Zach Randolph can still be productive in Sacramento

Through all but one game this preseason, the young Sacramento Kings have been led in scoring by one their older statesmen and new additions, Zach Randolph. The one who goes by Z-Bo has averaged 12.5 PPG through 5 games, serving as a veteran presence on the floor while rookies like De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson figure things out.

The Kings enter 2017 with a weird mix of very young talent, mid-career veterans, and very, very old players, like Randolph and Vince Carter. In order for this team to be competitive, those veterans will have to carry a load they didn’t have to in recent years.

Last season in Memphis, Randolph and Carter each played one of the fewest minutes-per-game seasons of their careers. At 40, Carter will remain in a reserve role for the Kings, but Randolph is likely to step back into a starting role, which begs the question of how much he has left to give.

Randolph, 36, averaged 14 PPG and 8 RPG last season, his first as a primary bench player since 2002-03, his second year in the league. That season was also the last time he averaged fewer minutes per game than the 24.5 he played last season. In those limited minutes last season, Randolph joined Tim Duncan, Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes in their 16th career season or later. Randolph is the only of those players to average at least 12 rebounds per 36 minutes that late in his career.

This isn’t to say with more minutes Randolph’s production will increase – he only has one other season in his career where he averaged 20-and-12 per 36 minutes – but it does show he’s completely capable of jumping back into a starting role. When Randolph came in off the bench, he was usually the best player on the floor for his team and the guy the offense went through. He was expected to carry the second-unit offensive load and he did, though less efficiently than when he was a starter. His rebound percentage was actually the third highest of his career. But we have to look at Randolph’s per-36 average and rebound percentage increases through proper perspective, because he spent less wasted time on the floor.┬áThe per-36 statistic doesn’t take into account the wasted minutes a starter spends on the floor with sometimes more or equally talented players who will also demand touches and make plays. Randolph didn’t have to worry about that on Memphis’ bench.

What Randolph’s per-36 stats say about his potential performance this season though, is that he can still get a few buckets for Sacramento when given the opportunity. This doesn’t mean he should be expected to carry this young group. The main reason he accomplished something no other player in NBA history had previously done is because it’s rare that a player of his caliber is ever asked to come off the bench. If we remove the rebounds qualifier, there’s still only eight different players in NBA history to average 20 points per 36 minutes in their 16th career year or later, and Randolph is the only one of those players to have come off the bench, and will likely be the only one not to make the Hall of Fame.

Simply put, Randolph is too good to come off the bench, but not good enough to not be sent to the bench, which is probably the type of play we should expect to see from him again this season.

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Loss to Bobcats expose hole on Wizards roster

Monday night’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats exposed a kink in Washington’s newly crafted armor; one that isn’t as obvious when the Wizards are playing as well as they did in the second quarter of the 100-94 loss to Charlotte.

That weakness is the lack of a true wing-man.

Not a wing-man as in a guard, or forward playing on the wing of a basketball court – but wing-man as in a sidekick. A Robin. The Dwayne Wade to John Wall’s LeBron James.

This weakness has been revealed in past games but recently forgotten given the way that the Wizards have collectively performed to compensate for one another’s deficiencies.

But the presence of a true, top-tier player as a second option is necessary for any team that wants to compete for a championship.

Just ask Tony Parker and Tim Duncan of last year’s western conference champions, the San Antonio Spurs. They get an awesome contribution from the entire team, but if either one of those stars is struggling, they can rely on the other to pick up the slack.

It’s very rare that two top-tier players on the same team will struggle at the same time.

It was evident that Washington didn’t have this when John Wall struggled with scoring and turnovers against Charlotte, and no-one else could step up to secure what should have been an easy win.

The entire team played very well for the most part, but in the end when it was time for someone to take over, Wall was an absentee participant without an understudy to fill-in.

For Washington, it’s either John Wall leading the team to a win or bust.

And when Wall struggles, his ability to be a play-maker and set- up his teammates tends to falter as well, and no-one is else is able to take the game over.

This doesn’t mean that this type of player isn’t on the team. Eventually, Bradley Beal will develop into that guy. He has all of the skills necessary to be an efficient scorer and play-maker in this league. He just has not developed in to that guy yet.

Beal doesn’t handle the ball well enough to create offense for himself on a consistent basis, and too often, he makes passes that are off the mark and leads to turnovers.

It’s not as if he’s an awful dribbler or distributor though, he just needs to work on it and eventually he will become the Russell Westbrook to John Wall’s Kevin Durant.

If not, the Wizards will never make a serious playoff push, because it is inevitable that Wall will struggle at times during playoff series and Washington won’t be able to rely on 38-year-old Andre Miller to play heavy minutes during those times.

What will become of Washington is a poor man’s version of the Indiana Pacers, with one Paul George and a pretty good team around him.

Indiana’s recent struggles are an indicator of what can happen to a defensive-minded team when it’s main offensive threat isn’t playing at his highest level. You fall short.

Coming from where the Wizards are coming from a season ago, being a poor-man’s Pacers is not so bad, but this team has higher hopes.

Eventually, they’ll need a second game-changer on the roster to reach those lofty goals.

Until then, we’ll continue to see games slip out of their grasp when Superman, aka Wall, isn’t up to the challenge.