A Tale of Two Anthonys
Potential is always about wrestling between the lines of what is real and what could be real. It doesn’t completely ignore reality, but its true power lies in bending reality. The possibility of what we imagine becoming real creates a sort of chase out of the whole ordeal, the pursuit of what might be. Without the tease that creates, the true fun of imagining what can manifest into potential reality simply wouldn’t exist.
In between the cracks of what is and what could be once existed Anthony Randolph, now in his sixth year in the league. For the majority of his career, he was defined by what he could be and rarely by what he actually was. Few players stretched the imagination in the differing ways that Randolph could. A player who stands 6’11″ with the developing perimeter skills that he flashed from time to time can do strange things to the human mind. Randolph seemingly could have pushed the horizons not only of how he played individually, but how basketball was played as a whole. Having the passing and ball-handling tools of a point guard while having the jumping and wingspan to deflect any shot away at the rim would have been revolutionary even in a position-less era in the league.
The problem with Anthony was that he became a jack-of-all trades and a master of none. He could handle the ball and pass in a way that made him seem exceptional on the perimeter, but he never developed the jumper that warranted him being there. He had the size to play inside but never had the skill and weight to establish position inside frequently enough be effective. On defense, he had the speed and length to be a great perimeter defender but never could seem to be the right place at the right time. And no matter how high he could get when trying to dissuade opposing big-men from going inside and attacking, he would soon be pushed to the side, allowing an easier basket than a less gifted teammate might not have given up.
And so the landscape of what could be turned barren. The tantalizing potential was soon replaced with urban legends of “what could have been.” Somewhere along the way, we gave up on him; we capped his potential. The moment that the tense used on a player goes from present to past while they are still in the league, is the moment where you realize that it is best to move on. As much as you want to believe in what’s seemingly impossible, you eventually realize that it is in fact, impossible.
The memory becomes repressed. Every time you see the letters on the back of their jersey, the fondness of a much simpler time is felt. It is just not accompanied by the phantasmal images that used to be a key source of his simplicity. The lucid dreams of a player of that archetype still haunt the night, but it becomes more of a faceless specter that is unidentifiable by name.
In the NBA, how does something already pronounced dead reincarnate? In most situation, rookies come into the league with something of a physical precedent, a past player who closely resembles them and evokes their potential. Whether or not they become more successful version of said player that has been since been left for dead soon becomes the most important question.
In college, Anthony Davis became an incredible story. The fact that he was a high school guard who soon grew into one of the most destructive paint defenders in the NCAA created a mutt of sorts. That soon became the identity of Davis; no matter how mishmashed his abilities seemed, he soon became a player who excelled at it all. It was no surprise that season when Davis blocked more jump shots in college basketball than anyone else, as his unique gifts would easily lead such a strange stat.
In the NBA, Davis is growing into one of the most distinct big men in the league. He runs the floor as well as anyone, is deadly in the pick-and-roll and can pop jumpers. He steals the ball from wings on the perimeter, grabs the tough rebound, passes extraordinarily well, and blocks shots that almost no one else could fathom reaching. That kind of versatility is breathtaking to watch, and makes Anthony the biggest threat to put up a 5×5 in the league. He can do everything, and he can do it well.
Davis now, is what we all hoped Randolph would be. And that is the real beauty of the sport. The two Anthonys share a plethora of parallel aspects, especially in terms of natural ability, but their NBA stories couldn’t be further apart than they are at this point. Where one has feasted from his versatility, the other has suffered from it. But that is a facet of the league more than anything else. The margins between success and failure are so razor-thin that nature versus nurture becomes as much of a factor in the sport as it is in the develop of a human child.
Life in the NBA is circular. When one thing dies in a blaze of glory or folly, the next thing is beautifully procreated. Is it a surprise that the older Randolph toiled away unsuccessfully with his fourth team while Davis became one of the NBA’s most impressive rookies alongside Damian Lillard? Not at all. It wasn’t the first time one incredibly versatile big man passed his soul to another. And it certainly won’t be the last.