During the 1990s, Mitch Richmond was one of my favorite players. He was a big strong two-guard who could hit the three or overpower guards in the post. I hadn’t thought much about Richmond the last few years but he has been thrust into the spotlight again because of nostalgia about his Run TMC days and his recent election to the Hall of Fame. Was Richmond really a Hall of Famer? Let’s take a deep dive:
Richmond’s College Career
Richmond spent two years in a junior college before transferring to Kansas State as a 21-year old junior in 1986. Richmond scored 18.6 ppg and helped lead K-State to the second round of the 1986-87 NCAA tourney. As a senior, Richmond was even better. He put up 22.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 3.7 apg and led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight, where they lost to eventual champ (and in-state rival) Kansas.
Richmond has some gaudy in ppg, rpg, and apg, he was surprisingly weak in the peripheral stats. He averaged only 0.7 spg and 0.4 bpg in 35.3 mpg. By comparison, the players taken around him Chris Morris (1.7 spg and 1.3 bpg in 33.9 mpg) and Hersey Hawkins (2.6 spg and 0.8 bpg in 38.8 mpg) were much more active in those areas. This presaged Mitch’s NBA career, where his points were impressive but his defense didn’t impress as much. Notwithstanding this issue, Richmond was a hot prospect and went fifth overall to Golden State in the 1988 NBA Draft.
Richmond in Golden State
Richmond was an instant scorer (22.0 ppg) for GS and was the 1988-89 Rookie of the Year. He scored about 23 ppg in his three years in Golden State. As we noted a few weeks ago, Richmond was a key part of the Run TMC Warriors but was clearly the weakest of the TMC group (his BPM was barely positive in that time due to weak defense). Right before the 1991-92 season, GS dealt Richmond to Sacramento because the Warriors felt they had other two guards who could replace him (which was true) and felt they needed a big forward (which was also true).
Mitch’s Prime in Sacramento
He was dealt to a truly moribund Sacramento King team with virtually no talent. Richmond occupied the majority of the offensive pie when he was paired with guards like Tyus Edney and Bobby Hurley. Over seven years in Sacto, Richmond put up 23.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, and 4.1 apg. The advanced stats weren’t bad either (50.4 W, .124 WS/48, 1.7 BPM, 18.1 VORP). Because the Kings were pretty bad most of this time, Richmond lacked many signature memorable moments (to his credit he was a positive force for the franchise off the court). He made six straight All-Star games and won the 1995 All-Star MVP when he scored 23 points on 10-13 shooting.
Alas, the Kings mostly wasted Richmond’s prime. They made only one playoff appearance, and then only as an eight-seed in 1995-96 (they lost to the Sonics 3-1). In 1998, the Kings finally traded the 32-year old Richmond to the Wizards for 24-year old Chris Webber. The trade seemed pretty good for the Kings at the time (the old adage was never trade age for youth or guards for big men and the Wiz violated both). The deal ended up even better for the Kings than it seemed on paper. Webber helped lead the Kings to the best run in franchise history in the Shot Clock Era. Ironically, Richmond’s biggest contribution for Sacramento was helping the Kings fleece the Wiz.
Long in the Tooth in DC
The Wiz’s master plan was to try to compete in 1998-99 with a 33-year old Richmond and a 32-year old Mitch Richmond. I couldn’t find much in the way of reporting on that team but I vividly recall a TNT television segment before the season where Strickland and Richmond were joking about how slow Richmond was and that he (Richmond) could now barely dunk.
The segment was tongue-in-cheek but the undercurrent, that Richmond was losing his ability, was definitely true. Richmond scored 19.7 ppg on .412 FG% in 1998-99 (both lowest of his career to that point) and his advanced stats also began to erode (-0.4 BPG, 0.8 VORP, 15.5 PER). The Wizards spent the next two years in the lottery and Richmond further declined (he fell all the way to 16.2 ppg on .407 FG%, 14.9 PER, -1.4 BPM in 2000-01) before his contract expired.
