By: Sherwood Strauss
This is when the inevitable becomes unbearable. Deep down, we knew Anthony Randolph had to get hurt. He’s all arms and legs, flying around with Gerald Wallace like reckless abandon. Though incredibly coordinated with the ball, he’s anything but when falling (um, flailing) to the floor. He’s a gymnast who can’t stick a landing, a cat who falls on his back. This twisted ankle hurts because it makes us consciously accept the hard reality of what we all subconsciously knew: This dude will be injury prone on a team with a bad injury track record.
So the torn ligature bodes badly for the distant future, but it’s also terrible for the here and now. It’s because Randolph became the guy to watch. In meaningless games, on a directionless team, AR brought the drama. Every ill-fated stumble made me cringe as I expected Don Nelson to yank the kid. When Anthony Randolph anxiously turned his head benchwards, I felt genuine dread.
My worry over Nellie’s handling of Randolph made me pull harder for his success. He needed to outplay the other guys just to get half his fair minute share. By some metrics, Randolph’s done that to the tune of becoming our best or second best player. Numbers haven’t swayed the old man though, possibly because Randolph’s mistakes are so discordant (Note: Coming up with logical reasons for Nellie decisions is dangerous, don’t try this at home!). I’ve heard AR has a ‘bad basketball IQ,’ but that’s not altogether right. Anthony Randolph makes some brilliant plays and sometimes sees angles other big men miss. But his screw-ups are so freakishly terrible; you’d almost have to plan to replicate them.
I went to the nationally televised Warriors-Wizards game and witnessed the most Randolphian performance yet. It began with Nellie’s ritual embarrassment of the kid (D-Leaguer Chris Hunter started). When AR checked in, he started bricking shots like pre-2009 Josh Smith. The crowd tensed up, some people shouted for him to stop. I half-considered ditching Oracle for an International Ave. taco truck.
The Wizards missed a three; Anthony Randolph launched into the air and snatched the rebound over Stephen Curry’s head. He started dribbling down the floor as I braced for a comical turnover. Then Randolph turned Andray Blatche around with a sick crossover near half court and you could hear the crowd ‘Oooo’ just a little. Anthony dribbled all the way to the three-point line and absolutely whipped a pass between two converging defenders. Little CJ Watson got the easy layup, in what was an inversion of how basketball works.
One of the reasons I love live basketball is that you can hear thousands of people react inadvertently. An impressive play leads to a completely visceral, unintentional warble. I wish letters could accurately convey it—the best I can do is this: The noise sounds like a sped-up rumble. Randolph’s pass prompted the speed rumble because a) it seemingly came out of nowhere, and b) was slung so hard the ball had a visual trail on it—the kind you only see in baseball or tennis.
Later in the game, Randolph dribbled the ball inbounds. That doesn’t sound bad, except for the part about how he was supposed to throw an inbounds pass on the play. The gaffe fit perfectly into Randolph’s rollercoaster evening, a night culminating in defeat at the hands of a team that will forever be known for cards and guns chaos. Here’s my list of Randolph moments from the game:
Awful: Bricking three straight jumpers, dribbling what was supposed to be a damned inbounds pass; ‘blocking’ a lame-duck shot that had fallen below the rim
Awesome: The aforementioned light-speed pass, somehow dunking his own missed floater, shaking Blatche ‘And One’ style for a glorious spinning layup, cramming a Vlad Rad brick over the whole Wizards team.
And I was entertained. Doesn’t sound important, but why the hell else should people keep caring about this woeful team? The 20 year old scratching the surface of his potential amid Nellie insanity was the most compelling storyline of the year. With Randolph out two months, the very nature of how I watch these games is altered. Gone is my exasperation at seeing scrubs play in front of him, disappeared is my childish emotional stock in his success—maybe I’ll even stop sarcastically cheering Vlad Rad. For now, Curry and Monta are the ones to watch on what has become a nearly unwatchable team. Long live the Cartier Martin Era.
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