He may not be reaching too high. If Randolph were entering the draft as a college senior this spring, he might be the consensus No. 1 pick because of his long arms, soft hands and knack for offensive rebounding. Above all, there's his exquisite feel for the low post. Randolph's usual approach isn't to back down a defender but to cut to the open space, bump him and beat him with a quick but unhurried spin move. He has an acute instinct for which way the defender is leaning and has overcome his lack of height and hops by learning to flick his attempts over the shot blockers before they can get off the ground. Though summers of hard daily practices at the Marion Boys and Girls Club with Blazers assistant John Loyer have helped Randolph extend his face-up jumper out to 17 feet, his strength is wearing out defenses like an NFL fullback. If the Blazers ever do rise back into contention, they'll have a low-post weapon made for the tempo of playoff basketball.
"You don't see many 6'9" bruisers who want to stay in the paint anymore," says Milwaukee Bucks coach Terry Porter. "These days the perimeter players want to post up, and the big guys want to stay on the perimeter. It's all mixed up."
Porter might well be speaking about the 6'11" Wallace, who in spite of his vast array of skills and $17 million salary has seldom shown Randolph's desire for the ball with the game on the line. Before the marijuana arrest Nash told the Portland Tribune that extending Randolph's contract was "a no-brainer," and that "Zach could be a max-out guy." If that remains the case, the Blazers would offer him a seven-year deal worth some $94 million that would start in 2005-06. For that investment to really pay off, Randolph would have to be instrumental in the team's resurrecting its image in the community.
That's a lot to ask of a 22-year-old, no matter how gifted he is. "You ask Zach to do anything, and he'll try to do it for you," says Cheeks. To rescue this franchise, all Randolph has to do is be perfect.