Josh grows into 'point' producer

InsideTennessee is the place to visit for quality writing and in-depth reporting on Vol hoops. You'll find both in the story below, combining a look at Josh Richardson's production from the point-guard position and a preview of Saturday's game with Alabama.

He can’t move as quickly, dribble as smoothly or break down defenses as easily as a natural point guard. What Josh Richardson can do, however, has earned the respect of Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall heading into Saturday afternoon’s home game with Alabama.

“He doesn’t have that natural point-guard feel yet,” Tyndall said recently. “But, on the flip side, he does some things at that position that some natural point guards can't do."

That’s a fact. At 6-feet-6 and 200 pounds, Richardson can rebound far better than the typical point guard. He can cover wings and small forwards far better than the typical point guard. He can block shots far better than the typical point guard.

Richardson showcased his backboard prowess with 8 rebounds versus Texas Southern, 7 Wednesday night at Mississippi State and 6 versus Virginia Commonwealth. He exhibited his defensive abilities with 6 steals against Butler, 4 against Tennessee Tech, 3 each against Kansas State and Mercer. He showed off his shot-blocking knack with 3 against Virginia Commonwealth. You don’t get those numbers from a typical 6-foot point guard.

As Vol fans are acutely aware, Tennessee hasn’t had a true point guard since NBA veteran C.J. Watson finished up his collegiate eligibility nine years ago. Thirteen games into the 2014-15 season, however, Richardson’s senior stats match up quite well with Watson’s senior stats of 2005-06.

Check it out:

Watson averaged 15.3 points per game; Richardson is averaging 16.1. Watson shot 46.7 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from 3; Richardson is shooting 46.3 from the field and 39.1 from 3. Watson averaged 3.1 rebounds per game; Richardson is averaging 4.2. Watson averaged 3.9 assists per game; Richardson is averaging 3.7. Watson averaged 2.1 turnovers per game; Richardson averages 3.0. Watson blocked four shots all season; Richardson is on pace to block 15.

Bottom line: For a guy who played small forward in 2013-14, Josh Richardson is doing a pretty good job as an emergency point guard in 2014-15. Tyndall isn’t terribly surprised.

"I expected him to play at a high level and do some of the things he is doing,” the coach said. “The thing I am most surprised and proud about is that he has really grasped the point-guard position from the mental standpoint.

“He is receptive in the film room. He asks questions. When he makes a mistake, he doesn't shy away from taking responsibility. That’s not always the case for a senior when you ask him to slide over and sacrifice his part of the game for the betterment of his team. He has been great in adapting to the point-guard position."

Richardson’s most obvious improvement has been in distributing the ball. After recording just 15 assists in the first seven games (2.1 per game), he has recorded 33 in the last six contests (5.5 per game). That suggests he’s gradually evolving into the point-guard role.

"It definitely involves a lot more thinking than any other position on the court,” he conceded. “You pretty much have to know where everybody needs to be on every play. If somebody messes up an assignment, being a point guard and a team leader, it pretty much falls on me. I just try to make sure everything on court stays in order."

In his never-ending effort to evolve as a point guard, Richardson maintains a keen focus in the film room and on the practice floor.

“The biggest thing is paying closer attention in practice, (noticing) more than just what I'm doing,” he said. “I'm talking to Coach a lot about where I'm supposed to be – getting that to be second nature, so I don't have to think about that. I can just instruct traffic."

In addition to running the offense better, Richardson is playing better on-the-ball defense these days. After registering just 8 steals in the first six games (1.3 per game), he has recorded 21 in the last seven contests (3.0 per game).

Despite focusing much of his attention on his new-found point-guard responsibilities, Richardson has managed to score on a consistent basis. In the eight games since he posted a season-low nine points in Game 5 versus Marquette, he has recorded 130 points (16.3 per game) while shooting 49.5 percent (45 of 91) from the field and 44.0 percent (11 of 25) from 3-point range.

“I'm not surprised with anything Josh does with the ball in his hands,” Tyndall said. “He's got a great mid-range game. He can really drive the basketball and get fouled.”

Bottom line: Richardson is contributing so much in so many areas that further discussion of his shortcomings as a point guard is … well … pointless.

GAME NOTES: Tennessee is 9-4 overall and 1-0 in SEC play heading into Saturday's game. Alabama is 11-3 overall and also 1-0 in league play. The Tide hammered Texas A&M 65-44 in its conference opener…. Bama is 0-2 on the road this season, having lost at Xavier and Wichita State…. Alabama leads the all-time series with Tennessee 76-67 but the Vols have a 45-21 advantage in Knoxville…. Tennessee beat the Tide 76-59 last season in Tuscaloosa…. Vol freshman Detrick Mostella is a native of Decatur, Alabama. Tide sophomore Shannon Hale is a native of Johnson City, Tennessee who attended Science Hill High and played for the Tennessee Travelers AAU team…. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. with TV coverage provided by the SEC Network.

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