TrueHoop: Marcus Banks

Anthony Randolph Blows Up

July, 14, 2009

Anthony Randolph Anthony Randolph: Will soon announce his candidacy for mayor of Las Vegas.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

For the fourth time in five days, Warriors big man Anthony Randolph went berserk at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.

This afternoon, he tied a Summer League record as he dropped 42 points on the Bulls. Previous record holders include Von Wafer and Marcus Banks, who both went for 42 in 2007.

Randolph's dominance this week can't be overstated. The scoring exploits are impressive, but Randolph has been at it defensively (12 blocks and nine steals in four games), on the glass (8.5 rebounds per game), and passing out of double teams with poise and precision (zero turnovers today). Randolph isn't only the primary scorer on the floor, but the most creative facilitator.

It's tempting to say that he could still use a little bulk, but his physical presence both in the paint and defending the perimeter with that lanky frame are bothering anyone with the temerity to challenge him. 

Do they retire Summer League jerseys? 

UPDATE: Apparently, they do. [Hat Tip: Kevin Pelton]

Johnny Ludden of Yahoo writes:

O'Neal, 35, still is a physical presence but seems a poor fit for Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense. He has already missed 14 games this season and is sidelined with bursitis in his left hip. Suns coaches, however, watched film of O'Neal on Tuesday, the source said, and came away thinking O'Neal's strong passing skills from the high post would work well in their half-court schemes. The Suns also have shown increasingly more confidence in playing forward Boris Diaw next to Stoudemire and think that combination will suffice when O'Neal isn't on the floor.

Phoenix doesn't expect O'Neal to keep pace with its transition offense and plans to utilize him as an inbound and outlet passer. His greatest contributions, the Suns hope, will come on the boards and defense, two areas of Stoudemire's game that are lacking.

Like a lot of people, I'm hearing about this trade and thinking -- what are the chances that works out as described?

Because, frankly, this whole thing comes down to one question: can Shaquille O'Neal still play, or is he too heavy, too injured, and too far past his prime?

I just spent a few hours trying to answer that question. Here's what I have for you.

His PER for this season is more than 18. That makes him the 11th best center in the league right now. An average NBA player has a PER of 15. So by a thumbnail sketch of his box-score stats, he's not the best, but he's far from the worst. (According to PER, O'Neal is currently ahead of, for instance, Marcus Camby.)

He's a starter-quality NBA center. He's not done. But he's also not "Shaquille O'Neal" anymore.Shaquille O'Neal

One of his best NBA seasons was 1999-2000. Compared to that season, this year Shaquille O'Neal is contributing at a much slower rate (by poking around "per minute" numbers, we can get avoid statistics looking skewed because of his shorter playing time):

  • About two thirds the numbers of points per minute that he got in 1999-2000.
  • About four fifths of the rebounds per minute.
  • About three quarters of the blocks per minute he used to get.
  • About half of the assists per minute that he used to get.

The drop-off in assists is interesting.

That's the exact thing the Suns, as reported above, allegedly think he'll be able to do well -- and he has always been a willing and skilled passer. A lot of the difference between numbers with the 2000 Lakers and the 2008 Heat could be attributable to teammates -- Kobe Bryant, Glen Rice, Ron Harper, and Derek Fisher hit at a better rate than Ricky Davis and a double-teamed and injured Dwyane Wade.

But half? At a time when scoring is tougher for him than ever? That's discouraging. Maybe motivation fixes that. If O'Neal's dedicated to his teammates, desperate to win, and surrounded by shooters, perhaps O'Neal's assist rate could boldly go where no old center's assist rate has gone before ...

Better than looking at numbers is watching video. I just did a ton of this, thanks to Synergy Sports. I watched him against the kinds of Western powers that the Lakers are likely to face. And I watched him against other teams.

Here are some things I can tell you with assurance:

