This article by Derek James is cross-posted at our sister site, Hardwood Paroxysm. Check it out there too.
Two hundred and fifty-two games. Four teams in five years. That’s how long Anthony Randolph lasted in the NBA.
For the last half-decade, Randolph intrigued fans with his athleticism and “potential.” Now, the former 14th overall pick is out of the league after signing a contract to play in Russia next season. Over the years we’ve heard how Randolph “just needs the right coach” or playing time to make his talent match up with his elite physical gifts. Yet, Randolph amounted to nothing more than a woulda/coulda/shoulda been player whose occasional ooh and ahh moments gave his apologists hope that he was just about to turn the corner. But that was a corner that never came for Randolph in the NBA.
For awhile, I could have briefly been included among the apologists. His highlight reel plays captured the imagination, and his age logically told us that there was time for him to develop into an NBA player. Before he was traded to the Knicks, Timberwolves fans contemplated trading Kevin Love (No, seriously. That should have been our first sign that the fans would eventually turn on Love.) despite the fact that Randolph could barely crack the then-flailing Warriors’ rotation. That was all Don Nelson’s fault, though. He hated Randolph. Nope, there was no way that Randolph wasn’t playing because he wasn’t good enough. It had to be Nellie.
Then came New York and it was the same story as it was in Golden State: Mike D’Antoni hated Randolph. And when the Timberwolves acquired him for an expiring Corey Brewer, there was a moderate amount of excitement among fans. Length! Athleticism! Potential! Shiny dunks! Things were going to be different now for Randolph now that he was going to an atrocious Timberwolves team that had no reason not to play him.
But Kurt Rambis couldn’t get anything out of him.
Then Rick Adelman failed to reach him.
Continuing the bounce around the league like an errant ping-pong ball in someone’s garage on a Friday night, Randolph signed with the Nuggets for a couple of seasons. Yet, George Karl found little use for Randolph, and the same held true for Brian Shaw, and the Nuggets let Randolph walk in free agency this summer.
Very few players have the benefit of playing for as many reputable coaches as Randolph has. Very few players also have had the physical attributes Randolph does. How did none of this amount to anything in the NBA? Well, fans, teams, and basketball buffs overlooked the simple fact that Randolph just doesn’t have the feel for the game to make it as a player in this league. Conversely, more physically limited rotation players can stay in the league for years if they have one specialized skill or can hold down a spot in the rotation for a few minutes per game. In the same way that you can’t teach height, you can’t teach awareness either. You either have it or you don’t.
Not to turn this into a college vs pro debate, but Randolph wasn’t able to work over NBA defenders or schemes with athleticism alone. You can’t bring the ball up-court like you’re Kevin Garnett in his prime and attempt to thread a bounce pass through multiple defenders just because you’ve been able to do so all your life, and Randolph never learned how to adapt his game. Opponents are just too advanced with their skills and schemes to try to get by with this alone. And when combined with a wiry frame, this made for one sub-par defender despite his size. Often times we get too hung up on a player’s physical attributes to realize that he doesn’t have the basketball IQ to play at the next level. And that’s alright; only a few hundred people in this world do.
For every time someone threw his per 36 minute points or rebounds averages at you, it was pretty simple to counter with his ghastly turnover numbers or usage. For instance, Randolph posted an above average PER in every season he played except his last season, which is the sole reason I know longer trust the stat. Hey, you try watching Randolph for a season and a half and try trusting something that tells you he’s good. In fact, if Anthony Randolph taught me any one thing in his five years in the NBA it’s that you need to watch the games and the numbers. So, thanks. I guess.
Now, Randolph moves on to Russia, where a change of scenery may do him good. It seemed evident for awhile that maybe the NBA was never the best fit for him despite his draft slot. Who knows, maybe Anthony Randolph Face will be the next big sensation to sweep Russia.