Anthony Randolph tops the trio of enigmatic seven-footers on Denver’s roster at no. 10 in our #NuggetsRank series. It’s going to surprise a lot of Nuggets fans that he ranks ahead of incumbent centers Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov despite being the least likely to receive playing time among all three.
I’ll admit, something about it doesn’t seem right. Perhaps it’s a sad reminder that draft hype can carry an NBA career for a while. Randolph and fellow 2008 draftee Kosta Koufos both signed long-term extensions with the Nuggets despite neither having much success as rotation players.
After three teams and four years, the one thing we can say definitively about Randolph is that he knows how to disappoint. While Randolph is supposedly headed to a wide-open system best suited to bringing out his talents, the same things were said upon his arrival in New York and Minnesota. He teased and disappointed then, so why should things be any different with another change of scenery to Denver?
With Anthony Randolph there are no guarantees. The Nuggets knew that going in and risked very little to sign him. I was surprised he chose a bargain three-year deal with Denver after apparently fielding offers from Dallas and Atlanta. At the time, he looked like a solid addition to the Nuggets’ depth but faced an uphill battle for playing time in a crowded frontcourt.
Needless to say, that all changed just a few weeks later with Al Harrington being swapped in the blockbuster Dwight Howard trade. Suddenly the Nuggets had a clear need for a longer four to compliment Kenneth Faried and their more traditional centers. Randolph’s acquisition started to make a lot more sense as you started seeing playing opportunities open up for him with the Nuggets.
Part of the Anthony Randolph experience is getting caught up in all the hype. He really could be a fantastic player with the right plan of attack. The Nuggets are getting him at an age where he can still become a piece in a developing young core. Fans of Golden State, Minnesota and New York have all heard this before, but with Randolph now signed to a cheap deal in Denver it’s just too hard to avoid the temptation. Is he all hype? I’d argue there’s still time to figure that out. The bottom line is there are just too many reasons to get excited about his possible fit with this Nuggets team.
First, he’s coming to a coaching staff with a solid record of getting young players to produce in the Nuggets’ system. Randolph has an existing relationship with assistant coach Melvin Hunt and specifically mentioned the coaching staff when asked about choosing the Nuggets.
Although he missed opportunities to play in Minnesota and New York, Randolph was overshadowed by great power forwards in both situations. With only Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee loosely entrenched in the future frontcourt, there is no Kevin Love or Amare Stoudemire hanging over Randolph’s prospects in Denver. At 23, he’s in a unique situation in that this could be his last shot before reputation catches up and earns him the label of career benchwarmer.
Statistically, Randolph is a complicated player to figure out. As John Hollinger noted in his player previews, Randolph produces efficiently and looks the part, but his teams tends to be better without him on the floor. He is not a very creative player on offense and offers no consistency outside of being a monster finisher at the rim. It’s clear he isn’t the playmaking threat his draft buzz suggested he might be and if we know anything about Randolph in Denver, it’s that he’ll probably play the four or five exclusively.
If the Nuggets can focus his game instead of trying to showcase his versatility, Randolph might become a lot more useful the court. Offensively, he rushes everything and makes poor decisions with the ball. Most frustrating is his natural instinct to turn and put the ball on the floor after catching it. As a result Randolph is never squared up to the basket when shooting, often resulting in lots of head fakes followed by clumsy dribbling and a turnover.
If he stopped shooting off the dribble so much, Randolph might develop a serviceable midrange game. As it stands now, he can’t create anything with his passing and is an unreliable driving threat. Teams know they can force Randolph to put it on the floor and he’ll struggle to make the right play.
In Denver, Randolph won’t play if he doesn’t get a lot better at moving the ball quickly. I think he can grasp the Nuggets concept of not holding the ball and letting the guards do the work, but he’ll have to do more to crack the rotation. Becoming either a shooting or passing threat from the perimeter is essential to setting himself apart from the other bigs on this roster.
How he does it is less important than just being able to earn the coaches’ trust. Randolph is a supreme athletic talent now starting from scratch in the mile high city. Is it foolish to keep buying his story of hope and redemption and after four years of empty promises?
Yes, it probably is. One of the side effects of being a cynical NBA fan is obsessing over the hype that surrounds young prospects like Randolph. As a fan, you know it’s wrong to rank him above less spectacular players but you can’t resist.
It’s all part of the Anthony Randolph experience. I am not saying the Nuggets need Randolph to develop in order to succeed – they clearly don’t. It will, however, be incredibly disappointing if Randolph doesn’t work himself into a better place than where he is now.
You need to take a risk on players with the highest potential ceilings in professional sports. Anthony Randolph still looks like a worthwhile shot at that prized jackpot for a very reasonable price. Eventually youth loses its luster and NBA players are who they are at a certain point in their careers. Fortunately for Randolph, there’s a still a year or two in Denver to try and figure out who that is.