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Who is Josh Richardson and why do the Wolves want him so badly?

Getting to know the Timberwolves trade target

NBA: Preseason-Orlando Magic at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you have been living under the world’s largest rock, you should know the Timberwolves and Heat have been deadlocked in Jimmy Butler trade negotiations for the past few weeks.

Reports of offers from both sides have flown around by the dozen since the 29-year-old requested to be moved. One thing that seems to be a constant is the Wolves’ desire for Miami wing Josh Richardson to be included in the deal. So, why is the 25-year-old so highly coveted by Tom Thibodeau and Glen Taylor? Let’s dig a little deeper into his game.

Offensively, Richardson excels off the ball. He appears to be a perfect fit for the Wolves who roll out a bunch of ball-dominant scorers.

Whether it is staying ready on the perimeter for a spot-up 3-point attempt, coming off a hand-off with a burst of speed and a soft touch, or slashing through the paint and putting his athleticism and nifty finishing ability to good use; Richardson punishes defenses regularly.

On his 4.6 catch-and-shoot tries per game, the 6-foot-6 combo wing finished with a very respectable 55.1 percent effective field goal percentage. When he receives the ball and the opposition prevent his scoring prowess, Richardson has decent passing vision and is willing to use it. He finished his third season averaging a career-best 2.9 assists per game, notching five or more dimes in 18 different outings.

With Andrew Wiggins’ tendency to over-dribble and under-pass, pairing him with Richardson will provide a nice balance. His 37.8 percent long-range stroke would be another huge bonus to a Timberwolves squad that ranked fourth in offensive rating, despite attempting and making the fewest 3-pointers in the league. Obviously Butler’s absence will sink that offensive rating number, but replacing Jimmy G. Buckets’ production with J-Rich will add a new layer to the shooting-deprived Wolves.

After averaging 12.9 points per game while rarely being the focal point of Miami’s offense, Richardson solidified himself as a high-class offensive role player. However, his true value comes in his ability to command the floor defensively.

While length, height and speed are the defensive traits that perk up hoop head’s ears, we know that those aren’t the cornerstones of a lockdown defender. The real makings of a fear-inducing defender are the mentality and willingness to impact the game at that end.

Richardson has all of these characteristics in spades.

Standing at a prototypical 6-foot-6 with a rangy 6-foot-10 wingspan and the ability to jump out of the gym, Richardson has all the physical tools to stand out on defense. When you combine those attributes with his hustle and flat-out hard-working attitude, it’s not hard to see why he was Miami’s most productive defender.

He averaged 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per game in 2017-18, which ranks him as one of only nine players to hit those marks. Others in the group include defensive geniuses like Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons.

Quick reactions and a knack for getting a hand in to break up the play help him gather steals like Tom Thibodeau gathers ex-Bulls, and his bounce and rarely-seen defensive want-to allow Richardson destroy shots at the rim.

The highlight plays and elite steal and block numbers are impressive, but the former University of Tennessee standout’s footprint extends past just basic numbers.

In the plays that he was tasked with manning the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, Richardson held his opponents to a paltry 38.2 percent from the field. He slices through screens like a back-alley surgeon, hounding his man into submission with the very best.

When he does get dragged into the post by bigger opposition, Miami’s number zero is anything but a mouse in the house. He may weigh in at only 200 lbs, but Richardson uses every morsel of his frame — along with his unique defensive IQ — to stifle big men.

As the center of post-up defense, the Timberwolves trade target allowed 0.80 points per possession and kept his opponents to 36.2 percent from the field. No matter what way you spin it, those are unreal numbers.

On top of his two-way versatility, Richardson is only scratching the surface of his potential. When speaking with the Sun Sentinel, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to back up that sentiment.

“What you’re seeing is a player that is committed to developing his game and evolving and growing his game every single year. Even now I don’t want to put a ceiling on him ... he has been very consistent and diligent about improving,” he said.

If Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Minnesota brain trust do finally manage to pry Richardson away from the Heat, Wolves fans should be excited. Not only will they receive a hard-working, potential-laden player, but they will also acquire another piece that lines up with the prime of franchise pillar Karl-Anthony Towns.

Now that we know what Miami’s best trade chip has to offer, all we have to do is wait and see whether he ends up in the Twin Cities.

Get it done Wolves. Get it done.