HELSINKI, Finland — Anthony Randolph came into the NBA out of LSU as a tantalizing yet often frustrating talent.
His NBA career path closely resembled his maddeningly inconsistent play, as he took the floor for four teams over the course of six seasons with peaks and valleys at every stop. He was traded four times between July 9, 2010, and July 15, 2014, a stretch marred by inefficient play and wavering intensity.
The 2008 lottery pick was self-admittedly young, immature and ill-prepared for the trials and tribulations that came with an 82-game NBA season. During an era less dependent on small-ball lineups and up-tempo play, he was pegged a “tweener,” not strong enough to play the 4 nor skilled enough to play the 3, and he didn’t do himself any favors with a somewhat shaky approach to the game. Six years after the upside-laden Randolph was drafted No. 14 overall by an exciting Golden State Warriors team, he was out of the league.
In 2014, he landed in Southern Russia with well-regarded club Lokomotiv Kuban. While Kuban has a history of success in Eurocup, Euroleague and VTB United League, Randolph was no longer treated like an elite high school recruit or a lottery pick. He was carrying his own gear, washing his own clothes and shoes and enduring two-a-day practices with only two other Americans on the roster.
“To keep it real, I got knocked down from my pedestal,” Randolph said during the Eurobasket group stage in Finland. “I had to go back to the basics. It was a different experience. It helped me realize why I really started playing basketball again.”
Randolph turned himself into a reliable 3-point shooter during two years in Kuban, earned All-Euroleague second-team honors and parlayed his strong stint with the Russian club into a one-year deal with Spanish power Real Madrid. Teaming with Slovenian phenom Luka Doncic and Spanish legend Sergio Llull, Randolph played a big role on a winning Real Madrid team this past season, eventually earning a contract extension and reminding NBA scouts and executives of his talent level in the process.
Now 28 years old — 10 years and 407 games removed from his professional debut — Randolph has finally settled in as a player, and the NBA is morphing in his favor with its big men more reliant on length, quickness, versatility and skill as opposed to brute force. Randolph, who shares the same agency — Bill Duffy and BDA Sports — as Doncic, Goran Dragic and coach Igor Kokoskov, opted to play for the Slovenian national team in Eurobasket this summer as a naturalized citizen and has been excellent through eight games.
During three elimination games in Istanbul, Randolph has averaged 24.7 points per 40 minutes while shooting 9-of-11 from 3 in wins over Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia, the Gasol brothers and Spain, as well as Ukraine. Alongside Doncic and Dragic, Randolph will take on Bogdan Bogdanovic and Serbia in the gold-medal game Sunday in Istanbul, serving as yet another opportunity for Randolph to prove his worth in a Sinan Erdem Dome loaded with NBA scouts and executives.
“Exactly what I told Anthony when we first started was that his versatility is what the NBA game is looking for,” Kokoskov said. “His versatility makes him such a unique player in international basketball. He definitely belongs in the NBA. He’s in a good place right now with Real Madrid. Great team, exposure and experience this summer. I really believe that he’s going to get another shot.
More important than his production, the NBA is much more suited for Randolph’s game than when he first broke into the league in 2008. Every team is searching for long-armed, rangy big men who can switch screens, protect the rim off the ball and space the floor offensively. Randolph is no longer a “tweener,” but a modern NBA big man who can, in theory, check up to three positions on defense and space the floor on offense.
“Now I fit in perfect, right?” Randolph said with a smile.
He has gained over 30 pounds since the 2008 NBA draft combine. He has modern center measurements at 6-foot-11, 230 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan and 9-2 standing reach yet the agility of a wing. After making only two 3s over the course of his first five NBA seasons, Randolph has turned into a threat from the perimeter, as he has made 139 of 400 international triples during his three years overseas. Including Eurobasket and the 2015 Pan-American games, Randolph has made 35.6 percent of his 3s since leaving the NBA in 2014, and there’s little question among scouts, players and coaches that Randolph is an NBA-caliber player.
“I think he should be in the NBA,” said Dragic, who came into the NBA the same year as Randolph. “It’s just life. He said he made some choices that maybe he would do differently, and I still believe he can make it. He is a huge addition to our team. He can play multiple positions — 3, 4, 5. He gives us a different type of game. In the past, we never had a guy you can throw an alley-oop to, can switch everything, can take the big guys out, shoot the mid-range or a 3. He’s a complete player.”
Randolph still battles inconsistent on-court awareness, a lacking physicality and an up-and-down motor at times. Soft-spoken and not always playing with the fire coaches and scouts look for, Randolph hasn’t completely shaken his tendency to float through games. But with his maturity, the evolution of his game and the NBA, there’s no question he can help a team as a role player — it’s just a matter of for what price and at what level.
“I won’t go back in the NBA just to say, ‘Oh, I’m back in the NBA,'” said Randolph, who has an NBA out in his Real Madrid contract next season. “I feel like I have to know that I’m going to have a role and that I can help the team and that I have an opportunity to play. I don’t want to go sit on the bench, I want to play. I love playing basketball.”
His love of the game didn’t always show on the floor over the course of his NBA career, but with Slovenia across his chest, Randolph has proven exactly why he can be an impactful role player at the highest level. He bought into coach Kokoskov’s system and shined playing third fiddle next to Doncic and Dragic. Although not a perfect player, he’s what NBA teams are looking for from a versatility standpoint. He’s making 3s, switching screens, catching lobs and playing his way back onto the NBA radar.
“Just overall in life I’m just in a better place, man,” Randolph said. “I was younger, trying to figure out who I was as a person. I know who I am now. All I want to play basketball, enjoy this experience, I’m in a great spot where I’m at in Europe, and whatever comes comes.”