There’s been some recent chatter about getting Anthony Randolph more involved in this first round series with Golden State, and for good reason. The agile 7-footer is actually Denver’s fifth-leading scorer in this series with 16 points in just 16 total minutes.
Randolph came on strong towards the end of the season, where he was a great source of paint points and rebounds when Faried went down. His defense, however, is inconsistent at best and Randolph is prone to forcing up bad shots and falling apart on the offensive end. Because JaVale McGee suffers from a lot of the same stuff and neither one of them can pass, it’s tough to bring both off the bench and George Karl has avoided even messing with it for most of the season.
With Golden State switching to guerilla tactics after the David Lee injury, this series is now small ball all the time and Randolph may have found himself a niche role against the Warriors zone defense, which they’ve favored for important stretches of the first two games.
Here are just a few examples of how Randolph has demonstrated his ability to successfully attack the zone.
Play 1: Made 5-ft jumper in the lane (and one)
As the play starts, the Warriors are zoned up and focused on the possible pick and roll action on the strong side with Iguodala and Faried. Randolph has just set a down screen for Brewer and notices the gap in the middle of the zone. He waits until Iguodala is ready to pass and shoots the gap.
Carl Landry is slow picking up Randolph but contests the shot. Randolph’s length is too much for the 6-9 Landry and he scores the short jumper and the foul. Good patience and execution by Randolph flashing to the middle of the zone while the Warriors stand around trying to figure out what the play is.
Play 2: Made layup at the rim
As the play starts Randolph has already been very active on this possession, faking a screen for Miller and darting through the paint to clear up the middle on the left side of the floor. Miller elects to pass back out to Lawson, who attacks the middle of the zone and gets the first step on Curry.
Because of his activity early in the possession, Randolph has disappeared behind the entire Warriors zone. Golden State has no idea he’s been hiding behind the baseline right under the rim.
Randolph beautifully follows Lawson’s drive, creeping up from the baseline just at the right moment for Lawson to hit him with a pass underneath the rim. He gets perfect position and Lawson delivers. Landry contests but he’s way out of position and Randolph drops in the bunny. Once again great patience and good hustle early in the possession leads to the shot.
Play 3: Awkward post-up, floater blocked by Ezeli, shot clock violation
This one doesn’t end as well but demonstrates how Randolph continually looked to attack the zone.
The play starts with Golden State zoned up and Ezeli protecting the rim. Notice the bad spacing by Denver and the obvious gap in the zone. Randolph sees what’s up and decides to attack it from the baseline again.
The problem on this play is Iguodala dribbling left against Curry, away from the basket which doesn’t threaten the zone long enough for Randolph to sneak in from behind again.
Iguodala should have attacked the zone, but he still recognizes Randolph flashing middle and delivers the pass. Unfortunately, Randolph steps up further than he needs to and without any misdirection before the play, Ezeli has already read it.
By the time Randolph gets the ball, Ezeli is all over him and Golden State has 3 players at the rim ready to rebound. Randolph has the drop-pass for Faried underneath but he’s only thinking one thing: score. He tries a few post moves on Festus Ezeli, who is all over him and blocks the shot easily. Golden State loves Anthony Randolph shooting this and will take that all day.
This play ends badly, but could have easily resulted in another bunny at the rim with a little more hustle and execution from everyone. Randolph’s effort allows Denver to get the ball deep in the paint against the zone despite his teammates standing around and not making any real effort to run offense.
As you can see, Randolph could be useful against Golden State’s zone, should they continue to use it. There’s also no doubt the Warriors have studied the tape and will be watching out for Randolph sneaking up behind the baseline on them.
Playoff series are all about matchups and adjustments. Randolph wasn’t expected to have a big role in this series but I also doubt the Nuggets expected this much zone either. Look for the chess match to continue in game three as both sides look wherever they have to in order to gain the edge.