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The Anthony Randolph Project: Making “NBA Plays” With D-League Statistics

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The Anthony Randolph Project: Making “NBA Plays” With D-League Statistics

Just as quickly as the “We Believe” Nellie-Ball era began, the Warriors are seemingly forced to toss it aside and move on, with Baron Davis bolting for the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the most important question for the Warriors is not how they will replace Baron, as some media outlets may lead you to believe.   The big question for the Warriors—who have squandered every single lottery pick this decade with the exception of Andris Biedrins—is whether they can expect all of these young players to reach the playoffs again in the post-Baron Era.

More importantly, they have to develop these individual talents into a coherent unit. And that’s only the beginning of a number of questions for the Warriors, the most important of which has to do with lottery pick Anthony Randolph:  Is Anthony Randolph ready to contribute this year, or can we expect most of his playing time to come with the D-league affiliate in Bakersfield?   It is the development of Randolph that will make this offseason (and likely the coming regular season) most interesting for me as a Warriors fan. And in reviewing the draft, he is probably one of the more intriguing stories of the first round.  After being considered a top-10 pick early on in the draft process, he ended up as a consensus No. 12 pick, according to major mock drafts on the day of the draft. He then ended up being picked No. 14 by the Warriors. Depending on who you ask, Randolph’s stock nearly “fell” out of the lottery on draft day.  Is this indicative of a larger trend in the NBA? Have GMs finally gotten sick of being burned by young unproven players?  Randolph oozes with potential as an 18 year old standing 6’ 10” and with a skill-set that has drawn comparisons to Lamar Odom and Chris Bosh.

However, some believe that his wiry frame and suspect statistics on a mediocre team made him an extremely risky pick. Some of those who believe in statistics suggest that he should have fallen even farther and is hardly even worth a first-round pick—much less a lottery pick.  So which is it? Are we being fooled by his YouTube clips, or does he have a chance to be something special? With such a wide range of opinions, how do we make a balanced judgment of Randolph?   Let's take a look at both sides of the argument -- the upside and the downside.

 

Randolph’s Immeasurable Ceiling: Making NBA Plays  It should not at all be surprising that Randolph was expected to go so high.  In YouTube clips and game footage alike, he looks great.  He’s runs the floor fluidly, has shown the ability to handle the ball in the open court, and actually loves blocking shots. Despite his wiry frame, he rebounds and blocks extremely well, showing no fear of contact.   His ability to play stronger than his size is indicative of a much higher basketball IQ than he’s given credit for. There are two things to keep in mind about Randolph: 1) he went through a mid-season coaching change and 2) Louisiana State rarely called plays for him or did anything to maximize his talent.   So any numbers he did put up were based almost entirely on his own instincts about when to make plays and his ability to insert himself into the rhythm of the game. That is something you rarely see from a freshman. From an SF Gate article

Mullin said that Randolph simply "makes NBA plays," which might put him slightly ahead of where Wright was at this point a year ago. 

In the moments when Randolph does have the ball, he displays an outstanding feel for the game. He seems to quickly perceive what options are available, how to take advantage of them, and where to be on the court to get it done. Any player that has attributes can earn himself playing time on an NBA roster.  Defensively, he’s an outstanding weak-side defender—though he still needs to learn how to play disciplined defense within a team concept. A quote from Hoops Addict:

An excellent weak-side defender, Randolph has the ability to alter shots in the lane, get a hand in the passing lane, or dominate the defensive boards.

The problem is his lack of defensive awareness and poor decision making. Leaving his man to get the highlight reel block, gambling for steals and some less than stellar defense in the post are a few characteristics of his that have left some to wonder whether Randolph will have trouble adapting to a quicker, more complicated defense in the NBA.

Though, with experience and practice, there’s no telling what he can do defensively. His quickness allows him to keep in front of smaller, faster forwards, while his size and presence on the wing can force teams into sloppy turnovers and bad shots.

With consistent coaching, it seems reasonable that he could learn how to use the feel for the game he displays on offense to play disciplined basketball within a team concept.  Put the physical attributes, offensive instincts, and defensive potential together and you have the makings of a star—someone who is able to influence the game on both sides of the court. That’s what made it seem like a no-brainer for the Warriors to take him.  "He does handle the ball and he makes plays that we feel are NBA plays," Mullin said. "He's a 6'10" long player, so if (opponents) play small on him, you can give him the ball and let him go over people. They play big on him, he has the ability to handle the ball, put it on the floor and get his own shot."  Unfortunately, Randolph’s college statistics don’t paint such a rosy picture of his potential.

 

The Concrete Floor: Randolph’s D-League College Statistics  In his most recent rookie rankings, ESPN columnist David Thorpe pretty much captures the sentiment of those who don’t believe in Randolph’s potential:

Big-time talent who has lots of players in front of him. He should destroy the D-League if he stays focused.

