Illini basketball fans should be excited about the potential of sophomore D.J. Richardson (#1).

Illinois Basketball Summer School: Sophomore D.J. Richardson, Part III

In Part III of the Illinois Basketball Summer School series, Writing Illini wraps up its analysis of sophomore guard D.J. Richardson by providing a scouting report, five areas of improvement, and some projections for 2010-2011.

Here are Parts I and II on Richardson.

The D.J. Richardson Scouting Report

From the offensive side of his game, Richardson was a bit of a streaky scorer while averaging 10.5 points per game as a freshman, with a lot of his scoring coming in bunches and then followed by some quiet periods. With that said, Richardson was often a momentum-starter at times last season with his ability to get hot and can open jumpers.

Like many younger players, Richardson can fall head over heels with the three-point line, where he took 177 of his 311 shots as a freshman (57%) and scored most of his points early in the season.

A 38.9% three-point shooter and 39.9% overall shooter, Richardson is a very solid marksman when able to set his feet and get some lift into his shot. He typically does a very nice job of sliding and moving into his shot in shooter-ready position and then exploding from his base. He also has a good feel of how to move off screens, curl and square up his feet when taking his shot, though this area of the game can always use more work.

Richardson had an innate ability as a freshman to hit some big-time outside shots, as evidenced by several four-point plays that I can remember off the top of my head (at Clemson, at Northwestern, against Vanderbilt) and some clutch shots late in games at Indiana and Wisconsin.

Later in the 2009-2010 season, Richardson began to show a nice shooting touch off the bounce, an aspect of his game that was encouraging and would be nice to see more often during his sophomore campaign. Typically, Richardson was going to his right as opposed to left when pulling up off the dribble.

As a freshman, Richardson did not attack the rim enough, which is too bad because he is actually quite athletic and sneaky around the glass. Most of his in-close points came on fast-break opportunities.

For a young player, Richardson was one of Illinois’ more clutch players at the free throw line, hitting 6-of-6 late in a big win at Penn State, typically showing no fear at the charity stripe with the game on the line, and connecting on 62 of his 80 attempts (77.5%) overall.

In terms of distributing the ball, Richardson looked promising in his first Big Ten Network game against Presbyterian, handing out 5 assists (a season-high), and was second on the team in assists (2.1)  per game, though he was not much of a distributor over the course of the season.

While typically having good court awareness, Richardson did not fully display his distribution skills as a freshman, in large part because he struggled to handle the ball, something that Weber suggested at the time may have been more mental than physical. Illinois’ inability to develop an adequate back-up ballhandler behind starting point guard Demetri McCamey would be a crutch all last season.

Though he has a long way to go be a truly great defender, Richardson was probably Illinois’ best defensive player last season, which isn’t diminishing his skill set but rather confirming that the Illini were not all that good on this end of the floor (which was somewhat surprising for a Weber-led team but a bit expected with the losses of Chester Frazier, Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham).

When able to get his body into slower players, Richardson can be a real pest on this end of the court, though he did have his struggles with fighting over screens and containing players from getting into the lane, especially early last season. As a whole, the Illini were not a very good team at cutting off penetration, with McCamey especially standing out as someone who rarely provided any resistance or effort for that matter in this crucial area of the game.

With all this said, Richardson is a great competitor on the defensive end of the court and quickly earned Weber’s trust to guard the best offensive players in the Big Ten, including Evan Turner, E’Twaun Moore, Manny Harris and others. One reason that Richardson had more single-digit scoring outputs at the end of the Big Ten season was because he was guarding the other team’s most dangerous perimeter threat.

As a help-side defender, Richardson showed some promise, though he could fall asleep off the ball and struggle to cover long distances when closing out as a freshman at times.

With all of this said, Richardson definitely has the fire, attitude and defensive footwork to be a lock-down defender by the time he leaves Illinois, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as an upperclassmen if he continues to put the work in and becomes headier on the court.

In terms of rebounding, Richardson didn’t provide much last year, in large part because he was usually on the perimeter offensively. After watching 32 of his 36 games last season, it’s hard to gauge what type of rebounder Richardson is, though he does have the athleticism to up his numbers by a couple of rebounds.

While Richardson had some moments when he looked like a freshman and hit the wall in 2009-2010, he also wasn’t a typical first-year player, coming in and contributing immediately, giving great defensive effort and scoring in double digits 22 times while logging 30.9 minutes per game.

Richardson looks like the real deal in terms of becoming a solid and more vocal leader as a sophomore and will be the player that McCamey and fellow seniors Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole turn the keys over to after the 2010-2011 season.

