WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – As Anthony Randolph(notes) tried to squeeze his long, lean frame into a booth at P.F. Chang’s this week, his fellow restaurant patrons gave him little more than a he-must-play-basketball glance. A week removed from his 20th birthday, Randolph can easily be mistaken for a local college player. One season with the Golden State Warriors has hardly made him a recognizable face, even in the Bay Area.
But if Randolph’s recent performance in the NBA’s summer league is any indication, the locals will know him well soon enough.
Randolph averaged a Vegas summer league record 26.8 points, along with 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.3 steals. In a game against the Chicago Bulls, he scored 42 points. Los Angeles Clippers rookie forward Blake Griffin(notes) was named the summer league’s Most Outstanding Player, but it was Randolph who had most league executives and scouts buzzing with his quick first step, fearless dunks, improved jump shot and all-around versatility.
“He’s the real deal,” gushed one Western Conference scout. “He reminds me of Lamar Odom(notes).”
Randolph is generating equal parts praise and regret from rival teams, many of who passed him over in last summer’s draft. Though he fell to the Warriors at No. 14, Randolph now looks capable of joining Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose(notes) as one of the top two elite players of the 2008 class.
Randolph’s improvement over the second half of last season had already begun to open eyes, including several pairs on his own team. Warriors coach Don Nelson was hard on Randolph, whose work ethic was openly questioned to the point that rival teams said Golden State made him available in trade talks.
“In January, they would’ve given him away for a bag of balls,” one West executive said. “By March, you couldn’t touch him.”
After averaging 7.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.17 blocks last season, Randolph was back in the gym just three weeks after the Warriors failed to make the playoffs. He worked on his shooting and ball-handling, and just as importantly, spent considerable time in the weight room.
“He almost died doing that,” Warriors assistant coach Keith Smart said of Randolph’s workouts. “I went to watch him at one of the local colleges and he had nothing in the tank.”
The hard work has paid off: Randolph, who was listed as 6-foot-10, 205 pounds last season, has since added about 10 pounds of muscle and is said to have also grown an inch. Warriors officials think there’s room for both his frame – and game – to expand.
“I don’t know where the ceiling is for Anthony, but it’s awfully high,” Warriors general manager Larry Riley said. “… He’s probably about two years away from being as good as he can be.”
Scouts think Randolph’s all-around skills will enable him to play like a point forward in the Warriors’ go-go-go offense. As one East GM said, “he’s perfect for Nellie’s system.”
While it’s not etched in stone until Nelson says so, Randolph is expected to start for the Warriors at power forward next season. Warriors officials have downplayed their interest in Utah’s Carlos Boozer(notes), and while the team did have conversations with the Phoenix Suns about acquiring Amare Stoudemire, those talks have since cooled. For now, the Warriors seem intent on giving Randolph every opportunity to prove he is ready to start.
Randolph, in turn, has been wise to keep his summer-league success in perspective. That 42-point performance? “I was mad after the game,” he said, “because I only grabbed three rebounds.”
Randolph is well aware that few summer heroes become legends of the fall. “Von Wafer(notes) and Marcus Banks(notes), they are all-right players, but not All-Stars,” Randolph said of Wafer and Banks, both of whom had previously scored 42 points in a summer league game. “It doesn’t really mean you’re going to have a great season.”
USA Basketball officials, however, were impressed enough. They added Randolph to this week’s minicamp in Las Vegas, where some of the NBA’s top young players hope to compete for roster spots on the national team for the 2010 World Championships in Turkey. Randolph will face long odds in making the cut for next summer or for the 2012 Olympics. Still, he’s determined to use the minicamp to not only prove he should some day wear the red, white and blue, but also show that his summer league dominance wasn’t a fluke.
“You have to respect everybody, but at the same time you have to go at them,” Randolph said. “They’re blocking my path to where I want to go to. I look at them as a wall that I want to go through.”
If it’s stardom that Randolph hopes to reach, he’s already made some modest progress. As he walked out of P.F. Chang’s after dinner, a young woman shyly approached him and said, “Hi, Anthony.” Soon, she had gathered her girls to take a photo with him.
Randolph smiled. Eating his shrimp dumplings in peace might not be so easy next summer.
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