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. The 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.