For the past two years, the Raptors 905 have been one the best teams in the NBA’s G-League. They won the G-League championship last season and they’re headed back to the Finals after Friday night’s victory over the Erie Bayhawks.
The team is only in its third season, but they’ve already managed to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the G-League. Perhaps even more importantly, the Toronto Raptors have used their affiliate to develop young players, maybe better than any other team in the league.
Arguably the best bench in the NBA right now, the unit of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl spent quality time getting seasoning with the Raptors 905. Now, Malachi Richardson is hoping to follow a similar path.
Richardson was selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the 2016 NBA draft with the 22nd overall pick and was immediately traded to the Sacramento Kings. Since coming to the NBA, he hasn’t quite been able to find the same on-court success he managed in college. After only a year and a half with the Kings, they traded him this season at the trad deadline to the Raptors.
While it’s only been a few months with the Raptors, one of the main things that has stood out to him is their focus on utilizing the G-League and the Raptors 905.
“They’re a bunch of great guys and a great organization,” Richardson told Basketball Insiders. “They really take advantage of developing their young guys. They want to win and that’s the most important thing.”
Richardson once showed a lot of promise coming out of college and into the NBA. He was a five-star recruit out of Trenton Catholic Academy in New Jersey and he was a one and done at Syracuse. He entered the 2016 NBA draft after a spectacular performance in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight round against Virginia vaulted Syracuse into the Final Four.
He only suited up in 22 games for the Kings, however, during his rookie season. A hamstring injury caused him to be shut down for the season last February. He did manage to show some flashes of potential though. His two best games as a rookie came against the Cleveland Cavaliers (12 points, 5-6 shooting and three rebounds) and Golden State Warriors (10 points, seven rebounds and two assists).
Instead of being able to use summer league as a means to showcase his game, he was limited in Las Vegas due to the same injury that cut his rookie year short. Buried on the bench as this season began, he saw sporadic playing time in 25 games with the Kings prior to being traded to the Raptors. He does believe though that he is capable of contributing to an NBA team.
“There’s a lot I can bring,” Richardson told Basketball Insiders. “I want to be a complete player. That’s something I can bring, something I’m working on right now.”
And the place he’s putting in that work currently is not an NBA court, but instead in the G-League. Since arriving in Toronto, Richardson has played in one game, a blowout win over the Hornets on Feb. 11 during which he only received minutes during garbage time. The rest of this time he’s been honing his abilities with the Raptors 905.
Richardson is no stranger to the G-League though. Last season with the Kings, he spent 11 games with their affiliate the Reno Bighorns. He displayed his penchant for scoring (21.6 points per game) and shooting (44.0 percent from downtown).
“The G-League is a great league for guys to get better and show what they can do,” Richardson told Basketball Insiders.
This season has been different, however. Despite being a guy that has NBA experience, he’s spent most of his time coming off the Raptors 905 bench. He’s hit some struggles along the way. He’s putting up 8.8 points per game but only shooting 32.9 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from the three-point line.
He’s still under contract for at least one more season beyond this one. Following that, the Raptors will have a team option on his contract. He’ll most likely get a chance to prove himself a bit during summer league. But Richardson knows he’ll have to do it soon if he wants to break into a deep Raptors rotation.
“I just have to keep getting better,” Richardson told Basketball Insiders. “From defending, making shots, fitting into a role, just finding my niche and getting good. Fitting in with the guys and getting better.”