The Phoenix Suns signed a relatively unknown big man last week to bring some veteran moxie to a team in a playoff push that's been counting on two young big men in the pivot all season, Miles Plumlee and Alex Len.
The Suns already start a world traveler in P.J. Tucker at small forward and Gerald Green at shooting guard. Both players spent years of their athletic prime out of the NBA as they honed their craft and figured out how to make themselves indispensable to an NBA team.
Shavlik Randolph (6'10", 240) has not played more than 16 games in an NBA season since he was a rookie, but he's had 6 seasons of NBA experience and brings a needed presence under the basket. He's also had two full seasons and a couple of partial seasons overseas as he keeps his basketball career alive.
What does he bring to the Suns?
"We like, defensively, how he's a little more mobile and active," coach Jeff Hornacek said after Randolph's first game on Sunday night. "A lot of times if you're just in the right position, guys don't get to that shot (they want). That's what he brings. There's a lot to be said for being in the right position at the right time."
Clearly, Hornacek doesn't expect Randolph to be a world beater. He's played in 113 total career games, with only 7 NBA starts to his credit and career averages of 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
He's not as athletic as Miles Plumlee or as talented as Alex Len. But neither of the Suns young big men has seen as much basketball as Randolph, who knows he just needs to be in the right place at the right time.
"I try to stay in my lane," he said. "Not try to do anything I can't do. My mentality is just to stay ready. Coach has been great at communicating with me, since I got here."
In two games, Randolph is a +18 in 24 minutes of play, tallying 11 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. He was on the court when the Suns made good runs against both Atlanta and the Clippers. He's not a shot blocker or a talented offensive player, but he's active and is willing to do the dirty work. The Suns outrebounded the bigger Clippers, and Randolph was good at boxing out huge center DeAndre Jordan.
"My focus was just to try to get a body on him," he said. "Let my teammates get the rebound."
With Miles Plumlee nursing an knee sprain, and Alex Len not playing well enough to be trusted in crunch minutes, expect Hornacek to turn to Randolph in crunch minutes for the foreseeable future. Randolph can allow the Suns other big men to be more active and aggressive while Randolph does the little things like boxing out.
Still, Randolph is just a week removed from sitting at home in Miami after ending his China season with a thud. Now, he's been a fourth-quarter mainstay as the Suns try to keep their heads above water.
"I just kept myself ready," he said. "When I went over to China, I did it with the mindset that I was going to come back and finish the season in the NBA."
China wasn't fun for him, after hurting his shoulder early in the season.
"It happened at the beginning of the season in China," he said. "I missed a few more games than they wanted me to miss. It kinda got dicey over there. If you don't play, the team starts losing, they stop paying you. You're not getting the medical attention you need. It was dicey."
But now he's back in the states, doing what he wanted to do all along.
"My wind is coming faster than my knowledge of the plays is coming," Randolph said of joining the Suns. "This team, they have a system that works, a rotation that works. So I'm having to go in and figure out what I can do to help a team that's already really good."
Randolph sees a lot of promise in young Alex Len, who started the last game and contributed 6 points and 6 rebounds in the first half.
"He's a very talented young big man with a big future in this league," Randolph said of Len. "I think [Len] showed glimpses of it tonight. You see his size, his ability to play above the rim, how long he is. The Suns have a lot to be excited about."
But for now, the coach wants someone who knows his way around the block. He wants a guy who will deliver the same performance every single time out. Randolph can provide that.