  • He's not as slow or fat as rumored. He looks pretty fit, frankly. And on the ground, he moves well. Sometimes he even beats the opposing center down the floor. When pressed, he can still win deep post position against just about anyone. Once he catches it there, his footwork has long been splendid. Without looking rushed, he can probe the defender's attack and mike the right maneuver -- spin, jump hook, power dribble, whatever -- time and again. He is doing an excellent job of getting himself good, clean, short-range looks, and then ...
  • ... he's blowing layups. Layup after layup after layup after layup. It's horrible to watch. He's a first-rate talent. He's getting the shot every coach dreams about: point blank, with no real defensive distractions. And then he just misses it. Five years ago, he dunked all of those. Now, thanks to his physical limitations, he's not going over anybody with anything. So he has to finesse it, and watching him finesse a layup is a lot like watching him finesse a free throw. Hard to watch. 
  • I had watched about 20 clips of him before it really struck me how true it is that the man can not jump anymore. Rebounding, scoring, blocking shots ... everything he does now is within a few inches of the ground. It doesn't make him any slower, weaker, or smaller, but it does significantly up the chances that the opposition stops him from doing what he wants to do. (For instance, James Jones blocked his shot earlier this year. That didn't happen five years ago.) So stark is this limitation that I won't be at all surprised if we learn later that some essential element of a good jump -- some muscle, some ligament, some something -- is incapacitated or missing entirely from O'Neal this season. And that really hurts his potential as a stopper, basket protector, and rebounder in Phoenix. If the Suns doctors and trainers can re-install whatever's missing, he'll be dunking again, which will change everything.
  • There has been the suggestion that he might help the Suns stop big men like Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan. Maybe that's part of the plan. But I can tell you that he has not yet seen the new Bynum, and when Miami played San Antonio early this season, O'Neal was strictly on Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson duty. Three times, late in the game, he ended up on Duncan in a switch or as a helper, and here's what happened: Duncan put the ball on the floor and made a layup, Duncan kicked out to Manu Ginobili for a made three, and Duncan dribbled the ball out of bounds -- my money's on it going off O'Neal, but it was called Miami ball. So, without a dubious call, you have exactly zero success with O'Neal as a Duncan stopper.

So where does that leave this rumored trade? Risky, for sure. But less risky when you consider that the Suns would be adding one of the largest and strongest big men in the league -- and he's still pretty mobile. I don't know how much he can contribute to the Suns, and whether or not it would make up for the loss of Shawn Marion, but I am confident he will contribute.

(Photo by Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images) 

Unbelievable, isn't it? ESPN's Marc Stein chronicles the latest about Shaquille O'Neal's rumored trade to the Phoenix Suns. Reaction from around the NBA:

