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. 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.

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Remembering Rick Pitino’s NBA coaching career

Rick Pitino was placed on administrative leave and effectively fired as Louisville’s basketball coach today, amid the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.

If it’s ever possible for him to resume his coaching career at some point in the future, I’m not sure that there’s a place in the NBA for Pitino at this point in his career. But since it’s likely the two-time national championship coach is done at the collegiate level, let’s reflect back on his two short stints in the National Basketball Association.

New York Knicks (1987-89)

Pitino took New York to the playoffs in each of his two seasons with the Knicks. It was quite the accomplishment for a rookie coach, considering the team had missed the playoffs and failed to crack 25 wins in each of the previous three years under Hubie Brown. Pitino certainly benefited from budding star Patrick Ewing staying healthy during this stretch, something Ewing couldn’t do his first two seasons in the league.

In Pitino’s first season, the Knicks went 38-44, their best record in four years, and they stole a first-round playoff game from Larry Bird’s Celtics before falling in four games. In the 1988-89 season, with Ewing having one of his best career years, New York had its best season since it won the title in 1973. The Knicks won 52 games, but after sweeping Charles Barkley’s 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, they were ousted in six games by Michael’s Jordan’s Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After that season, a 36-year-old Pitino, who always said he would return to college coaching after stints at Hawai’i, Boston U and Providence, stepped down as coach of the Knicks and took over at Kentucky, which was going through a scandal of its own at the time.

“I feel you have to know who you are. In my mind, I’m a college basketball coach, and that’s where my heart is.” -Rick Pitino

Boston Celtics (1997-01)

After a successful eight-year run at Kentucky that included a trip to the NCAA tournament in each of the six seasons the Wildcats were eligible, and a national championship in 1996, Pitino decided to give the NBA another try. The Celtics were coming off of what is still the worst season in franchise history, where they went 15-67 under M.L. Carr. Pitino was intrigued by the “glorious tradition” of the franchise and the “challenge” of turning things around. A $70 million contract over 10 years didn’t hurt either.

In four seasons, Pitino was unable to coach the Celtics to a winning record however, and his .380 win percentage in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season is the seventh-worst in franchise history. Overall, he went 102-146, with his best season being the first. He turned Carr’s 15-win team into a 36-win team, but that was as good as things would ever get. Pitino’s attempt at reviving Boston was a failed experiment, and he resigned 34 games into the 2000-01 season.

“It’s heartbreaking to me, what’s happened here. I love the Boston Celtics and I’ll always be a fan. … This organization has treated me like royalty since I came here. But you know, I’ve been going at this pretty hard now for 3 1/2 years and I haven’t seen many results.” -Rick Pitino

That spring, Pitino returned to college basketball, taking over as coach of the Louisville Cardinals, a position he’s held until now. His time at Louisville was incredibly successful, winning a second national championship in 2013 and confirming his place among college basketball’s coaching elite. But his time at Louisville was also marred by scandal after scandal, and this latest investigation is apparently the last straw.

If a return to the NBA is ever an option for Pitino and the decision makers at the NBA level, there’s reasons to believe it can be either successful or a complete failure. Personally, I’m a fan of team’s bringing in young and upcoming coaches, especially rebuilding teams that are usually the ones in the market for a coach. At 65 years old, I don’t think Pitino fits that mold, making a return to the NBA unlikely. But all it takes is one executive to believe Pitino is the man to take his team over the top, so maybe we haven’t seen the last of him.

Andrew Wiggins is worth a max contract to Minnesota

The Timberwolves and fourth-year guard Andrew Wiggins are in the process of negotiating a contract extension, and Wiggins thinks he deserves nothing less than a max deal.

It sounds as if Minnesota is ready to offer Wiggins what he wants, but is he worth the five-year, $145 million contract he's looking for?

The short answer is yes, especially in a market like Minnesota where big-time free agents aren't knocking down the door. This is a deal the Timberwolves have to make if it means they keeping their young core intact. Along with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins is a building block for this franchise, and there's no guarantee star offseason acquisition Jimmy Butler returns once he's able to opt out of his contract two years from now.

In a vacuum, Wiggins has not yet reached the status of a player that would earn more in total money than all but five players if he were to sign today, but he has flashed the potential to become that player. Wiggins scored 40 points in a game five times last season, a season in which he averaged nearly 24 points on 45% shooting. By comparison DeMar DeRozan averaged just 16.7 points on 42% from the field in his third season. Gordon Hayward averaged 14.1 points on 44% shooting, and still hasn't averaged more than a career-high of 21.9 points a game from last season. These numbers aren't meant to paint Wiggins as a better player, but they do serve as an example of his offensive potential juxtaposed to the next highest paid players at similar positions if Wiggins were to get a max.

