Mystery Man: Anthony Randolph really does exist.
Up until now, LSU freshman Anthony Randolph has been the sasquatch of the 2008 lottery: rumored to be many things, but mostly mysterious and unseen. Playing for a non-tournament team and without a lot of fanfare coming into his freshman season, Randolph toiled in relative anonymity for much of the season before his impressive numbers (15.6 ppg/8.5 rpg/2.3 bpg) and unique combination of length and athleticism started earning the lottery cred that has most experts projecting him as a top ten pick. Still, many of us are still somewhat in the dark (myself included) as we try to get a handle on Randolph's abilities before the draft.
Of course, while he didn't get the same hype as names like Rose, Beasley and Mayo, it's not like Randolph was playing against scrubs either. He had some of his best performances against SEC foes Florida, Kentucky and Alabama, all of whom feature quality big men. Which also raises perhaps the biggest question about Randolph: is he actually going to be a big man in the NBA? At 6'10" and just 197 pounds with a surprisingly good handle, Randolph certainly looks more like a small forward right now.
Still, coming up with a good comparison for Randolph is difficult. While his Orlando measurements are similar to Brandan Wright's last year, their styles seem somewhat divergent. Randolph is reputed to be a better ball-handler with some semblance of a mid-range game, while Wright makes up for his lack of PF size with superior touch around the hoop and a better awareness of his limitations--as evidenced by his stunning .646 fg% as a freshman at UNC, compared to Randolph's poor .464 mark last year. Similarly, the Chris Bosh/Randolph comparison also has plenty of holes, since Bosh was both notably bigger (225 pounds at the pre-draft camp in 2003) and showed far better touch as a freshman at Georgia Tech.
So what's to prevent Randolph from being a long small forward in the mold of Tayshaun Prince or Lamar Odom? For one, his outside shot (just 2/19 from the college three point line last year) will need to improve drastically to provide the type of spacing you'd like from a 3. While Prince isn't a great ballhandler, his shooting ability allows him to be effective spotting up from three and his defensive chops are almost without peer (something that John Hammond probably has quite an appreciation for). Odom meanwhile played most of this year as a smallish PF, and at 230 pounds isn't a small guy to begin with. He's also a fantastic passer for his size, while Randolph clearly needs work in the decision-making department (1.2 apg vs. 3.0 to). It's also still open for debate if Randolph has the lateral quickness to defend small forwards, though his athleticism and exceptional length (7'3" wingspan) should be a big help as both a man/help defender. Still, the downside of Randolph is that he could turn out to be a classic tweener: without adding 20-30 pounds he won't be strong enough to defend PFs, and if he doesn't improve his perimeter game he'll struggle to keep defenses honest as an SF. Fortunately, Randolph is the youngest player in the draft and won't turn 19 until July, so he still has time to smooth our his numerous rough edges.
While I find his potential as a hybrid forward intriguing to say the least, I'll also freely admit to lacking conviction when it comes to predicting whether Randolph will live up to his potential. The extensive video package above provides glimpses of Randolph's explosive athleticism, ball-handling and passing skills, all of which would be crucial to making it as a 3 in the NBA. Still, it's impossible to know a player from highlights alone, and questions about his motor, decision-making and physical potential won't be answered before the draft anyway. My guess is that If he's a smart player then he should have the physical tools to be a very good player at one of the forward spots. But he's so young that his mental development is also not an easy thing to project.
When he was asked on Friday where he sees himself playing in the NBA, Randolph was not surprisingly vague, saying he was prepared to play wherever needed--the sort of pandering non-answer that every prospect seems to give in order to appear as versatile as possible. It might be more telling that the Bucks brought Randolph in on Friday with Joe Alexander and Donte Greene, two guys who are pretty clearly slotted for the small forward position. UAB big man Walter Sharpe (6'9" / 245) and UCLA's defensive-minded SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were also there, so the Bucks had an opportunity to test Randolph against both stronger and smaller opponents.
Especially given the Bucks' needs at the small forward spot , it stands to reason their interest would be heightened if they saw Randolph as a potential long-term SF complement to Andrew Bogut and Yi Jianlian. Needless to say, Randolph doesn't have nearly the same appeal as a skinny PF project who would be stuck battling Yi for minutes. So if he is the Bucks' pick, you can bet that Hammond and company think he can play the small forward spot.
All told, I'm still wary of rolling the dice on Randolph ahead of a more proven commodity like Kevin Love or a brainy two-way player like Russell Westbrook. But that's also a byproduct of risk averseness and not having seen Randolph play more first-hand. Fortunately the Bucks' front office has a lot more information to go on. And if Randolph is the pick, at least we now have some nice YouTube clips to stoke our optimism for the rest of the summer.