Wednesday, July 30, 2008

GRADING THE OFFSEASON - PART 1


The Warriors were counting on one more year before delving into life without Baron Davis. They were set to make an attempt at one more deep run into the playoffs but were not willing to jeopardized their ability to do three things: re-sign Ellis, re-sign Biedrins, and stay under the luxury tax. With Baron slated to make $17M+ in 2008, they opted not to use the $10M trade exemption for a significant upgrade for the team, namely a big upgrade at PF or an incumbent to Baron at PG that would allow him to play less minutes and thus increase his productivity.

I believe one of the major reasons Baron decided to opt out was because the Warriors made no serious effort to turn themselves into contenders in 2009. With the expiration of the Trade Exception and the decision not to trade their current draft picks for immediate help (could turn out to be a very good thing), the Warriors basically said to Baron that they will try to win with the same group of guys and aren't willing to pay the luxury tax for one year even if it meant bolstering the teams chances at becoming a contender. Baron didn't feel that just re-signing some core players and picking up a different crop of minimum salary players was going to get the job done. The likelihood of using the MLE was not good either, because it would nudge them over the Luxury Tax if used. The willingness to invest in a contender just wasn't there.

As he gets older his stock naturally goes down, but the only way for him to raise his stock would be if he lead the Warriors deep into the playoffs again. He didn't feel like the organization was committed to a significant boost in contender status so he decided not to risk lowering his stock further with a potential injury or another disappointing finish. Why bother? Baron saw an opportunity to head home, so he signed a deal with the Clippers that would pay him more than what the Warriors were willing to pay (based on initial negotiations) and give him the security of a longterm deal.

The 'unexpected' opt out of Baron Davis dealt a crippling blow to any serious thoughts of reaching the Western Conference Finals, but at the same time, it thrust a slew of new options and opportunities to build the Warriors practically from the ground up. Mullin was given a clean canvas on which he could paint a masterpiece. This was Mullin's chance to shine and initiate his vision of what it takes to build a contender.

Here's a chronological breakdown of some of the transactions and important decisions since the start of the Warriors' offseason.


Drafting Anthony Randolph

Mullin chose to draft the best available player in their eyes and turned out to be lucky in getting their hands on what could turn out to be a future star at #14. Anthony Randolph is a 6'-10" versatile 'small forward' that could pretty much do everything. I had him ranked as the best SF/PF that the Warriors should target early on in the draft process, but never thought he would be available for them since he would probably be long gone by the time the Warriors drafted. Prior to the start of the pre-draft circuit, he was projected as high as the #5 pick, but because of reportedly poor workouts and psychological testing, coupled with his slight frame and lackluster statistics, he begin to drop like a rock in many mock drafts. What was probably the most damaging bit of information (which also shook my confidence in Randolph as well) was the Hollinger's Draft Rater which projected Randolph to be a complete bust. Hollinger, the leading statistical analyzer of the NBA, spoke with Chad Ford in this ESPN Interview and calls Randolph a 2nd rounder that is destined to for the CBA. Here is an excerpt from his ranking of the bigs that perhaps damaged his stock among decision makers (and countless others) that put too much weight on what Hollinger's analytical approach to projecting future success:

Between Me and the Scouts, One of Us Will Look Like an Idiot
Anthony Randolph, LSU, 9.85

Yes, this is true. Seen in many quarters as a high lottery pick, Randolph has virtually nothing in his statistical record to justify such a lofty selection.

In particular, his woeful ball-handling numbers are a major red flag. Randolph had more turnovers than any prospect except Beasley and Thompson, but those two players had every play run through them; I'm still waiting to find out Randolph's excuse.

Additionally, his 49.9 true shooting percentage is alarmingly bad for a guy who is supposed to dominate athletically.

He can block shots, and the fact his team was such a mess probably didn't help his numbers any, but gambling on Randolph with a high first-round pick looks like the basketball equivalent of hitting on 19 in blackjack. Hey, maybe the dealer throws out a 2 and everyone thinks you're a genius, but chances are you're going to bust.