Mitch Gets a Ring
After leaving GS after 1990-91, Richmond made one playoff appearance in the next ten seasons. He signed with the Shaq/Kobe Lakers hoping to contribute and get a ring just like Ron Harper and Brian Shaw had done before. Richmond got the ring but he barely played in the regular season (11.1 mpg in 64 games) and even less in the playoffs (two games and four minutes). The only thing I remember about Richmond’s season was that I was in the Meadowlands when Richmond hit a jumper in garbage time near the end of Game 4 against the Nets. This would prove to be the last bucket of his career.
Richmond v. Jordan, et al
Richmond’s HOF case lies on two basic tenets: (a) sustained offensive brilliance, and (b) the argument that he was the about the second best two guard behind Jordan for much of their overlapping careers. It’s hard to argue that Richmond wasn’t a great offensive player. As for the second point, I thought it would be interesting to see where Richmond actually ranks against other two guards during Mitch’s time as an NBA regular (1988 through 2001). This period does short thrift some of Mitch’s rivals (Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler had some great years before 1988-89 and both retired after 1997-98) but it gives us a nice chunk of time to review. Here are the other shooting guards who were starters from 1988 to 2001:
-Mitch Richmond: 912 games, 36.8 mpg, 22.2 ppg, .456 FG%, .390 3FG%, 4.1 rpg, 3.6 apg, 17.7 PER, 78.4 WS, .112 WS/48, 1.0 BPM, 25.3 VORP
-Michael Jordan: 666 games, 38.6 mpg, 31.0 ppg, .505 FG%, .354 3FG%, 6.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 29.0 PER, 150.9 WS, .282 WS/48, 8.8 BPM, 70.3
-Clyde Drexler: 686 games, 36.2 mpg, 21.6 ppg, .462 FG%, .326 3FG%, 6.6 rpg, 5.7 apg, 21.4 PER, 95.5 WS, .15 WS/48, 6.3 BPM, 51.9 VORP
-Reggie Miller: 1,012 games, 36.0 mpg, 20.3 ppg, .476 FG%, .402 3FG%, 3.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 19.1 PER, 137.7 WS, .181 WS/48, 3.7 BPM, 52.0 VORP
-Joe Dumars: 775 games, 36.1 mpg, 17.5 ppg, 17.5 ppg, .456 FG%, .383 3FG%, 2.2 rpg, 4.5 apg, 15.9 PER, 72.9 WS, .125 WS/48, 0.5 BPM, 17.3 VORP
-Jeff Hornacek: 915 games, 33.0 mpg, 15.8 ppg, .497 FG%, .409 3FG%, 3.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, 18.1 PER, 102.8 WS, .164 WS/48, 3.6 BPM, 42.3 VORP
-Hersey Hawkins: 983 games, 32.6 mpg, 14.7 ppg, .461 FG%, .394 3FG%, 3.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 16.3 PER, 90.6 WS, .136 WS/48, 2.4 BPM, 35.7 VORP
-Ron Harper: 870 games, 30.2 mpg, 12.8 ppg, .443 FG%, .295 3FG%, 4.2 rpg, 3.7 apg, 15.3 PER, 58.0 WS, .106 WS/48, 2.1 BPM, 27.0 VORP
While it is clear that Richmond was not as good a player as MJ or Drexler, the advanced stats also put him decisively below Miller (and arguably below Hornacek and Hawkins). Mitch’s advanced numbers are hurt by more ephemeral defensive stats and the Kings’ terrible records.
In terms of peak value, Richmond’s top three seasons are good but not great (they clock in between 20th and 50th for guards during that time period). So, the overall picture is that Richmond was a nice volume scorer but almost always no better than the third or fourth best shooting guard in the NBA. Richmond may not be the worse Hall of Fame pick ever but he is certainly on the lower end of the choices.
The irony is that Richmond’s terrible teams and the lack of secondary scoring options made him a Hall of Famer. The sheer volume of points overshadowed his moderate efficiency and meh defense. Had Jeff Hornacek and Richmond switched teams, we could very well have a different player in the Hall of Fame. You can’t, however, begrudge Richmond his HOF honor. Those years toiling in Sacramento certainly earned him some reward.