Zach Randolph calls himself a “dinosaur” – but not because he’s 36 or close to retiring from the NBA.
Randolph knows his style of play might be viewed as ancient (what good is a traditional post player?). But it’s effective and perhaps more so than the Kings could have expected.
His old-school style has boosted the Kings as they attempt to usher in a new brand of winning basketball. He has been the team’s best offseason free-agent signing in terms of production, consistency and ability to connect with his young teammates as a mentor.
Not bad for the “old” man.
“Basketball is basketball; it’ll all come around,” Randolph said of evolving playing styles. “...You’ve still got to play in that paint; you’ve still got guys rolling. When you need a bucket, you go to the post. It comes back around.”
Now that Dec. 15 has passed, most players signed before the season are eligible to be traded. Randolph, who signed a two-year, $24 million contract, has only given the Kings reasons to keep him around.
Who predicted Randolph would be leading the Kings in scoring (15.2 points), rebounds (7.0) and minutes (25.9)? He is the most reliable King, the veteran leader the front office coveted, and his prehistoric playing style is not close to going extinct.
Randolph is an example for his younger teammates of how to last in the NBA by perfecting his craft and knowing what he does best.
“He just does what he does,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “It’s a thing of beauty for some and we marvel at it. I have coaches on my staff who have coached against Zach and never truly understood how gifted he is at what he does.”
The “dinosaur” has evolved.
Against New Orleans on Dec. 8, he made five 3-pointers, a career high.
Joerger said Randolph “has always been able to shoot the 3.” When they were together in Memphis, Joerger said Randolph would joke that he held him back, after he was encouraged to shoot 3s by coach Mike D’Antoni in New York.
He’s made 21 3-pointers with the Kings, which matches his total from last season and is 11 from his career high set in 2008-09 with the Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers. Randolph is shooting 35.6 percent from 3-point range; his career-high for a season is 35.0 percent in 2014-15 with Memphis – when he attempted 39 fewer 3s than he has so far with Sacramento.
This season he’s more apt to stop at the 3-point line when trailing a play to shoot the open jumper rather than head straight to the low block.
“I was shooting them out there in Memphis,” Randolph. “Coach Fiz (David Fizdale) let me shoot them. It’s just picking and choosing, picking my spots.”
Randolph’s presence calms the Kings, something they did not have to start the season.
“When teams make runs (Randolph is) a great place to go and gives our guys confidence that you can win close games,” Joerger said.
Joerger said playing center, usually against a bigger opponent, is tough on Randolph.
“When he was 28, 29 maybe that was a little bit different,” Joerger said. “But he’s been fantastic.”
And Randolph feels fantastic. He’s enjoying playing for the Kings and looking out for his younger teammates. Randolph isn’t talking retirement, either.
“I can play a long time the way I play,” Randolph said. “I take care of my body; I feel I can play (a lot longer).”
George Hill is shooting 53.1 percent in his last nine games. More importantly, he’s looked more aggressive and engaged on offense. Some would say that’s good timing, considering he is eligible to be traded. But assuming he’s not dealt before the trade deadline in February, the Kings need Hill at his best. It takes pressure off rookie point guards De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason III and gives the Kings someone to go with Randolph late in close games. Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield have all had their moments down the stretch, but the veterans need to be able to provide stability.
The Kings are still puzzled as to how they can get the best out of Skal Labissiere. The second-year forward is shooting just 44.1 percent, and 39.1 percent in 13 starts this season, and averaging 7.5 points. Labissiere has scored in double figures once in his last 13 games.
It’s a reminder that you can’t put too much into late-season success and that it takes time for young players to find their way in the NBA. Labissiere remains upbeat.
One of the Kings’ most exciting wins of the season was Nov. 9, when a late jumper by Fox helped the Kings edge the Philadelphia 76ers 109-108 at Golden 1 Center. Willie Cauley-Stein had one of his best games of the season, too.
The Kings play at Philadelphia on Tuesday. Certainly Sixers center Joel Embiid will remember Cauley-Stein blocking two of his shots in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.