LOS ANGELES --
But bring up the name
"I've never coached a guy quite like him," Nelson said while watching Randolph drain 15-foot jump shots before Monday's preseason game against the Clippers. "He's unique."
Nelson meant that in a good way, though he could have said the same thing last year and meant it in the worst way possible. Nelson, entering his 31st year as an NBA head coach, couldn't recall the last time he drafted a player he was as high on as Randolph who let him down as much at the start. Two months into last season, Randolph, the No. 14 pick in 2008, was so far in Nelson's doghouse that it looked as if he would never see the court again. Nelson told Randolph that he wasn't going to play until he began to work harder.
"We're going to put him on ice for a while," Nelson said at the time. "He's just going to have to grow up."
Randolph was always going to be a project. At 19, he was the youngest player in the NBA and had barely filled out his 6-10 frame (he's almost 7 feet now). But Nelson knew that if Randolph didn't begin to develop better practice habits, he would never fulfill his potential and likely wouldn't be in Golden State very long.
"He wasn't going to grow the way I wanted him to grow until he started working, and to get that point across took awhile," Nelson said. "In the draft, we saw a good-looking player with tons of potential, and if he would have just followed that up with hard work, with the normal growth, we thought we'd have a really good player someday."
That someday came a lot sooner than Nelson or anyone on the Warriors' coaching staff could have imagined. Nelson seemed content to keep the young forward "on ice" for the rest of the season until Randolph began arriving to the practice facility early and leaving late. Within a matter of weeks, he went from simply coasting to being the team's biggest gym rat.
"I've never seen a player change so much during the season," Warriors assistant coach
The hard work didn't go unnoticed by Nelson, who finally let Randolph loose in February after benching him for 18 games. Once Randolph got on the court, he gave Nelson reason to leave him there. He averaged 13.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in the final 12 games of the season; only
"I feel that if everything was just given to me, I'd be a different player than I am now," Randolph said. "I realize that going through what I did that I have to work for everything. I'm playing a superstar every night [at power forward] so I have to work to get to that level."
Randolph has been a bright spot during an eventful preseason for the Warriors.
"He reminds me of a
While his game is evolving, Randolph's relationship with Nelson has improved too. During the offseason Nelson visited his parents,
"We just talked about him as a person and the best way to approach him," Nelson said. "I wanted to let them understand what my issues were and they totally agreed. We both understood the guy and what it's going to take to get the most out of him."
Randolph may be out of the doghouse now, but Nelson isn't about to give up on the tough-love approach with his potential superstar.
"We don't really expect him to 'get it' until his third year in the league," Nelson said. "I don't expect him to understand everything we're doing, but he's made a huge step. I still need him to do certain things and he understands what he needs to improve on. I'm going to stay after him until he gets it, and that's just the way it is."