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Player Review: The Malachi Richardson Experiment

Continuing the timeline of Bruno Caboclo, for whom he was traded for, Malachi Richardson may still be two years away from being a rotation player.

Malachi Richardson came to the Toronto Raptors via a trade deadline move by team president Masai Ujiri. It will likely forever be known as the Bruno Caboclo trade though. The move was also essential bit of accounting to keep the them barely under the tax line in case specific milestone-related bonuses were to kick in for some of the Raptors players. Bruno’s salary this year (and for next, if his qualifying offer is picked up) is higher than what Malachi is making now and moving forward.

Richardson is just as much of a long shot prospect as Bruno was at this point. Unfortunately, Malachi not only failed to become a fringe rotation player for the Raptors, he was also unable, for the most part, to be even one of the top five players on the 905 roster. With the way the Raptors fizzled out in the playoffs, some roster change might not look far-fetched, and there might be a chance for him to compete for a fringe rotation role. Malachi, after all, is a first-round pick, and his shooting stroke is excellent. His development should ease the pressure on Masai for not having any picks in this coming draft since Richardson still has multiple years on a very cap-friendly contract.

The Good

Malachi showed in the G League playoffs that he could be a solid contributor off the bench, as he provided the needed scoring boost against the Grand Rapids Drive and Westchester Knicks. Malachi is one of the rare players that the Raptors have who can manufacture a three-point shot with a defender guarding him. He is also just as comfortable hitting those catch-and-shoot opportunities around the perimeter as well.

Outside of his shooting, Malachi has shown glimpses of a nascent passing/playmaking ability. Malachi is still a work in progress defensively (and overall as a player), but it’s good to see him respond well defensively after getting a quick hook from coach Jerry Stackhouse at times.

The Bad

Defense is the currency that Stackhouse — and the Raptors organization as a whole — operates with when it comes to playing time. And unfortunately for Malachi, he came to the team a bit empty-handed.

Malachi struggled to get consistent playing time and failed to crack the starting rotation mainly because of his defense. In that way, Richardson reminds me of Bruno’s first two years, as he:

  • is prone to losing his man due to ball-watching;
  • gets lost in transition defense — he gets caught looking for his man or sticking with the closest opposing player;
  • can’t stay in front of his man as an on-ball defender; and
  • would miss or be late with his defensive rotation.

I could go on and on.

It’s a shame that coach Stackhouse did not get a full season of Malachi though. As mentioned, those quick hooks and the learning experience he got, led to Malachi’s improved performance in the post-season. Maybe there’s still a chance for these defensive lessons to stick, and for a more complete player to emerge next season.

The Grade: Incomplete

While it’s easy to give Malachi a failing grade, he’s coming off an injury-plagued start to his career on a messed Kings squad. Once he got assigned to the Raptors 905, Malachi had to transition to a team with the already established hierarchy on the offensive end, compared to starting, being featured, and having a long leash for the Reno Big Horns. Despite having multiple NBA games under his belt, Malachi did not get an opportunity to play with the main club during the season.

Malachi has a critical summer ahead of him, as the template is already laid out for him: defend and shoot your threes. Having a front row seat in the playoffs, Malachi can envision himself having a role in the rotation, as he is most likely in the team’s top five three-point shooters. That said, Malachi needs to refine his game, for sure — that play-making ability needs to be exercised more, and his attention to defense has to be fine-tuned.

Malachi finished his G League stint, and he’s about to enter the summer in good health, which was not the case since he came to the league. He spent the last two summers rehabbing from injuries rather than improving his game. It will also be interesting to see whether Stackhouse will be back as the G League coach for the 905 (or maybe the next Toronto Raptors coach) because if he is, Malachi Richardson would be a good project for coach Stackhouse for the coming season.