The advanced numbers tell a slightly different story, especially on defense where Wiggins was one of the worst at his position last season, but at 22 years old and playing for coach Tom Thibodeau, Wiggins will assuredly continue to improve. He shot a career-high 35.6% from three last season and has a stroke that can improve on that number. And maybe more important than all the percentages is the fact that Wiggins has displayed elite durability and availability, missing just one game over his first three seasons. If Wiggins gets a max contract, it won't be a statement that he's better than everyone he makes more money than, it's a statement of how valuable he is to Minnesota.

A healthy Derrick Rose keeps Cleveland afloat in the East

The Cavaliers signed Derrick Rose on Monday in one of the most uninspiring change of teams by a former MVP in recent memory.

It's uninspiring because injuries have robbed Rose of the form he had when he won the MVP in the 2010-11 season. Also, Cleveland already has a better point guard on the roster as of today (more on that later).

But for as uninspiring as the move is now, it's still a good pickup for the Cavs. Some argue that Rose is no longer good and has no value, which simply isn't true. The flaw in that logic is the tendency to compare Rose to his former self, an MVP-level performer, rather than other players in his new salary bracket. The truth is, at one-year, $2.1 million, the Cavaliers got Rose on a bargain. Michael Carter-Williams, Aaron Brooks, Raymond Felton and Jose Calderon are just a few point guards in line to make more money than Rose next season.

The former Bulls All-Star has been trending upwards the last two years. Since playing in just 100 games over four seasons from 2011 to 2014, Rose has played in 130 over the last two seasons. He increased his scoring average from 16.4 PPG to 18.0 PPG over those two seasons and shot 47% from the field last season, his best since his third year in the league. He'll need to improve on a career-low 22% from three, especially playing for the Cavs, but he's never been a great three-point shooter. Last season, Rose showed flashes of that same early-career athleticism that allowed him to get into the paint and finish at the rim at will.

For a Cleveland team that always plays late into the postseason, Rose's skill-set, and maybe his body too, would've been better suited in a sixth-man role. He would've been an upgrade over Deron Williams as Kyrie Irving's backup. Now that Irving is seemingly forcing Cleveland's hand in trade talks, however, Rose will be thrust into a starting role he may not be fit for. Irving's ability to stretch the floor, along with Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, gave Cleveland's starting unit good spacing. Without Irving, the dynamics of this offense changes, and not for the better. That's before diving into whether Rose will be available the entire season. Still, if Cleveland deals Irving, the team is better off with Rose than without.

LeBron James is good enough to carry to the NBA Finals whichever version of the Cavaliers show up on opening night, but Cleveland is measuring itself against the Warriors, not the Eastern Conference. Rose's addition is enough to keep an Irving-less Cavs team atop the East, but the real issue is he significantly reduces their chances of running with Golden State come June.

John Wall is in position to take over East after signing extension

If John Wall was concerned about things like stealing headlines and being the center of attention in the sports world for a day, he could had those things with his announcement of signing a supermax extension with the Wizards.

People questioned why he hadn’t signed the offer made some weeks ago by his team of seven years and whether he was unsatisfied with his level of exposure in the nation’s capital, but his decision to announce the agreement on the same day we learned of Kyrie Irving’s trade request shows that his number one priority was winning.

Wall intimated in the past that he needed to see what moves the franchise made and how the offseason shook out. Aside from re-signing Otto Porter to a large deal, and effectively handcuffing the franchise’s ability to bring in marquee free agents for the next few years, Washington made minimal roster changes. But as a top-4 seed in the East and a conference semi-finalist last season, the Wizards, behind Wall, Porter and Bradley Beal, should be a contender to reach the NBA Finals if Irving’s trade request is met.

Irving may or may not be moved, but the turmoil in Cleveland won’t easily be settled, especially with LeBron James’ pending free agency next summer. The top of the Eastern Conference looks ripe for the picking and Wall realized he’s in as good a position as anyone to benefit from a possible Cleveland collapse. The Celtics are probably the next best team in the conference, but the Wizards aren’t incapable of beating them in a seven-game series – not with Wall, arguably the second best player in the conference, locked in for the next six years.