Top 50 NBA Players: #28 Zach Randolph

Zach Randolph
Resume: 15.4 points, 11.2 rebounds (4th in league), 34.3 minutes, 45 double-doubles (4th in league), 46% FG, and 75% FT… Team record in games played: 51-25 (5-1 without)… Playoffs: 17.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 36.9 minutes, 46% FG, 67% FT, 8-7 record… All-Star

One of my favorite parts about working on this Top 50 list is the research that goes into ranking the players and then writing about them. I am pretty positive that I’m in the at least the 98th percentile when it comes to NBA fans, so getting to re-live everything that happened during the season is hardly work. What I’ve found both years is that even though my basketball watching habits are borderline obsessive there are always stories, scoops, rumors, and fresh takes that fly under the radar or just get lost in the shuffle of everything else going on in the NBA universe. For example, I’ve been so busy looking up last season’s news for Zach Randolph that I somehow missed the rumors that Memphis is considering trading him. Wait, what??

Apr 25, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) shoots the ball over Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) during game three of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

At first glance that didn’t make one iota of sense to me. Even though Memphis has a history of making moves that are driven by staying under the salary cap, the thought that they would trade the undisputed face of the “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies was perplexing. Perhaps I was guilty of what a lot of other NBA fans are guilty of as well; Maybe I’m still caught up in the summer 2011 mindset that Z-Bo was arguably a top five player during the postseason.

Those days are indeed in the past. After Randolph spent much of the 2011-12 season injured and never totally set in the rotation, I predicted a bounce back year, and to a degree I was correct.  A 15 point, 11 rebound season isn’t subpar by any means, but signs of regression in Randolph’s game were apparent, particularly after the All-Star break. In Randolph’s 27 post All-Star break games, his shooting percentage dipped down to 43%; a startling number for a career 47% shooter. Even more startling was how easily San Antonio made Randolph a non-factor in the Western Conference Finals. It’s really easy to consider those facts and also take into account Ed Davis and the newly acquire Kosta Koufos needing minutes, and talk yourself into the idea of trading Z-Bo. Sure, that’s slightly plausible. Just don’t forget:

A: The Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol tandem is what makes Memphis so drastically different than any other team in the league. Having the luxury of two interchangeable bigs, either of whom could play in the high or low post, has allowed Memphis to run a semi-effective offense even though they didn’t have a reliable spot up shooter or a perimeter player who could consistently create a good shot for himself other than Mike Conley. Watching Gasol and Randolph master the high and low post is like playing 2 on 2 against crafty forty something’s who know where the other is at all times. They’ll just methodically pound you into submission.

B: Even if his scoring numbers are down, Randolph remains an elite rebounder, amazing since his vertical leap resembles one of a spry grandma. There might not be a big man in the league who gets better position underneath the basket which explains where he is the beneficiary of so many high post passes from Marc Gasol, and also why he pulled down more offensive rebounds last year than anyone in the league.

C: For the first two rounds of the postseason 2013 Z-Bo looked awfully similar to 2011 Z-Bo. After the Grizzlies dropped Game 2 of the 1st round in a nail-biter against the Clippers, Randolph and the Grizzlies went through a nine game stretch where they looked like the Western Conference’s elite. In those nine games Randolph notched five double-doubles and averaged 21.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and shot 51% while going head to head with two top 50 power forwards.

Maybe it’s time to get some young legs more minutes in the Grizzlies rotation, and maybe that will be at the expense of Randolph. Frankly, it might not be the worst case scenario if Randolph, 32 years old, sees a reduction in his minutes just to stay fresh. But trading him would be a mistake.