The blockbuster trades the Orlando Magic made December 18th fortified their rotation, but also, naturally, cut players out of it. And with Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson entering the fold, starting small forward Quentin Richardson found himself cast aside as Turkoglu, J.J. Redick, and Jason Richardson took on the Magic's minutes at both wing positions.
But Richardson's crept back into coach Stan Van Gundy's rotation in recent weeks, appearing in the Magic's last eight games, including a 19-minute, 35-second outing in Thursday's loss to the Miami Heat. That was his longest appearance since the big trades themselves left the Magic shorthanded for a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, forcing Richardson to log a team-high 43:30.
Richardson fell out of the rotation because the Magic needed to upgrade their offense, and Richardson simply wasn't producing, even by the admittedly diminished standards for a fifth option. A three-point marksman in theory, Richardson couldn't keep the floor spaced enough, as he's shot 30.6 percent on threes this season, taking 58.7 percent of his shot attempts from beyond the arc.
But the Magic have seen, in the last eight games, what Richardson can provide for them defensively. For better or worse, he stands as the team's best perimeter stopper, as Orlando had to part with Mickael Pietrus to bring Jason Richardson and Turkoglu over from Phoenix. The Magic can probably afford to hand between five and 10 minutes per game to Richardson, even considering his meager offense, because he's a smart, physical, willing defender on the perimeter. Of the Magic's four wing players, Richardson stands the best chance of staying in front of his man and forcing him to shoot over the top. He doesn't gamble for steals, is attentive away from the ball, and can even hold his own in the post against stronger players.
Additionally, Richardson's long ranked as one of the league's better rebounding perimeter players, so he can contribute in that area even with his shot not dropping. Further, his track record suggests he won't continue to shoot so poorly for too much longer, as he owned a career 35.9 percent mark on treys prior to this season. If he can make one or two threes per night, play his usual brand of intelligent defense, and grab a few boards in limited minutes, the Magic may have found a way to get a return on their four-year investment in Richardson.
Finding minutes for the veteran from DePaul shouldn't be too hard for Van Gundy. With power forward Brandon Bass ailing, Hedo Turkoglu figures to spend more time at that position, which opens up more minutes at small forward for Richardson. Plus, due to the Magic's unimpressive perimeter defense, it's clear that Van Gundy needs to rely on Jason Richardson and Turkoglu a bit less each night. If nothing else, Quentin Richardson has demonstrated this season he can defend with energy and skill. He's a guy Van Gundy should be able to trust now.