February 26, 2009
I’ll be the first to admit that the headline is a bold, excessively optimistic statement for the youngest player in the NBA. The fact is, Anthony Randolph is a 20-year-old rookie forward on a bad team that hasn’t accomplished a thing yet. The native of Wurzbach, West Germany played just one season at LSU and wasn’t exactly a nightly fixture on SportsCenter while he was there. He slipped all the way to 14th in the draft and now he’s averaging just over 6 points and 4 rebounds on the season.
Randolph has even had difficulty cracking the rotation for a 20-37 Warriors team in the midst of rebuilding despite being their lottery pick over the summer. And he may stand 6-11, but an imposing figure he is not – the kid is rail-thin. Casual fans can be excused if their initial reaction to his visage is to wonder how Monta Ellis underwent such a spectacular growth spurt.
Seriously. Dude looks like a tall, lanky Monta.
Even with so little on the resume, just last week a Contra Costa Times piece bore the headline, “Warriors’ Randolph a Hall of Famer?” The article discussed a 129-121 Warriors’ loss to the Lakers and included the following glowing quote from one Lamar Odom, a guy who knows a little something about untapped potential:
“It’s like looking in the mirror a little. He’s also 6-11, he’s left-handed and he can put the ball on the floor. He’s two times as athletic as I was at that age.
He should set his goals high. He has All-Star potential, Hall of Fame potential, with that size, his ability to put the ball on the floor, he can shoot the three, he can pass. If he stays focused, the sky is the limit for him.”
That’s some effusive praise for the kid. Granted, Randolph had just had the best game of his professional career manning up against Odom and done an admirable job despite giving up about 30 pounds and 10 years of experience to the Lakers forward. Given a rare start with Andris Biedrins on the sidelines, the rookie had played long, physical defense, pounded the glass, run the floor well and knocked down his open looks. It resulted in an impressive all-around line of 14 points, 12 boards (6 offensive), 1 steal and 2 blocks on 7-of-13 shooting and +10 in the plus-minus.
Still, I’m not going to kick off a HOF campaign just yet. I will say this though: Anthony Randolph will be an All Star in this league within four years.
Why Anthony Randolph has earned such praise after the jump…
Despite the mental errors and lack of physical strength, when you watch Randolph play it’s hard not to see the potential spilling out of him. He’s extremely long and lanky, but that doesn’t prevent him from having excellent ball-handling skills for a player his height and age. He can put the ball on the floor and he’s comfortable doing it, especially on the fast break, and that right there sets him apart from a majority of big men projects. If he continues to hone that aspect of his game it’s going to give opposing coaches huge mismatch issues – especially given his ability to become a true inside-outside player.
The ball handling is accentuated by the fact that Randolph is a southpaw, and he shows signs of being comfortable creating with the ball going either direction. It certainly helps him create his own shot, which he does well for his age and will be more evident when he’s more adept at finishing strong. He already possesses a decent mid-range game and that range will slowly expand with his surprisingly elegant shooting touch.
Aside from that offensive potential, Randolph has all the tools to be an extremely strong defender. He plays as long as he is and takes advantage of it well, but isn’t afraid to be physical despite his lithe frame. That frame should also fill out some, though I get the impression he’ll always be at least as lanky as a Kevin Garnett type. In fact, a young Garnett isn’t a terrible comparison for Randolph. He works hard on defense and shows good instincts there, and he’ll average over a steal and block per game very soon.
In short, it’s difficult not to be in awe of how fluid, versatile and explosive he looks on both ends of the floor for a player of his height and his age. He runs like a deer and Randolph has the tool kit to make an impact when he gets there, wherever that is.
Don’t be put off by Randolph’s struggle to find minutes for the Warriors this season. On a Don Nelson coached team that’s par for the course. Nelson is loathe to play youngsters regardless of his position in the standings. And Randolph is making a believer out of even the normally curmudgeonly Nelson. In a recent interview the coach, always reserved in his praise of young players, was doling it out to Randolph:
“… he’s been working hard in practice for six weeks. I like that mostly. Staying within the boundaries we’ve given him. He’s doing a better job of that. Doing what he can do, not what he can’t do in the games. I like that. He’s had two really positive games and had an effect on both of those wins, I think … I like the fact he makes us faster. He pushes the ball up the court after a rebound quick. He can kind of show his skills with that. I like that. Just so he’s under control once he gets to the paint at the other end and doesn’t run over people. And he’s doing a better job of that.”
After the Lakers game Nelson had even more positive things to say about the NBA’s youngest player:
“Randolph, again, was a plus being out on the court. Really has done a nice job coming along and being a player now. That really encourages and excites our ballclub.
He’s going to just get better and better, I hope. I hope he continues doing what he’s been doing to stay on the floor. You guys don’t get to go to practice that much, but he’s staying out of trouble and doing what he does best. And when he does that, why, we’re going to play him more and more, you’re right.”
It didn’t take as long for Warriors fans to see they had something potentially special in Randolph. In his very first game as a pro in the Las Vegas Summer League he dropped 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting with 8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 blocks. Summer League is far from an accurate predictor of NBA success, but that game alone gave NBA fans a glimpse into vast potential of this young man from West Germany. Without question, he has the tools. Now he just needs to tap into it with hard work and discipline – or risk becoming merely the next Lamar Odom. Given his demeanor and work ethic thus far I believe he will, and I think it’s going to be a treat for observers not only in the Bay Area but NBA fans across the country to watch.
Anthony Randolph photo credit: Icon SMI