Anguish and the Minnesota Timberwolves' Anthony Randolph
Anthony Randolph drew easy comparisons to Lamar Odom his rookie year. Randolph was 6'11", a lefty, could handle, pass, shoot a jumper, block shots and jump out of the gym with unmatched bounce.
Being tormented by Don Nelson also made Chris Webber comparisons common. Bethlehem Shoals has compared Odom to the mysteriously tormented Job of the Old Testament. Job ends up with his family and possessions restored to him by the god who had taken them away. Odom's Lakers stint is some sort of redemption, but he is still not putting up 22, 11 and 6 like we expected when he entered the league.
As an unathletic NBA fan, I'm drawn to guys like Paul Pierce and Luis Scola who make the most of their physical abilities with touch and craftiness. To say that either is unathletic is to compare them only to the few 100 freaks in the world gifted enough to play in the NBA.
And to say that Scola's footwork or Pierce's feeling for hesitation moves is not a gift like Tony Parker's speed is also wrong. Those skills may be enhanced slightly more easily than a vert and have more beauty in them, but they are still gifts that very few can have. Still, watching the Blake Griffins of the world is fun, but it is harder to relate to them than to Craig Smith.
But of the freakishly fast and high jumping, those that seem tormented and who seem like they would rather die than stop playing are most attractive. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress recently described Larry Brown saying of Allen Iverson," I had him 600 games. Took him out 2x per game. He MF'd me 1,200 times."
Randolph looked more like he might cry or hit his head against a wall than curse out his coach but the feeling is the same. There is nothing morally good about players who love the game in this passionate a way. Some people are wired that way and others aren't.
I respect Randy Moss for being honest that running perfect routes on every play was not his highest priority in life. LeBron James might be similar, but it is much more obnoxious with him because the league, Nike and Randy Moss' back did not tell us he was the "chosen one." We are drawn to passionate, honest people.
Like Iverson, Randolph was scared of very little. Stephen Jackson said that the good and bad thing about Randolph was that he thought he was the best player in the league. Like Iverson, you could get annoyed with bad shot selection, but you still have the sense that he thinks he is doing the best thing for his team by taking a 19-footer. And as with Iverson, you enjoy his chutzpah in getting into it with Yao or Odom, having just turned 18.
Iverson is famous for distinguishing between effort put into practice and put into games. But Anthony Randolph is just as much of a gym rat as guys much less gifted than him. What can be so sad about Randolph is that he's put so much time into being very good at many different things. But in the NBA, it is more important to have an elite skill than a lot of pretty good ones.
In Golden State, he and Anthony Morrow would work on their games together long after Monta Ellis or Stephen Jackson went home. Morrow was immediately one of the best spot up shooters in the league upon entering, but seeing him defend or put the ball on the floor made you wince.
Randolph's ball-handling may be better than 90 percent of NBA 4's but it doesn't really matter unless it is comparable to the ball-handling of good wings in the league. In summer league, Randolph could play five positions and look like Michael Jordan. But when everyone is a little better, Randolph can no longer completely dominate.
With an Anthony Morrow or Deshawn Stevenson, we may not see their games expand against lower competition because there is a huge drop off from their best skill to their second-best skill. Niether of those guys are tormented thinking they are close to being a top player in the league, but both started a lot of games last year.
When D'Antonio got Randolph on the Knicks he envisioned a guy who could guard both Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett and score effortlesly in transition. But then, he only played 7.5 minutes a game. The man who must have seemed like the perfect coach after Don Nelson thought Timothy Mozgov or Ronny Turiaf were more deserving of minutes.
I do not mean to suggest Randolph has been a player who has only shown momentary glimpses of potential. With the Wolves last year, his per 36 minute averages were 21 points, nine boards, and two assists with a .537 true shooting percentage.
Michael Beasley's numbers were 21.4 points, six rebounds and 2.4 assists with a .510 true shooting percentage. Beasley's numbers may be more impressive because they came playing heavier minutes, not playing as many garbage minutes and having to worry more about fouling out.
And more importantly, Beasley was assisted on only 45 percent of his attempts while Randolph was on 59 percent. But it is still clear that the current gulf between the players is not nearly as wide as many seem to believe. Even if Randolph never improves, he should still be playing real minutes.
It may be stupid to try to imagine the personalities of people we only see through the media and from afar, but it is hard not to. In Golden State, Randolph seemed closest to Morrow and was also mentored a bit by Jackson. In Minnesota, I imagine him hearing Don Nelson hire rumours and having depressing conversations about potential with Michael Beasley after having taken advantage of months of no drug testing.
Beasley is the one guy who should be able to understand what Randolph has gone through, but he is also the guy stopping him from getting 36 minutes a game. Randolph also probably hangs around with fellow former Warrior Anthony Tolliver, who is inferior to Randolph in every way imaginable save his three-point shooting but got more minutes a game.
Being around Kevin Love might be even more frustrating. He is one of the best bigs in the league now but plays below the rim. He's considered the best rebounder in the league, but while Randolph is flying around the court trying to inhale every board imaginable with his go go Gadget ups, Love just stays on the ground, boxes out and anticipates well.
Randolph may have been excited to hear Rubio was finally coming, imagining the pick and rolls they could run and how he should be able to get easy basket after easy basket as he should have been allowed to with Steph Curry. But in addition to gaining Rubio, the Wolves were also to add yet another athletic, jump shooting big in second overall draft pick in Derrick Williams.
Maybe Randolph looks at Darko Milicic and wonders if that is his future. A highly promising player who looked great in workouts but never really put it together and is now viewed positively because he can contribute a little to the worst team in the NBA which is more than many expected him to do two years ago.
Still Randolph may have been staying positive this summer. Until it became clear that the season might not happen. Randolph's agent Bill Duffy was one of six to send a letter to players in October 3rd advising them not to ratify any deal with player Basketball Related Income (BRI) share below 57 percent.
It's in Bill Duffy and Kevin Durant's interests to maximize players salaries and elite players' salaries over the next 20 years even if that means missing a season. But for Randolph, what is important is getting in a situation soon where he can show what he can do.
I don't know my Tanakh well enough to propose another figure for comparison that endured more torment than Job. There isn't any agreement on what the story of Job is supposed to teach us. The story of Anthony Randolph doesn't have an easy moral either. We just hope that something good can come out of someone being tortured by forces completely out of his control.
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