Where does Malachi Richardson go from here?

Mar 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Malachi Richardson (23) drives to the basket against Virginia Cavaliers guard Darius Thompson (51) during the first half in the championship game of the midwest regional of the NCAA Tournament at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Malachi Richardson (23) drives to the basket against Virginia Cavaliers guard Darius Thompson (51) during the first half in the championship game of the midwest regional of the NCAA Tournament at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Anyone watching Syracuse basketball during the tournament has recognized the growth of Malachi Richardson. What do fans think of the prospect of Richardson dominating in Orange next season?

For a brief history of Malachi Richardson’s path to assumed Orange greatness, he was rated an 89 overall guard by Scouts, Inc. and was ranked 23rd in the class of 2015 by ESPN when he committed to Syracuse basketball in December of 2013. At the time he was a junior playing high school basketball in New Jersey. He eventually signed a letter of intent in November of 2014 to play for the Orange.

In his senior season, he was named a McDonald’s All-American. Also coming to Syracuse in the class of 2015 were Tyler Lydon (ranked 84th by ESPN), Moustapha Diagne (ranked 58th), and Franklin Howard (ranked 94th). Of the four, Richardson is the only one to have held down a starting spot for the entire season, with Lydon being the pivotal sixth man throughout.

This season, he scored double digits in all but five games. He is a wiry looking guard who has the ability to hit the three and penetrate. He rarely plays the official shooting guard position because of the presence of Trevor Cooney, but in Syracuse’s offense, he plays the wing and is required to move a lot, frequently getting the ball at 23 feet and asked to create. On defense, he spends a lot of his time in the corner of the zone, which gives him the most area to defend, including the constant threat of a successful screen in the paint to allow someone to get below him on the baseline. Fortunately, Coleman, Roberson, and Lydon manning the paint has minimized that threat this season as all three move well off screens.

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Now, to Richardson’s deficiencies. He can frequently get into shooting ruts where he will select bad shots. It appears the reason this happens is because he works to shoot his way out of a funk instead of giving the ball up out of a fear of missing; this is not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation. In Sunday’s game against Virginia, he struggled to 2 points on 0-5 shooting (0-2 from three) in the first half. In the second half, he hit a run and seemed to knock down everything. He was figuratively on fire, NBA Jam style.

So, being from Central New York, my social media was blowing up with other Syracuse fans spouting off about everything Orange related. It seems the number one topic since Sunday has been whether Malachi Richardson is going to jump to the NBA or stay in school at least one more year.

A friend of mine posed the question in this way:

“Question for all basketball/SU fans: You think Malachi will stay or leave SU for the NBA??”

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In all honesty, the feelings are mixed. Here are some opinions I read:

“He would be smart to stay. Got a good 2 and 4 coming in.”

“He’s out.”

“He’s staying.”

“In my opinion, he’s staying to build up his stock for the draft!!!”

“He needs at least one more year to get NBA ready. Plus a VERY good chance at back to back Final Fours. BUT…his stock just blew up after last night. Mix that with a very weak draft class, so IDK.”

“Let’s see what he does against UNC.”

“Now that they changed the ruling it allows everyone to test their stock and then return to school. I personally think he should stay, however as in the past when your stock rises you leave (Jeremi Grant, MCW, Tyler Ennis).”

-Pause for a very long side discussion about the incoming recruiting class and who plays the point, as well as how long they will be and how the roster would look with and without Richardson.

“He better.”

“Def stay.”

“He keeps it up, he’s gone.”

“If you’re in his shoes, why would you stay? His name is ringing right now, NBA drafts on potential, not as much what you’ve done, but what you have the potential to do.”

“He should stay…look at all the Cuse guys who leave early…Ennis, Greene, McCullough…where are they now? I wish he would stay, but I doubt it would happen.”

“The buzz is he will stay and be a 1st rounder next year. As of right now, Gbinije should be drafted.”

“Excellent question…”

“I think he’ll stay, however, last night could have changed the script.”

“He’s not good enough yet…too sloppy. He had one good half, but if they win the chip, he will be gone.”

“He’s gone for sure.”

“I hope he stays, but as great as he looked, there will be a few NBA teams that will take a flyer on him now.”

“I think the only way he stays is if he genuinely likes the college life, or if he’s told he won’t be a first rounder (2nd round contracts aren’t guaranteed).”

“I hope he stays, but if he keeps playing the way he is, lights out, NBA it is.”

As you can see, it is pretty evenly split. If you want to know what my take was, I wrote:

“No idea what he will do, but if he leaves, he’s destined for the D-League. He won’t he picked before Silent G and G is a late 1st pick. If he’s interested in money, he’ll stay.”

I know it sounds like I am being harsh, but I attribute my opinion based on one main thing: his body. Richardson is still very thin and although he is wiry strong, his body needs more development. Being in Arizona, I get the luxury of seeing the Phoenix Suns beat themselves frequently and one thing is certain, last year’s #13 pick, Devin Booker, is more physically developed than Richardson at roughly the same height and position. He is also more than a year younger than Richardson.

Booker is a different bread, like Lebron James a decade ago. Some teenagers are just built stronger. Gbinije is bigger and has a better body for the banging NBA game, but Richardson needs more development. Maybe he does go in the first round, but where does his thin and light frame leave him once he is a professional?

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With that said, he offers a rarely seen ability to freeze the defense before acting. He does seem out of control on occasion, but in comparison to his peers, he is a more well-rounded player. He has the ability to make a defender give space due to the surprise nature of his first step, that’s not an easily taught and learned technique. It really could serve him well when he gets to the NBA; but, only if he gets the chance to play. Like Booker, no one really knows what some of these kids can do while they ride the pine.