It appears he's going to be drafted in the middle of the first round at worst, but even that appears to be a terrible mistake -- there is no track record whatsoever of a player rated this poorly achieving pro success.

Damning words, indeed. No one wants to pick a high-risk bust in the lottery, so team after team passed on Randolph for the 'safer' choice. To Mullin's credit, he trusted his scouting information and what he saw on the court and took him with the last pick in the lottery when mock drafts had him plummeting into the late-middle picks of the first round. Apparently, Don Nelson was very high on Randolph from the beginning. In this KNBR interview (draft talk starts at around 9:00 into the interview), Nelson mentions a player that he would take #1 overall, but no one has considered him to be projected to go anywhere near #1. That player turned out to be Anthony Randolph (14:00).

Judging from what I've seen from Summer League (I know, I know, it's just Summer League), Anthony Randolph has the makings of becoming a very special player. He looks like a young Lamar Odom with more competitive fire. It's amazing to watch how quickly he brings the ball up the court. Randolph is guard-like in his ball-handling and decision making. Although he's rail thin, he's wiry strong and very aggressive going to the rack. He's able to take contact and finish, as well as make his free throws. Pack that talent into an agile 6'-10" frame (still growing?) and you have the ultimate Nellie-ball weapon. If he can play with the same confidence at the NBA level, Randolph will be a mismatch nightmare for any team and a key piece to the Warriors future.

Hollinger's statistical analysis is a valuable tool, especially when the sample size is large (not just freshman season). But one needs to remember that its strict reliance on stats alone could lead you to jump to the wrong conclusions about a player. It should only be a tool in an arsenal of supporting data that will lead you to make the right calls in evaluation. There were several things that Hollinger's Drafter Rater didn't take into consideration:
  1. Randolph has the competitive juices of a champion. He absolutely hates to lose and he does not take kindly to incompetence among his teammates. If you say he can't do something, he'll do whatever it takes to prove you wrong. Warriors fans have to thank Hollinger for his bulletin board material in singling out Randolph as the biggest bust of the draft.
  2. Randolph did not start playing competitive basketball until he was in the 8th grade (6 years ago). He was more into football (WR) and had a later start than most prospects in the draft. Although the formula takes age into account, his true basketball age is much younger. The raw talent is apparent the second you lay eyes on the kid and knowing that he hasn't played the game seriously for too long, you can't help but be impressed at how quickly he has developed.
  3. LSU was a terrible team with no point guard and some injuries. As a result, Randolph had to take on a lot of the point guard responsibilities even as a raw prospect still in the early stages of learning the game. This inevitably resulted in lots of turnovers, uncredited assists from playing with less than stellar teammates, and the pressure to take over as the #1 option at such a young age.
  4. There was a coaching change midway through the season, and that hurt his development, instruction, and ability for the team to compete. Morale was probably low, affecting everyone's play, and stunting growth as a player.
If what I've seen so far is any indication of what kind of player Anthony Randolph will be, Hollinger will be the one looking like an idiot, not the scouts that actually watch prospects play instead of relying exclusively on statistics and data.

One thing to watch for in Randolph's development is whether or not he can manage his emotions. His ultra-competitive nature and demand for high standards among his teammates can be mistaken with an attitude problem. He needs to channel his frustrations and energy into positive, motivating actions rather than wearing his emotions on his sleeve and allowing his play to be negatively effected. Unless he checks his attitude, it might adversely affect his relationships with coaches and teammates. Other than that, I see a very bright future for Anthony Randolph.

Grade: A


Anthony Randolph Highlights (NBA TV)
From: DejanBodyroga




Warriors select Anthony Randolph
From: nes1us




Anthony Randolph Mix
From: Trophicose




2008 Draft Picks Introductory Press Conference
From: GoldenStateWarriors




Next: Drafting of Richard Hendrix, Trade Exception, Baron Opt-Out, Signing Maggette

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