As Malachi Richardson watched the first 21 picks being announced during Thursday’s NBA draft, he had to know his critics were getting louder.
The guard heard he had made a mistake leaving Syracuse after his freshman season. But he felt his decision was justified when he was picked at No. 22 by the Charlotte Hornets, who were making the selection for the Kings after a predraft trade.
The Kings cannot talk about Richardson until the deal that sent guard Marco Belinelli to Charlotte for the 22nd pick becomes official July 1, but Richardson should have an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
“That means a lot,” Richardson told reporters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “You can’t really worry about what people say anymore. They’re not in my shoes, and I just got to make the best of the opportunity.”
Most of the attention after the draft was focused on the Kings’ two big men, Georgios Papagiannis of Greece and Skal Labissiere from Kentucky, but the acquisition of Richardson might be their best move.
The Kings drafted shooting guards in 2013 and 2014 and signed Belinelli as a free agent last year in their continued attempts to upgrade at the position.
Ben McLemore (2013) is the only one still on the roster, but he could be traded. Nik Stauskas (2014) was traded to Philadelphia last year, and Belinelli was a disappointment in his only season with the Kings. Seth Curry, also signed as a free agent, plans to test free agency after declining his player option for next season.
That gives Richardson an opportunity as a rookie. At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Richardson has size the Kings lack in the backcourt.
“I just look forward to going out there and working my tail off, trying to help that organization,” Richardson said.
Richardson averaged 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Orange. He shot just 36.9 percent, but he improved as the season progressed, and he played a key role as 10th-seeded Syracuse reached the Final Four before losing to NCAA runner-up North Carolina. He tied his career high with 23 points and made 3 of 7 three-point attempts in the Orange’s upset of Virginia in the Elite Eight.
Richardson isn’t afraid of contact and will attack the rim in addition to shooting from outside.
But the Kings perhaps need more help with their perimeter defense than with their offense. Last season, many opposing guards took advantage of the Kings’ defensive shortcomings.
Syracuse played zone defense exclusively, so Richardson must adjust to the man-to-man defense in the NBA. But he said he isn’t concerned.
“It definitely won’t hurt me,” Richardson said. “I played man-to-man my whole life, and I’ve been able to show that I can play man in these workouts, so (I’m) just going to have to get out there and play.”
Richardson did not visit Sacramento for predraft workouts, and he cannot be formally introduced by the Kings until the trade becomes official.
But in his workouts before the draft, Richardson got to know the King he probably needs to know best.
Said Richardson: “I was able to hang out with DeMarcus Cousins a little bit while I was out in Vegas.”
Meet the newest Kings
The Kings acquired or drafted five players Thursday. Here’s a closer look:
- Country: Greece
- Position: Center
- Height, weight: 7-2, 240 Age: 18
- Acquired: Kings received his draft rights (No. 13) in trade with Phoenix.
- Fast fact: He averaged 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.6 minutes for Panathinaikos in Greece’s top league.
- Comment: Kings plan to bring teenager to NBA this season rather than stash him overseas to develop.
- College: Syracuse
- Position: Shooting guard
- Height, weight: 6-6, 205 Age: 20
- Acquired: Kings received his draft rights (No. 22) in a trade with Charlotte.
- Fast fact: He made 79 three-pointers for Syracuse, third most by a freshman in school history.
- Comment: Versatile scorer who is not afraid of contact, he’s rookie most likely to help Kings next season.
- College: Kentucky
- Position: Forward-center
- Height, weight: 7-0, 225 Age: 20
- Acquired: Kings received his draft rights (No. 28) in a trade with Phoenix.
- Fast fact: One of most celebrated preps in the country entering Kentucky, he was the top-rated center prospect by Scout and Rivals.
- Comment: Athletic big man who runs floor well and can block shots, he’s similar to last year’s first-round pick from Kentucky, Willie Cauley-Stein.
- College: Oklahoma
- Position: Guard
- Height, weight: 6-5, 191 Age: 22
- Acquired: Kings selected him in the second round (59th overall).
- Fast fact: He shot better than 40 percent from three-point range in each of his last three seasons at Oklahoma.
- Comment: He adds needed size and depth at point guard for Kings.
- Country: Serbia
- Position: Guard
- Height, weight: 6-6, 205 Age: 23
- Acquired: Kings received his draft rights (No. 27 in 2014) in trade with Phoenix
- Fast fact: He’s expected to play overseas again next season before moving to NBA.
- Comment: Kings hope he’ll be boost in year when they still could lose their draft pick if it’s outside top 10.