  • Jerry Brown of the East Valley Tribune: "Sources said both Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire were asked on Tuesday for their reaction to O'Neal possibly joining the team, and both were in favor of the move. The Suns would make the deal in order to move Stoudemire back to the power forward spot -- which Marion currently occupies -- and give the team a legitimate big man to battle players like San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Los Angeles' Andrew Bynum and New Orleans' Tyson Chandler. A move that would add O'Neal and subtract Marion who has finished Phoenix fast breaks for nine seasons with his high-flying, athletic abilities would certainly slow the Suns' trademark fast-paced game. But while the Suns still average 109.4 points a game, second to Golden State in the NBA, their running game has already been more muted than past seasons under coach Mike D'Antoni and chemistry issues have dogged the team since Marion demanded a trade two days before training camp."TrueHoop First Cup
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "So is this really why Amare Stoudemire changed his number from 32 to 1? That's some foresight. And that's some set of, um, nerves that your first-year Suns general manager is showing. This is going to happen. In Steve Kerr's biggest decision to pull a trigger since that 1997 Finals 3-pointer, he will trade Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for Shaquiiiiiiiiiiiiiile O'Neal, barring some medical disclosure that would cause the Suns to call it off after examining O'Neal today in Phoenix. All parties attached to this deal believe so. The Suns have already canceled their morning shootaround for today. That's another sign. And, really, could Phoenix call off this deal and ask Marion to go out and bust his butt shuffling between covering Chris Paul and David West?"
  • Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune: "The moment you heard it, you knew it couldn't be true. Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks? The Suns would never do that. Would they? O'Neal is 35 years old. His body is breaking down. He's owed $40 million over the next two seasons. Then there's the fact he's the worst possible fit for Mike D'Antoni's offensive system, a big man who slows the ball down and moves about as well as a refrigerator. And yet, the Suns are contemplating just such a deal. To which I say: Are you kidding me? If Phoenix is so desperate for a center who can't play anymore, why not trade for Bill Russell? He makes about as much sense as O'Neal. And he plays better defense."
  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: "Kobe Bryant thought Pau Gasol was taking him over the top. Now Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr has told the Western Conference, 'I see your Gasol and raise you one Shaq.' Shaq's style doesn't work in Phoenix? Taking passes from Nash kind of works for anyone. And dunking and shooting 60 percent fits just about anywhere. O'Neal either wasn't quick or healthy enough to get away from the double-teams here anymore. That won't be a problem the way Phoenix plays. O'Neal has gone from trying to play in an airplane bathroom here to playing in the open space of the airplane hangar -- if he's healthy enough to keep up with a team that plays as if on jet fuel."
  • Chris Perkins of the The Palm Beach Post: '"In the end I would be shocked if they pulled it off,' an NBA source said regarding the Suns. Such a trade would represent a huge philosophical change for the Suns. Phoenix General Manager Steve Kerr, who won titles as a player alongside Michael Jordan in Chicago and Tim Duncan in San Antonio, reportedly has wanted such a change. Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni reportedly has been reluctant to change. Phoenix owner Robert Sarver said recently he didn't want the Suns to deviate from its up-tempo style. One of the NBA sources said Phoenix's desire to acquire O'Neal could be in response to the Los Angeles Lakers acquiring center-forward Pau Gasol from Memphis. 'I think that's a desperate act,' he said of Phoenix inquiring about O'Neal."
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "He made Brian Grant's contract disappear, when it appeared an impossible dream. He made Eddie Jones' money vanish, when that appeared unfathomable. He unloaded Antoine Walker the day after an NBA scout said no one could unload Walker. At this rate, Smush Parker had better get those bags packed. Say what you want about Pat Riley handling two high-end jobs. But in his role as Heat president, he has made more money disappear than Enron."
  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "It is the right move for the Heat because it is time to turn over the franchise's leadership, in more than symbolic terms, to Dwyane Wade. The O'Neal philosophy has infested the locker room environment; Wade still has a chance to follow the Alonzo Mourning model. My sense for months has been that, just as Wade symbolically stood on O'Neal's shoulders in their first couple of years together, O'Neal was standing in Wade's way now. It is the right move for the Heat because it allows Pat Riley to turn over the coaching reins to Erik Spoelstra, without worrying about whether a young coach could control O'Neal. ... It is the right move for O'Neal because, if he goes to Phoenix, he gets a chance to win before his career finishes."
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Are you kidding? Is somebody auditioning for Jay Leno's late night team when the writer's strike comes to a conclusion? That sounds completely ludicrous, but is apparently rooted in some truth. I can completely understand why the abominable Heat would look to move O'Neal, who is owed $40 million over the next two seasons and is in the midst of his least productive season as a professional. His streak of consecutive all-star appearances recently ended at 14. But I have no idea why Phoenix would look to move Marion -- for Shaq? Marion is younger, cheaper, more productive and fits with the Suns' style of play better than Shaq."
  • David Aldridge of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "The Suns, according to a source, are convinced that O'Neal still can get up and down the floor, and they believe their medical and training staffs can help O'Neal -- currently sidelined with a hip injury -- stay healthier in his last few seasons, just as guard Steve Nash has been able to avoid injuries with improved physical therapy and training.
    Phoenix also thinks O'Neal still wants to add to his four championship rings enough to get in shape. 'Just imagine a Shaq that's so motivated,' a team source said last night. 'You think he won't be motivated to take out the Lakers?'"
  • Broderick Turner of The Press-Enterprise: "Bryant was asked what he thought about the possibility of his former teammate being traded back to the West. 'I know he likes the warm weather,' Bryant said. 'Other than that, I don't think too much about it.' The Suns might be doing this because of the Lakers' trade to get Gasol. 'Maybe,' Bryant said. 'It doesn't really matter to us one way or the other. We've got to get better.'"
  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: "One theoretical reason why the Suns might be panicky enough to do this, even though they have the best record in the West -- they're 20-2 vs. the East, but only 14-12 vs. the West, with a lot more tough West games left to play than many of the other contenders. Maybe the Suns know that they're secretly soft and it has been hidden by the East-heavy schedule. For instance, New Orleans is 23-11 in the West with a load of East games to play. San Antonio is 19-13 in the West, Utah is 18-11. I still think adding Shaq and subtracting Marion makes the Suns even worse ... but there's my best guess at finding some non-insane reason for this potential deal. ... Is this a reaction to the Warriors getting Webber? Hardly. But it has to be some kind of flinch over the Lakers getting Pau Gasol, which was an honest-to-goodness great trade. The Suns would be flinching terribly if they did this one."
  • Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune: "The Suns, NBA sources said, appear to be reacting both to the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies last week and word the Dallas Mavericks were putting on a strong push to acquire O'Neal to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. Insiders say the Mavs were willing to give up Josh Howard and owner Mark Cuban was pushing hard for the deal. The Heat, feeling pressure internally from Dwyane Wade as Miami has the worst record in the NBA, was looking to reduce salary as much as possible to get into the free-agent market and pursue a major player for next season like Elton Brand. ... If the trade is made it also would suggest that Kerr prevailed in the internal debate this season over whether to pursue the run-and-shoot style of coach Mike D'Antoni or Kerr's belief the Suns have to be more of a power inside and a defensive-oriented team."