Who is Anthony Randolph?
Randolph is a player who just completed his fourth season in the NBA. In those four seasons he has played for three different teams and all three teams have been content to let him go. Do me a favor and do not judge him based on that introduction.
Randolph first hit the radar of NBA scouts and draftniks as a freshman at LSU. He was not a highly regarded prospect, but quickly rose up the rankings after declaring for the 2008 NBA Draft. Randolph enticed teams with his length, solid athleticism and ability to play in the paint and on the perimeter.
To some he appeared to be one of the torchbearers of the next generation of forwards able to score from anywhere, handle the ball and set up his teammates with his solid passing. To others he was a certain bust, a player who was able to wow in workouts, but not capable of putting everything together on the court.
Golden State claimed Randolph with the 14th selection in the 2008 draft, four spots ahead of one JaVale McGee.
Once in the NBA Randolph proved to be very raw, but it was also evident that he belonged. Despite his deficiencies he provided tremendous support on the glass and was an impressive shot blocker. Offensively he was overconfident in his abilities and the result was a hail storm of poor shots. Plus his effective rebounding and ability to defend the rim did not mask his inexperience and indifference on the defensive end.
Playing time became difficult to come by as Randolph slowly lost the confidence of Don Nelson and Randolph was shipped off to New York in the David Lee sign and trade deal. Things grew even more dismal with the Knicks as Randolph was buried on the bench by Mike D’Antoni and he found himself caught up in the Carmelo Anthony trade as he was sent to Minnesota along with Eddy Curry that also saw future Nugget Corey Brewer sent to the Knicks.
Randolph saw his fortunes change with the Timberwolves finishing out the 2010-11 season on a high note recording two 20-10 games over the final five games of the season. Randolph was not able to parlay his hot finish into regular playing time during the lockout shortened season.
Strangely his advanced metrics have declined every year he has been in the league. I do not believe that is indicative of a lack of potential, simply a lack of consistent minutes and opportunity.
It is obvious Randolph is not going to be the transformative talent that some expected him to be when he was drafted; however, he is still a player with untapped potential. His situation is very similar to new teammate JaVale McGee. He is a player who has reached the point in his career where he must prove he is willing to work hard and earn minutes. Both players have been hampered by their own lack of effort and focus.
What does Randolph bring to the table? He fits very well into the Nuggets up tempo style. Randolph is very good at running the floor and he is capable of collecting a rebound and starting the break on his own. As you would expect, he is adept at dunking, which comes in handy as a fun way to finish fast breaks.
Apart from that he is still a work in progress on offense. He is left handed although is able to drive with either hand. He utilizes the jab step and likes to rip the ball across his body to get his defender off balance. His long first step almost always ensures he can get past his defender. Unfortunately, once he attacks the basket he struggles to change direction and when help comes he tends to simply plow into the defense. As you can imagine, results are typically mixed. Sometimes he gets to the line, sometimes he still manages to score, but all too frequently he turns the ball over. His ability to get into the lane will fit in well with Denver, he simply needs to get better at preparing to dump the ball off when his path is closed down.
The most galling issue for Randolph is his love of his jumper. Over his career he has attempted roughly as many shots outside the paint as he has at the rim. For a player of his skills, that is unacceptable. Randolph will always struggle with his jumper because he leads with his left side and does not square his shoulders or hips when he shoots. Because of that he struggles to control his distance because there is too much arm in his shot. He looks coordinated and smooth when he shoots and he has posted solid numbers from the free throw line for a big man. There is hope he can get it dialed in one day and become a threat from the perimeter especially if he can remove the cooked from his stroke. The good news is Randolph did slightly reduce his ratio of jumpers to shots in the lane last season. I am confident that the Nuggets will help him continue that trend as they did with McGee in their short time with him last season.
As a passer Randolph is capable. While he struggles to pass on the move, he makes good passes from the perimeter and displayed the ability to enter the ball into the post from the circle. George Karl may take advantage of that as he did with Kenyon Martin.
He has displayed a willingness to set solid screens although his propensity to slip ball screens will sadly make him fit right in with the Nuggets, but that is a coaching issue, not a player issue.
Defensively, Randolph’s greatest issue is focus and determination. He was not put forth great effort in the past and that must change. As a post defender he leaves much to be desired due to his lack of girth. His seems to be caught off guard when the offensive player makes his move and as soon as he prepares to shoot, Randolph will just body up to him and put his arms in the air. This is ineffective as it prevents him from being able to react if the player he is guarding keeps moving, or simply steps around him.
On the perimeter he moves his feet well and has the potential to be a good pick and roll defender. His biggest issue is he lays off too much conceding the jumper. His length allows him to get away with it sometimes, but frequently he is so far away that he cannot get close enough to truly challenge the jumper.
As a shot blocker, he does a good job of not leaving the ground prematurely and can resist pump fakes.
What do the Nuggets really have in Randolph? First of all, he is a very talented player with an incredibly reasonable contract. I expect the coaching staff to bring out the best in Randolph and his three year, $6 million deal will be viewed as one of the best in the league.
Randolph will undoubtedly provide moments that will make you want to pull your hair out. The fact is, he will not simply be handed playing time. Denver needed a long athletic power forward to compliment the undersized Kenneth Faried and less athletic Al Harrington. Randolph is a perfect complimentary player to both of them. He will also be backing both of them up. Do not look for Randolph to play big minutes early on. On the other hand, if Harrington struggles to bounce back from his recent knee issues, or if injuries strike the gaggle of centers on the roster again, Randolph is capable of stepping in and contributing.
One thing to keep in mind is the addition of Randolph is more for years two and three of his contract than it is for this season. Denver knows he is a bit of a project and will need to unlearn bad habits and be taught the proper way to play.
I am not guaranteeing players like Randolph and McGee, should he re-sign with Denver, will reach their potential. I am saying they can be a very formidable pairing capable of shutting down the lane on defense and providing a constant threat at the rim on offense. Look for the Nuggets to work to have Randolph focus on doing what he does best instead of trying to do too much as he has in the past. That is one way to ensure he provides a positive impact on the game. They were successful in getting McGee to do just that last season and he showed progress in just a few short weeks thanks to that guidance.
Should the Nuggets reach Randolph, the decision to amnesty Chris Andersen to sign him to a incredibly reasonable contract could certainly help push the Nuggets to the next level in the Western Conference. And because Birdman was not expected to be a contributor in the future and Randolph’s contract is so reasonable, the risk is completely minimized.