Point forward. The final frontier.
These are the voyages of the... okay, that joke ran out of gas before it even started (much like the Warriors' playoff hopes. Hey-O!). The point is, the point forward position, the true point forward position is essentially the Holy Grail. Long rumored, we have specific evidence to support its existence (Magic Johnson), and often imitated (LeBron James), but no one has seemed to find it in years.
Enter Anthony Randolph and the Temple of Nellie.
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When Randolph was drafted last year, no one really knew what to make of him. Some saw him as a true power forward that just needed size tacked on to that Shaggy-from-Scooby-Doo frame. Others saw him as a true small forward that just needed to develop some range. Then summer league happened.
The words started floating around, based off of one fact. The kid has an insane handle for a guy his size. Randolph showed early on that he had the capacity for not only being trusted with the ball in his hands, but the ability to actually manage the dribble in space. Tack on a solid jumper and an energy source that makes you believe in the idea of renewable energy, and all of a sudden, the hype meter was off the charts.
Then, predictably, Don Nelson benched him and kept him down for three quarters of the year before finally letting him unwind towards the end of the season. Less than 18 minutes a game for a struggling Warriors squad without playmakers suffering from a lack of Monta Ellis. In fact, Randolph only played 25 games with minutes above his average, and in eight of those, he had a double-double. Nelson finally seeemed to relent as the year went on, but of course, the kid also hit the rookie wall on a losing squad.
This year, there's talk of an expanded role for the 20-year-old, including the possibility of point forward. Ellis has been crammed into the point guard position when his scoring tendencies seem to demand more time off the ball. Stephen Curry is the natural choice, but he also has a love affair with shooting and rookie point guards rarely fare well. And that's before you look at the uncomfortable nature of an Ellis-Curry backcourt in the mind of Ellis. Anthony Morrow is also primed for a big year, but none of these options create the possibilities that Randolph does at point forward.
A quick look at Randolph's assist numbers will scare you away from the idea immediately. But instead of trying to capitulate Randolph into a traditional point guard role from the forward position, instead think about it more as an essential shift in positional functionality, one that is based not only on form, but the function of the existing roster. What does Golden State have? Shooters, scorers, lots of shooters and scorers who shoot and score. That's their strength. In most system, the objective would be to try and then improve the weaknesses of the team in order to create the most balanced approach possible. But that would never work with a Nellieball squad. The entire function of the system is to create havoc, mayhem, a frenetic back and forth that builds momentum for scorers and allows the Warriors to break out of their pens and stampede you. So working on cutting down turnovers and improving defense won't really get them anywhere, especially not against the stout teams in the West. Instead, the best approach is to try and kick that mayhem into hyperdrive, creating as many scoring opportunities and bizarre flashes defensively as possible.
Randolph can operate in that function. His combination of length and handle creates a hybrid that is a nightmare for almost any defender. Throw into that a playmaking ability where he can score, pivot, post, drive, or shoot and that's already deadly. Put him in a position to ease his passing by working him out of the high post as a lynchpin, similar to what Boris Diaw does in Charlotte only on mescaline, and you have something truly original. Not that original is what the goal should be, but original creates uniqueness and a unique system is hard to gameplan for in two days and hard to defend. It increases the probability of an unusual set of game parameters. And anything that gets further away from the traditional game model is a good thing for Nellie, for Randolph, for the Warriors. Plus, it means Curry-Ellis-Morrow-Jackson-Azubuike don't have to worry about anything but scoring. Which is really what you want.
Even if this change is too drastic for the team and Randolph is allowed to simply roam freely as a combo-forward, this should be a huge season for him. His blocking ability is already terrific and will improve with conditioning and defensive awareness. His rebounding talent will show sustained growth with more minutes. His shooting mechanics improve, his spacing improves, his game improves. And all this for a rookie who still popped in an above-average 16 PER last season.
A lot of people are excited about the Stephen Curry era in Golden State. But that could end up being nothing more than the backup band to Anthony Randolph, lead singer and point-forward.