Zach Randolph, the NBA’s Last OG, Is More New School Than You Think

It might sound like arrogance, but Zach Randolph isn’t a fossil from a bygone basketball era. Look at what he's doing in Sacramento after turning 36 in July.

Zach Randolph Brooklyn Sacramento 2017
USA Today Sports

Sacramento Kings forward Zach Randolph (50) drives to the basket against Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) during second half at Barclays Center

Zach Randolph Brooklyn Sacramento 2017

When NBA fans found out a couple seasons ago that Zach Randolph had a burner phone, everyone agreed it was the perfect balance of game and personality. Z-Bo’s hoop skills always seemed better equipped for the flip phone heydays in the early 2000s, when postups were more in vogue, the term “stretch 4” hadn’t yet been coined, and on HBO Avon Barksdale was outfitting his West Baltimore crew with burners to throw off 5-0. Z-Bo was spotted using the same phone in a Memphis locker room a decade later.

Except, much like the perception of Randolph earlier in his career—for many, The Wire metaphor wouldn’t have been figurative—the former kid from Marion, Indiana has changed. The bruising big on the block is surprisingly comfortable in the contemporary game.

Randolph sounded like he was about to chase some whippersnappers off his lawn when he was asked about a controversial Clippers tweet the same season he was photographed with the flip phone. “I ain’t with all that talking and Instagramming and tweeting and bluffing,” he said at the time. “You got to prove it on the court.”

When the Kings visited Brooklyn the week before Christmas, he did just that, dropping 21 points—on a hyper efficient 8-of-11 from the field—and snatching eight boards in Sacramento’s 104-99 win at the Barclays Center. It was his second dominant showing in as many nights (he dropped 27 to beat the Sixers the night before in Philly), and it turned out to be a bit of a milestone: he passed 18,000 points and 10,000 rebounds for his career. Only 20 players have ever accomplished that in NBA history.

He’s reached those career numbers despite lacking the athleticism that’s so revered in today’s game. Garrett Temple, one of Randolph’s rare Kings teammates this season with more than two years’ experience, jokes that Z-Bo “can’t jump over a sheet of paper,” drawing laughs from rookie Josh Jackson.

Thankfully for the former Blazer, Grizzly, Knick, and Clipper, scoring on the low block doesn’t require much of a vertical. But when we asked Randolph about his continued dominance posting up in today’s perimeter-oriented game––he trails only Karl-Anthony Towns in effective field goal percentage on post-ups (among players who average at least 3.5 a game)––he flipped it on us:

“Yeah, it’s rare, but I can do everything else too,” he says. “Shoot it, face you up and take you off the dribble.”

It might sound like arrogance, but the former Memphis All-Star isn’t a fossil from a bygone basketball era. Look at what Randolph’s doing in Sacramento after turning 36 in July.

Through the first third of Sactown’s season, he’s second on the team in minutes and first in points and rebounds per game. He’s attempting a career-high number of 3-pointers and knocking them down at right around the league average. That’s why he’s currently sporting a career-high true shooting percentage, outpacing even his all-star seasons in Memphis.

It might sound like arrogance, but Zach Randolph isn’t a fossil from a bygone basketball era. Look at what he's doing in Sacramento after turning 36 in July.

When asked where he got his new-found confidence and accuracy from beyond the arc, he credits an interesting former coach for making it a part of his game. 

“When I got traded, when [Mike D’Antoni] came to the Knicks,” Randolph says. “That’s when I started shooting 3’s.”

D’Antoni—the coach of the old seven-seconds-or-less Suns, and the new running, gunning Rockets juggernaut—personifies today’s offensive style more any other coach. And Randolph just might be the exact opposite of his ideal player.

Sure, Randolph only shot 7-of-24 from deep in the 11 games he played for D’Antoni before he was dealt to the Clippers early in the 2008-09 season. But Z-Bo would still attempt a career-high 97 triples that season. That summer, if he doesn’t team with Marc Gasol in Memphis to start the Grit n’ Grind era—maybe Randolph becomes an early incarnation of a stretch 4?

Randolph admits “this game’s changed,” and it was readily apparent in the first quarter of Sacramento’s win over Brooklyn. Z-Bo was the lone big on the court for the Nets, and he left the paint to challenge 7’ Tyler Zeller, who was spotting up beyond the 3-point arc. Zeller ended up pump faking and driving past Z-Bo to draw a foul at the rim. Randolph says back in the day, “we’d be in the paint.”

It’s a different NBA now. “You gotta prepare yourself,” Randolph says. “They’re shooting a lot of 3-pointers.

“It’s a cycle,” he adds. “The old school game is gonna come around. It’s basketball.”

Just as Randolph is about to head out into the cool Brooklyn air following that final pronouncement, something vibrates from his locker.

It’s an incoming call for Zach—on a new iPhone.

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