Jerome Randle is done proving himself: It's all about winning for Adelaide
Jerome Randle's offensive capabilities were widely known and appreciated, long before news broke on his return to the Adelaide 36ers.
But one thing that's usually not discussed, is Randle’s ability to lead a team. The 2019/20 version of Randle shows a different side to one of the NBL’s most entertaining and accomplished import guards - one that values integrity by placing the team ahead of anything else.
“I think the last time Jerome was here, he thought that if he could be really good at being Jerome that that was enough. As a point guard and a leader on the team, that’s not enough,” 36ers head coach, Joey Wright shared in a recent phone interview with The Pick and Roll. “This year, he really cares about the people around him and making sure they play at the top of their game. His basketball skills are the same. He hasn’t lost a step, shoots it just as well, passes it just as well. But it’s all those intangibles that he didn’t do the first time around.”
It’s those unmeasurable and intangible daily acts Wright speaks on, that helped Adelaide reach new heights in recent weeks, following a mediocre start to the season. Through their past five games, the 36ers have gone 3-2, with an average losing margin of three points. After nine rounds, Adelaide sit just one win behind fourth-placed United – the next team on their schedule.
Offensively, the Sixers point guard is mirroring his past style of play. Per Jordan McCallum’s play-types, he’s first in the league for plays where the ball-handler finishes off the high screen. No other Adelaide player comes close to him, and it maintains an assurance that Randle is still the go-to weapon offensively. Grouping the 32-year-old with immovable bigs Daniel Johnson, Eric Griffin and Harry Froling allows Randle to get to his spot, while increased scoring has come from multiple others.
A style instilled from coach Wright, Adelaide currently rank first in pace of play and free throw rate, per SpatialJam. After nine rounds, they have the second-best oRtg across the league, a result of their attempts at the rim (ranked second) with an above-average rating for transition plays.
After a reality check washed through the Adelaide team and a few home truths were shared in a post-training meeting, their most recent style of play depicts a team building towards a common goal. Led by Randle, last week’s honesty session culminated in a major win from round nine, defeating defending champions Perth Wildcats on their home court.
What isn’t typically shared when discussing a prolific Randle performance is his impact without the ball. During the recent road win against Perth, Randle played a lockdown role on two-time NBL champ Bryce Cotton. His defensive assets truly shone, and coach Wright was full of praise for his starting point guard.
“His defence has just been outstanding, especially the last couple games.” Wright said. “He’s using his speed that he always used on offence, and [now] using it on defence, and it’s causing a lot of trouble for teams.”
For Jerome, not much has changed. Defensively, he isn’t fazed by the opposing team's ball-handler, possessing extreme confidence competing in this guard-dominant league.
“When I go up against guys like that, it just becomes second nature to me to just play basketball. I’ve had matchups like this before. I’ve dealt with tougher matchups. Even though these guys are tough, nothing really rattles me,” Randle explained to The Pick and Roll in early December.
Never mind the fact that he currently has the third best plus-minus differential across the league, Randle is bringing an array of togetherness and leadership to this team. Adelaide planned to use defensive-minded Deshon Taylor - who is now playing a replacement role with the Sydney Kings - as their import guard. Randle's presence has allowed the 36ers to grow into the offensive unit Wright envisioned.
“People think that we are one of the least talented teams in the league, and I think that’s a bunch of crap. For the most part, we’re not trying to prove anybody wrong, we’re trying to prove ourselves right,” Randle shared.
A player familiar with the nature of the business, compiled from an extensive playing tenure, Randle expresses the upmost confidence in the current roster and their imposing identity.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win every game, but all I’m saying is that we’re in a different headspace right now. And I think the guys are now starting to understand how good we can be.”
With integrity and values developed from years of playing at the international level, Randle is playing a significant role in a team seeking to control their own narrative. His return to Adelaide established a fairytale end to the decade for 36ers fans, but there’s a ‘the sky is the limit’ mentality etched into a team who don't rely on one or two players to win.
“The guys have been really engaged. Ramone [Moore] being out, gives guys like Daniel [Dillon] the opportunity to show what he can do. [Anthony] Drmic is playing unbelievable basketball, everybody’s stepping out right now… We take Perth, that was the most unselfish game we played.” Randle expressed.
What goes on behind closed doors and away from the cameras help define the important qualities of an athlete's career. Inviting others to be great is at the forefront of Randle's mentality this season, and it's something the rest of the squad believes in.
“He’s challenging others to be great. We’ve established a core set of values here, he’s living by those values a lot more than what he did, and he’s challenging others to live by those values. That’s where his leadership skills are standing out this year,” said Wright. “He’s more coachable, he’ll take the direction from the coaching staff a lot better so we can get our message out on the court a lot easier than last time he was here.
"This year, he really cares about the people around him and making sure they play well, and play at the top level of their game.”
There's also been a change in the team's offensive identity this season, Wright explains.
“We can [now] play a lot more half-court basketball than we could back then, and a lot of that has to do with [Jerome] being able to read defences a lot better than before.
"When he was last here we just got up and down and used our athleticism to beat people, but now every team has a good amount of athleticism.”
Randle is renowned for his many accolades and abilities: the MVP trophy, the scoring title, the killer handle. Yet, here’s a growing aspect to this version of Randle that others can follow. He’s done proving his own game and is simply buying into the ideal of team success.
The point guard has made it clear: winning comes before anything else.
“I’ve won MVP, fan MVP, scoring title. I’ve done everything individually," Randle said firmly. "My mindset isn’t to come out here and win MVP of the league… I’m just trying to continue to lead, and keep my guys on the right track.”
For the savvy NBL veteran, nothing unnerves Randle in this growing landscape of Australian basketball. While there’s always room for improvement on defence, Randle and the 36ers have seemingly turned a corner, entering the hunt for a top four finish.
“We’re all starting to figure out, it’s one common goal. No one should care who’s the man at the night of the game. Sometimes it’s going to be different guys… We’re feeding off everybody’s energy right now.” Randle said in a recent interview with radio broadcast FIVEaa.
There’s a team-first attitude seeping through this 36ers team, and the question remains whether this mental shift will result in Adelaide’s first title in 18 seasons.
And it begins with Jerome Randle.