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What’s the next step for Heat’s Josh Richardson? ‘To understand he doesn’t have to defer’

Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) brings the ball up court against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, in Miami. The Pelicans defeated he Heat 109-94.  (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) brings the ball up court against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, in Miami. The Pelicans defeated he Heat 109-94. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

What’s the next step for Heat’s Josh Richardson? ‘To understand he doesn’t have to defer’

By Anthony Chiang

      MIAMI — Josh Richardson has already shown a lot of growth this season. But what’s the next step in the versatile wing player’s evolution?

“To understand he doesn’t have to defer,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Richardson entered Tues-day’s home game against the 76ers averaging 13.3 points on 45.5 percent shooting from the field and 38.2 percent shooting from 3-point range to go with 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. The 24-year-old is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in his third NBA season.

But Spoelstra believes there’s room for even more growth, like what Richardson did in December. He averaged 17.4 points on 54.6 percent shooting in 15 games that month while playing in a primary role with Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson and Goran Dragic each missing multiple games in December.

“I think it was pretty important just knowing that’s what I’m capable of,” Richardson said of that strong stretch. “The team doesn’t need me to be that every day a lot of the time. But when I need to do it, then I think it’s there. I think the talent and the aggression is there. I just need to start being that guy more often now because coach Spo said he wants me to be more aggressive and assertive, so that’s what I need to do.”

That’s the next step for Richardson.

“He can continue to grow this season,” Spoelstra said. “This is his time on both ends of the court. He is so impactful for us. I want him to be ambitious. I want him to be more for our team. He has that kind of upside. He’s such a great teammate. He knows how to impact winning. I also would like him get out of his comfort zone and push it even more. J-Rich is a very talented, very good basketball player. I don’t even know what his ceiling is. I just want him to keep pushing to find new levels.”

Richardson has already become one of the Heat’s top two-way options. Among the 171 NBA players who have played in at least 40 games and are defending at least eight shots per game this season, Richardson owns the second-best opponent field-goal percentage at 39.5 percent behind only Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

Dwyane Wade returned to the Heat less than a month ago, but he’s already noticed a difference in this season’s version of Richardson from the rookie he played with in 2015-16.

“First of all, his confidence is the biggest thing. Second would be, you just see all the work he’s put in. You can see it on the basketball floor,” Wade said. “But his confidence is sky high.                    He’s always, from the beginning when he came in as a second-round pick, been a kid that had that confidence. But now he got a little extra swagger to it. A couple 30-point games and hitting big shots and all those kind of things, it helps.”

So does the four-year, $42 million extension Richardson signed with the Heat in September.

“Just knowing that I’m secure here, it definitely helps,” Richardson said. “Knowing that they want me here, it gives me a lot of confidence knowing that they had enough faith in me to offer me that.”

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