CHICAGO — Syracuse Orange guard Malachi Richardson is milking the new rule that allows prospects who don't hire agents the freedom to return to school within 10 days after the NBA draft combine.
He showed up to Chicago without representation but also had something to prove, considering he hadn't generated any real buzz throughout the year until the Orange's Final Four run. That's why Richardson raised eyebrows when he opted to sit out drills and five-on-five scrimmaging, a decision traditionally made by projected first-round players with more to lose than gain.
Surely, a few big games late in the season couldn't have helped Richardson, who shot 37 percent as a freshman, secure a top-30 spot in the draft—could it?
When asked what it will take for him to stay in the draft, Richardson told Bleacher Report: "A guaranteed first-round, early first-round spot."
Well, on Friday, ESPN's Chad Ford reported Richardson has told teams he'll keep his name in. If Richardson does indeed get selected in the first round, he might want to write a “how to” guide on taking advantage of the draft rules and maximizing one’s stock.
The 20-year-old fast-riser didn't say he had any promises at the moment, but a few sources seemed fairly confident Richardson will (if he hasn't already) get the promise he's looking for.
"His people are saying he's a first-round lock," one scout said. "Probably accurate."
"[Richardson] got a lot better, man," another scout said. "Fundamentally sound player who can shoot it. Shooting is such a premium for a guard nowadays, so I do think he gets that first-round guarantee."
"I've heard a few things, but you never know sometimes," Richardson said Thursday.
"This rule has helped me out a bunch," he said. "Being able to go through all these different things and just figure everything out. Actually being able to go through this process, it's helping. I'm being able to figure out different things that I probably wouldn't have figured out right after the Final Four.
"Back then, I would have probably made the wrong decisions, but I think having this amount of time and going through the whole process, I think the decision I make will be a good one."
It doesn’t hurt being a 2-guard with a jumper during a time in which so many teams need shooting and upgrades at the position. The Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers each pick in the teens or 20s and could use an extra shot-maker on the wing.
Of those, he's met with Memphis, Denver, Philadelphia, Utah and Boston, along with the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trailblazers and Detroit Pistons, per Syracuse.com's Mike Waters.
With teams seemingly valuing character and background checks more then ever, Richardson may also be using these interviews to strengthen his image without touching a ball.
"I'm a good kid off the floor as well," he said. "Never been in any trouble, never got in trouble at school, no personal issues. I'm just a great kid with a big heart."
On the floor, it ultimately took Richardson around six weeks to find a rhythm at Syracuse. After January 1, however, he made 56 of 136 three-pointers (41.2 percent) and put together some stretches of high-level scoring.
The highlight of his freshman season came in Syracuse's comeback win against Virginia in the Elite Eight, when he erupted for 21 points in the second half alone to help the Orange earn a Final Four berth with a 68-62 victory.
At 6'6 ¼" with a 7'0" wingspan, he has textbook size for a 2-guard and adequate athleticism. Richardson got up for a 38-inch max vertical and finished fifth at the combine in the lane agility drill. He says he studies the two-way game of Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson.
At Syracuse, Richardson mostly flashed perimeter scoring skills, particularly spot-ups and one- to two- dribble pull-ups.
But when given space, we have seen him handle the ball, beat defenders off the bounce and get to the rack. Though finishing at the rim wasn't a strength of his as a freshman, he's shown he can bounce off contact, hang in the air and convert.
Richardson said he must become more consistent, but if we're talking specifics, it's his in-between game that needs the most work. He shot just 22.5 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com, which includes everything from stop-and-pops and step-backs to floaters and runners.
Still, in what's perceived as a weaker 2016 draft field, Richardson's potential appears to be a strong enough selling point, one that may entice a team to make a promise and long-term investment despite his questionable short-term outlook.
He could ultimately be one of the first to really capitalize on the new rules during the predraft process. With the old ones, Richardson would have had to make a draft decision a month ago. At that time, the NBA interest might not have been as high, given the fact his breakout came late and teams probably weren't fully caught up on him.
But he also couldn't have known about the first-round interest that would eventually exist four weeks later. It might have been a missed opportunity to cash in. Instead, he was able to take the time to gather feedback and potentially rise during the combine and interviews without forfeiting his college eligibility. Giving that up in April would have sounded risky.
It doesn't anymore, based on the buzz. Look for Richardson to come out of nowhere and steal a spot in the first round of the 2016 draft.