Shavlik Randolph may fall under the definition of “young basketball journeyman.” The Boston Celtics center, whose current stint marks his fourth NBA franchise in six seasons, has appeared in 98 games over his career. But he may have finally found a long-term home.
Randolph, born Ronald Shavlik Randolph, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia 76ers after graduating from Duke University in 2005. He played 57 games in his rookie campaign with the Sixers, the most single-season contests of his career, alongside veterans Allen Iverson and Chris Webber.
Though regarded as a hard-working player with a good attitude, Randolph struggled to make a significant impact in his three-year tenure in Philly. Making matters worse, he broke his left ankle in late 2006, after landing on Andre Iguodala's foot while playing defense on him during practice.
“I saw players just running around and screaming," Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks said. "It was something bad. I've never seen anything like it in my life."
Iguodala worried Randolph's career might have ended in what he called “a freak accident.”
"It was like a Joe Theismann thing," he said, likening the injury to the legendary Washington Redskins quarterback's broken leg in 1985. Theismann, who suffered the gruesome blow after a crushing tackle by iconic New York Giants linebacker Lawrenece Taylor, never played again.
But Randolph was fortunate enough to persevere, returning in December 2007 and playing nine more games with the Sixers that season, before bouncing between Portland and Miami on hardship contracts and 10-day deals. After the 2009-10 season, he decided to try his luck overseas.
He began his international career with Gallitos de Isabela in Puerto Rico in 2011. In the 2012 preseason, he was signed by the Washington Wizards, playing with current Boston Celtic Jordan Crawford, but Randolph was waived before the season began. He then traveled to China, inking a deal with the Foshan Long Lions.
He became an instant star, asserting a dominance much like his high school days in Raleigh, North Carolina. That was when he first became a pro prospect, famously scoring 56 points in a game to surpass Broughton High alum Pete Maravich's all-time single-game record (and later, passing him in career points, rebounds and blocks). Like his high school opponents, nobody in China stood a chance guarding him.
Randolph averaged 32 points, 14.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game with the Long Lions. He terrorized opponents down low and on the glass, utilizing his sturdy 6'10”, 240-pound frame as well as his strong combination of intelligence and aggressiveness.
Naturally, he caught the eye of Celtics GM Danny Ainge when the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) season ended. Boston desperately needed rebounding help, even before losing rookie Jared Sullinger. So Randolph signed a 10-day contract on March 1st, becoming the third CBA player after Terrance Williams and D.J. White to sign with the Green this season.
Randolph received little to no playing time in his first ten-day stint, primarily because Boston was in the middle of a grueling stretch mixed with road games and playoff-bound opponents. But he served as a strong teammate regardless, rooting on each rotation and showing Brian Scalabrine-like Celtic pride.
“To be able to say I played for the Boston Celtics, whether it's 10 days, one day, however long—it's something that I will carry for the rest of my life,” he told the Boston Globe in early March. “It's a very pleasant surprise to come back to. I'm very honored and privileged for this opportunity.”
The evening of March 12th was an utterly disastrous night for the C's, as nothing seemed to work. With Paul Pierce sitting out for rest, Boston looked sloppy and out of rhythm. Randolph showed hustle but fell victim to his team's collective struggles. He also took a shot to the shoulder, which seemed to hurt way more than he was letting on.
But March 16th was a new day. The Celts' offense flowed smoothly, passing the ball as a team with great efficiency. They ran circles around Charlotte, and Randolph was one of the biggest stories of the game.
At one point, the 29-year-old big man scored six points and grabbed six rebounds in a nine-minute span. He dived to the ground for loose balls. He tipped the ball to himself to secure an offensive board over an opponent, then up-faked and drove to the hoop to power home an and-one. He went all "CBA superstar” on the 'Cats.
“He was great. I thought he just came in and made things happen,” Rivers said after the game. “He rebounded the heck out of the ball, both ends, offense and defense. Threw his body around. So, it was good. He made a couple of great passes and some instinctive cuts to the basket, so I was really happy with him.”
And the little things Randolph offered went a long way. He set good screens, utilizing his size to help space the floor for Boston's backcourt. On defense, he collapsed to the ball-handler with extreme quickness, covering a lot of space and moving his feet well. He displayed instinctive rebounding skills on both sides of the floor, always banging down low regardless of the amount of opposing jerseys.
For someone who has appeared in only 98 NBA games, Randolph certainly looked like he at least deserved a shot at 10 more. And he might just deserve such an opportunity more than fellow CBAer and 10-day contract recipient D.J. White.
“I just thought Shav played better [than White],” said Rivers. "I thought D.J. came in and played OK, and then Shav came in and played great, so I played Shav.”
In Boston's 105-88 rout of the Bobcats, Randolph scored six points on 3-of-9 shooting, adding a team-leading eight rebounds (four on each side of the floor) in only 15 minutes of play. He showed great promise, and made many fans on Twitter excited at the prospect of filling a low-post void.
Of course, there are reasons to temper expectations of future brilliance. First, it was the Bobcats, the most brutally abysmal team in the entire league. Second, any rebounding numbers might look a bit inflated considering Kevin Garnett was resting his shoulder on the sidelines. And then there's the relative weaknesses Randolph exhibited.
His aggressiveness looks like it could be a double-edged sword. Confidence is good, but not when you attempt to do too much with the ball, ultimately getting stripped on a drive to the hoop. Visions of China stardom cannot wander into his head in Boston, especially against playoff-ready opponents.
Another issue stemming from overaggressive play involved Randolph's jump shot. His lack of hesitation from medium-range looked Garnett-like, but his clangs off the back iron looked Ben Wallace-like. He should move up a few feet if defenders give him the space. Many times, they were giving him six feet of separation, but he would catch and immediately launch. A dribble-and-step closer to the hoop might go a long way to improving his stroke.
Boston must decide by Thursday whether it wants to extend Randolph's contract. It seems like a no-brainer to bring him back, considering the sheer size and talent he brings to the table.
Celtics fans will watch Randolph closely during the next couple of weeks if he gets re-signed. Can he make a similar impact against championship contenders? Boston faces the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks (twice) and Atlanta Hawks in its eight-game, 13-day stretch between now and the end of March.
Maybe the big man will return to the bench, cheering on his teammates as a grateful reserve. Or maybe he'll continue to show that he yearns for bigger things in his NBA career, and prove himself as a factor for a Boston Celtics team that needs size to survive.