5 Areas for Richardson to Improve

1. Mix Up Three-Point and Mid-Range Game

Nearly 60% of Richardson’s shots as a freshman came from three, a percentage that is way too high, especially when considering that D.J. has more of an all-around game than fans and he sometimes realize.

2. Become the Illini Defensive Stopper

As new Illini graduate assistant and former defensive stopper Chester Frazier recently pointed out, Richardson is not there yet, though he has the work ethic, attitude and determination to be a defensive stopper in time.

As a sophomore, Richardson should make it a point to set Illinois’ defensive tone from the get go of games and plant the seeds for his defensive player of the year candidacy as a junior.

Doing a better job of cutting off dribble penetration should be at the top of Richardson’s to-do list as a sophomore.

3. Cut Down the Youthful Mistakes, and Have Better Court Awareness and Consistency

Richardson was not the typical college basketball freshman who typically seemed overmatch out on the court.

With that said, Richardson did have some games (e.g., the Las Vegas weekend from hell, versus Gonzaga at the United Center, etc.) where his head seemed to be in the clouds.

More experience and confidence  should result in Richardson becoming an even more consistent and confident player in year two at Illinois.

With that said, Richardson could also stand to cut down his turnovers after having 7 games with 3 or more turnovers last year.

4. Attack the Rim and Crash the Glass More Often

During a couple of games last season, Richardson showed some nice springs around the rim, either when going for a layup or crashing the offensive boards.

I’m not saying that Richardson has to get Illinois 5-6 rebounds to be successful, but he does have much more skill and athleticism to snag more than 2.7 boards per game.

All Richardson needs to do is focus a little more on rebounding, and the boards should come. He is too heady of a player for them not to.

5. Assume More of a Leadership Role

Richardson has the outgoing personality and respect of his teammates to continue to grow as a leader as a sophomore.

Regardless of what Illinois does this season, the future prospects of this program in the two years immediately after the 2010-2011 campaign rest on the leadership skills of the sophomore class of Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey.

In my opinion, Richardson has all of the ingredients to be the heart-and-soul of Illinois teams that will be very realistic Final Four contenders in 2012 and 2013.

As he is no longer a freshman, Richardson need not worry about ruffling the feathers of his senior teammates, all of whom could use a kick in the rear at times.

Projecting Richardson’s Sophomore Season and Beyond at Illinois

Along with Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale, Richardson seems to be a sure bet in terms of starting next season after starting in an impressive 35 of 36 games as a freshman.

Once again, Richardson will be expected to guard the best perimeter players in the Big Ten, and the sophomore will be even better in this role in 2010-2011, so much so that he will make the Big Ten Coaches’ Third Team at the end of the season.

Not a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate at this point of his career, Richardson will be by the time he is a junior, and should win the award once if he stays four years at Illinois.

With the arrival of Jereme Richmond, maturation of Paul and expected increased playing time for Griffey, don’t be surprised if Richardson’s scoring numbers stay the same or even drop a point or two as a sophomore.

With that said, expect Richardson to become more of a distributor on offense, particularly by attacking the lane off the dribble (while still getting his three-point shots and sparking Illinois runs with some shooting streaks), and improve in showcasing his all-around game while playing with more consistency.

While Richardson has become a bit of a forgotten man this summer, he is just one of those kids who knows how to play the game, doing a lot of little things that often lend players like him to fan-favorite status.

With continued improvement, greater maturity and even more coaching from Weber, Richardson has the potential to become not only one of the best players to come through the program since the Dee Brown-Deron Williams-Luther Head era but a fringe late first round/early second round draft pick after his senior season, with the ability to play defense his best bet of landing in the NBA.

Alright.

That wraps up the Illinois Basketball Summer School series on the very promising D.J. Richardson.

Only two players remain: Richardson’ s fellow sophomores Paul and Griffey.

While Richardson and Griffey have the potential to be pillars of stability at Illinois, Paul has the ability to become a breakout star as an upperclassman (in my opinion).

With that said, Paul’s development during his sophomore season will be very intriguing to watch, leaving me quite excited to revisit his very inconsistent freshman campaign.

I hope to do so in the next couple of days or by early next week at the latest.

Until then.

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Tags: Assembly Hall Bill Cole Brandon Paul Bruce Weber Chester Frazier Crandall Head D.J. Richardson Demetri McCamey Illini Basketball Illinois Basketball Jeff Jordan Jereme Richmond Jerrance Howard Joseph Bertrand Meyers Leonard Mike Davis Mike Tisdale Mychael Henry Tyler Griffey U-of-I Basketball University Of Illinois

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