid rebounder who doesn't fear contact and should assist the team's general backcourt prowess. There's no one aspect of his game that dominates, he projects to serve a variety of responsibilities effectively.
What once was a defining trait now appears to be a question mark. Richardson entered the scene known as a perimeter shooter, but he shot just 34 percent on threes during 2013 EYBL play, and that number dipped to 32 percent this year.
Richardson still appears to have good touch, and thus his relative inaccuracy likely owes to his mechanics. He shoots almost off his collar bone, leading to a low-release point and unorthodox follow-through that likely won't translate well to the ACC.
He also takes a lot of threes given that inconsistency, as in 2014 he fired 107 threes out of 247 total shot attempts. He shot 43 percent from the field overall, so clearly without the threes he'd have been a drastically more efficient scorer. That's especially true when you factor in his success getting to the foul line and knocking down his freebies.
Richardson hits the mark for Syracuse on multiple counts. Not only does he possess good size, athleticism and (increasingly) strength for the high-major level, he's a great fit for the program's playing style. Although not every touted Orange recruits starts and gets huge minutes immediately, Richardson fills a need and definitely should be ready right away if required.
Over time, he should develop into a tough, efficient player on the both ends of the court. He has proved himself versus national competition, lived up to intense Northeast hype — which can be debilitating to prospects with more fragile constitutions — that began his freshman season, developed a more attacking style and projects to spend at least two seasons in college.
Thinking farther ahead, Richardson can play professionally just by building on the things he does already. If he can improve his jump shot, look for him to surpass expectations and proceed on to even loftier heights.