After he averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds in the month of April during his rookie season — as the youngest player in the League, mind you — I knew Anthony Randolph was going to be something special.
This is a kid who put up 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a freshman at LSU before bolting to the NBA. After being selected with the 14th pick in the ’08 draft to run in Don Nelson‘s up-tempo offense — which should have been a blessing for the ultra-talented human highlight reel — Randolph started 22 games as a rookie and capped the season with averages of 7.9 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Everyone knows that defense is the key, however, and not many players with Randolph’s raw gifts put effort into defense; it’s usually the overachieving grinders who relish playing D, not the naturally talented guys who seem born to score. Randolph approaches defense like a grinder. He averaged 2.3 blocks as a freshman at LSU, then averaged 1.2 blocks in just 17 minutes per game as a rookie, and 1.5 blocks in 22 mpg in his second year in the League. His scoring and rebounding skills are exceptional as well. Randolph ranked 20th in Defensive Rebounding Rate last season with 21.4, and ranked 10th among power forwards in Offensive Rebounding Rate (10.7). While his strong first year and an amazing Vegas Summer League performance earned him an invitation to train with USA Basketball, Randolph was slowed by ankle and back injuries in what was supposed to be his breakout year in ’09-10, appearing in just 33 games for the Warriors.
This summer, Randolph was traded to the New York Knicks in the David Lee deal. And if head coach Mike D’Antoni allows him to play 30-plus minutes and he stays healthy, Randolph will be highly effective — possibly even more than Amar’e as an all-around player on both ends.
Randolph is quite simply the ideal prospect, the versatile big man who can play any one of three positions; score in bunches and intimidate his opponent on defense (7-3 wingspan). He’s become something that Darius Miles couldn’t become due to his lack of effort and propensity for injuries. Depending on how D’Antoni plays it, Randolph could start at small forward in a big lineup (with Danilo Gallinari at two-guard) or power forward in a small lineup (with Amar’e at center). Either way, he will make this his breakout season.
Randolph is still on his rookie contract and is scheduled to make $1.96 million this year. That’s part of the reason the Knicks wanted him: Aside from his potential on the court, his cap number allows them to still hoard space for a run at Carmelo Anthony or Tony Parker or another big-time free agent next summer. The only thing left to do now is see how good Randolph will become. The high expectations and added pressure of playing in New York will play a factor, but in his interviews since the trade, Randolph sounds excited to take on the challenge.
Randolph has already been compared to L.A. Lakers forward Lamar Odom — a lefty who hovers around 6-10 and can play multiple positions — and in turn, Odom has high praise for Randolph.
“It’s like looking in the mirror a little,” Odom said of Randolph in a 2009 article in the Contra Costa Times. “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,” Odom said. “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.”
If Randolph manages to stay healthy this season, New York and the rest of the League is going to find out why they call him the “UFO.”