The easiest critique of Randolph is his weight – he weighed in at 197 at the Orlando pre-draft camp. Prior to the draft, there were some who questioned his motivation and focus, as Thorpe implied. But the strongest critique came from the statisticians.   John Hollinger from ESPN.com levied a particularly tough critique in his pre-draft ratings—Randolph was completely undraftable according to his numbers:

Seen in many quarters as a high lottery pick, Randolph has virtually nothing in his statistical record to justify such a lofty selection...It appears he's going to be drafted in the middle of the first round at worst, but even that appears to be a terrible mistake—there is no track record whatsoever of a player rated this poorly achieving pro success.

Ouch.  So what’s the problem in his statistical record? Pick your poison.  The big thing that every statistician noticed was his low field-goal percentage. The Chris Bosh comparisons don’t hold much weight once you consider Randolph’s poor shooting percentages. Ed Weiland from HoopsAnalyst tells this story well.

Anthony Randolph was not an efficient two-point scorer at LSU. Not even close. He hit .483 on two-pointers and .105 on 19 three-pointers. Not too many college stars go onto NBA greatness after hitting less than .515 on two-point FGs. In fact, no one has.

Randolph is right now a lesser version of Alan Henderson at the same age. Freshmen PFs who can’t knock down significantly more than 50 percent of their two-point shots aren’t likely to become anything more than a solid journeyman. The only All-Star in the group is (Antoine) Walker and he was more of a perimeter PF.

If you check out Weiland’s site (worth a look) and look at the group of poor shooting freshmen power forwards, it seems like a harsh critique—Chris Wilcox, Juwon Howard, and PJ Brown are the best of the bunch. Then again, Wilcox has developed into a solid contributor...on bad teams.

Hollinger and Eric Doehrr, who provided Draftexpress with a WinScore analysis of the draft, also highlighted Randolph’s high turnover rate of 3.0 turnovers per game. For all the talk of his potential to distribute the ball as a point forward, his assist to turnover ratio of .41—meaning he turns the ball over more twice as much as he makes an assist—is among the worst in the NCAA.

Ditto for his pure point rating, which is designed for point guards—but a red flag when you’re at the bottom of the country and entering the NBA draft.  Of course there are explanations for his poor ballhandling statistics. If you watch the games, you might notice that his handle can be a little loose in the open court. Occasionally when dribbling on the fast break he seems to have problems gathering the ball off the dribble and controlling it. Those awkward moments lead to bad passes—either out of bounds or creating an awkward catch for the receiver.  The turnover problem seems correctable, though it seems to be what separates Randolph from players like Lamar Odom or Tayshaun Prince—both of whom came into the league as much more mechanically refined ballhandlers. What Randolph has going for him is that his instincts for making NBA plays are advanced—his mechanics just need to catch up so that he can execute the things he wants to do more effectively.   Whether he overcomes these statistical flaws—as well as critiques about his focus—will depend on his work ethic. Of course, work ethic is something that we as fans can neither observe nor capture with statistics.

 

Some D-League time won't hurt.... 

In David Sparks’ graphical representation of draft prospects’ similarity to current NBA players, Randolph sort of floats in a space connected to marginal NBA talent.

In a way, it captures the difficulty of projecting Randolph's NBA effectiveness. So perhaps the best way to approach Randolph is to give him time to develop and not expect too much right away.

Randolph is a player whose stats are pretty ordinary for a prospect and showed no noticeable improvement during the season. He also has the type of athletic ability that can make a player a superstar.

I can understand a team falling for the raw talent and taking a flyer on such a player around pick No. 10-15. As long as they realize going in that this is a developmental pick who probably won’t make an impact until at least year 2 and probably later.

What I don’t understand is why any team would take such a player ahead of one who has demonstrated he’s on a par or above the best prospects of the past.

Of course, the Warriors did manage to grab sleeper Richard Hendrix with their second-round pick, who Weiland had ranked ahead of Randolph as the fifth ranked power forward. And for what it’s worth, I had Hendrix ranked as a mid-first round talent prior to the draft (not a star, but impressive rebounding ability).

So on balance, for a team that needed to improve their post play on offense and defense, the Warriors did quite well in the draft no matter what side of the Randolph debate you take, just by taking the talent that fell to them. Taking all of this into account, I see Randolph developing into an Andrei Kirilenko-type who is able to fill every category of the stat sheet. On draft night, I recall him saying that he wants rings and that he loves blocking shots. If his court intensity matches the determination within those comments, he indeed has an extremely high ceiling.

But he's not ready yet. In fact, the D-League may be the appropriate destination for Randolph in order to give him some time to refine his game and bulk up. If he participated in Warriors training camp and then went to the D-League for the regular season, adding some strength and refining his game, the Warriors may be better off in the long run.

Whether he becomes the All-Star level Kirilenko or the post-meltdown version will depend not only on his ability to put in the work, but the Warriors’ capacity to develop him along with the rest of their promising young core.

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