By Vincent Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Jul 21 2009 1:18PM
Just remember that the NBA Summer League ceremoniously retired Nate Robinson's No. 4 jersey during halftime of a Knicks-Timberwolves game last summer. His jersey was tacked to a wall at UNLV's Cox Pavilion -- an actual game-size jersey, not the huge joints that hang from rafters in NBA arenas. Aside from that being hilarious, it cautions us not to get too wrapped up into what goes on every July in Vegas. After all, retired Summer League jersey or not, Nate ain't making any All-NBA squads any time soon. When it comes to the Summer League, the Vegas slogan should be, "Calm down. What happens in Vegas usually happens only in Vegas."
Need I remind you that in the Summer League's inaugural jumpoff in 2004, Denver's Nikoloz Tskitishvili averaged a league-high 25.7 points. See what I'm sayin'?
No matter how unbridled my enthusiasm is for Golden State's Anthony Randolph, I remember that Don Nelson saw fit to sic more than a dozen DNPs on the young cat last season. I didn't necessarily agree with his low minutes (thought the 6-foot-10 rangy rookie -- who leaped and bounded around the court like a kangaroo on meth -- should've gotten a lot more on-the-job training for a team that was going nowhere except the lottery). But there were reasons -- both on the floor and in his head -- that kept Randolph on the bench.
Fast forward to last week, however, and it was easy to get swept up into the "Randolph Might Win MVP Next Year" tidal wave. He turned a precocious 20 on July 15, the day after his Summer League coronation, his 42-point eye-popper, which he followed with three straight 20-n-10s.
Randolph's summer debut was the type of performance that can floor you -- draining mid-range jumpers, skying for dunks, flying in from out of nowhere to bother and block shots, running the floor like a 6-foot-10 Shawn Marion. He was like a young Lamar Odom. A little less nuanced, but considerably more explosive.
Friends and colleagues were sending me texts like they just saw the next Scottie Pippen. Although those may end up being prescient, I think Randolph's play was more the product of an intoxicating cocktail of a skill set and, well, when and where he was playing. I had to sober up my friends with texts and e-mails like, "It's just Vegas, man."
Call me a cynic, but all I needed to slap me into reality was Anthony Morrow's 47-point outburst, breaking the Summer League record that Randolph had set two days earlier. Morrow has had some prolific moments (like the 37 he dropped on the Clips last November and the 33 he hung on Phoenix in Golden State's season-closer), but I'm not betting the house that Morrow is gonna get the "perennial All-Star" tag. The two players that preceded Randolph as Summer League scoring champs? Lou Williams and Jerryd Bayless. Bayless dropped 30 ppg last summer, came into the season with an inflated ego and got humbled with every game that passed when he barely got out of his warmup.
Typically, very few folks (fans, scouts, coaches, execs) put too much stock into what a young player does for one summer week in Vegas. But there's been a different feel to the reaction that Randolph has incited. In a San Francisco Chronicle piece, reporter Rusty Simmons said GMs and scouts routinely came to him to check Warriors box scores just to see what Randolph did. It was all about him last week.
I caution the young dude to keep his head down, though. Later in Simmons' piece he quoted Randolph saying, "I'm still a young player who has to find his way in this league. I had to work hard to get into the league, but I hadn't found my way until now."
League brass obviously thinks the young dude is finding his way and hit him with an invite to the USA Basketball minicamp. That's a conspicuous indicator that folks think Randolph is "on the verge." Keith Smart, G-State's Summer League coach said that, "It's hard for us to say, 'Don't do this or don't do that,' because he has unique talents that allow him to do some things that others can't. His window of opportunity is so big that you don't want to limit him from doing things that others can't because he might be able to do it."
People look at Randolph now and see infinite possibilities. Until last week, he was just the obsession of a few fanatics that happened to catch glimpses of some of his freakishness during one of the games that Nellie let the young dude roll. But as of right now, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say he has a cult following (and what better city to play in than Oakland that has a built-in cult fan base).
We'll see how far the shock waves ripple. Still, remember Nate's retired jersey and Bayless' 30 ppg before you start getting Randolph's Hall of Fame bust bronzed.
What happened in Vegas ...
Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.
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