Before Buddy Hield was acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans in the DeMarcus Cousins deal, another rookie shooting guard had already earned a spot in the Kings' rotation. Before Skal Labissiere put the NBA on notice with a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns or Georgios Papagiannis managed three double-doubles in the last month of the season, another 2017 draft pick had already begun to make a name for himself.
Malachi Richardson is the Kings’ forgotten man. Taken with the 22nd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the wing out of Syracuse dazzled in his short stint with the Reno Bighorns and quietly earned the trust of Dave Joerger once he saw minutes in Sacramento. If not for a torn hamstring in the final game before the All-Star break, Richardson would be a player firmly on the Kings’ radar for this season.
But injuries happen. And a partial thickness tear of the hamstring is not something to take lightly. After trying to return late in the season, the Kings shut Richardson down with the hopes of him having a full recovery leading into the summer.
Those hopes were dashed when Richardson tweaked his hamstring again during Summer League in Las Vegas and was forced to miss most of the competition. His absence opened the door for 2017 15th overall pick, Justin Jackson, to earn minutes and the rookie didn’t disappoint.
“It was tough,” Richardson said Friday from the Kings practice floor. “I had worked so hard to get ready for Summer League. To get out there and play pretty well. I played okay in the first half and then to re aggravate it in the second half, towards the end of the game again, it was very frustrating.”
Now fully healthy, Richardson is ready to fight for his rotational spot again, but the road to playing time won’t be easy.
“My body feels good, I’m a little sore from the two-a-days and just long practices, but my body feels great,” Richardson said. “I’m ready to roll into the season.”
During his absence, Hield played starter minutes down the stretch at the shooting guard position. Hield earned a shot to compete for the starting job after averaging 15.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in the final 25 games of the season.
You can also add Serbian sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic to the equation, who came over from Europe on a three-year, $27 million deal over the summer. Neither Hield, nor Bogdanovic have the size to slide to the small forward position for long stints, making the competition for minutes at the shooting guard spot fierce.
Garrett Temple is also in the mix at the two. He’s the Kings’ best defensive player and the coaching staff love his leadership. He can play both wing positions, but his natural spot on the floor is at the shooting guard spot.
Following Friday’s training camp session, coach Dave Joerger mentioned that he might even steal some minutes at the two for veteran guard George Hill to help get more time for top prospect De’Aaron Fox at the point.
The path to playing time might not be so simple at the three either for Richardson. Jackson has turned heads with his mature play. Veteran Vince Carter will play minutes off the bench for Joerger and Temple will shift over, possibly even starting at the three.
“Competition, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got to compete every day, that’s the plan, go and compete and get better,” Richardson said.
There are six players and possibly more vying for time on the wing. Someone is going to get the short end of the stick.
Richardson is just 21 years old. He spent most of the summer in Sacramento working with the training staff and he’s 100 percent healthy. He’s also reworked his body, going from 200 pounds last summer to a muscular 220 coming into camp.
“I didn’t plan on playing the three at all, I just knew I wanted to get my body a lot stronger that it was coming into the NBA,” Richardson said.
At 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan, Richardson has the size to man either wing position. Having a year under his belt might help him as well. He knows the terminology of the coaching staff and what is expected of him.
It’s way too early to speculate on the rotation, but Richardson is in a dogfight for playing time. He needs to improve every day and earn the trust of the coaching staff like he had last season.