Player Preview: Zach Randolph


Book it right now: I’m saying that, despite the never-ending rumors, Zach Randolph is gonna be in Memphis for at least the entirety of next season. Our second-favorite All-Star isn’t going anywhere. I outlined why I think he’s staying in quite some detail over here.

That said, that’s not necessarily hugely exciting, either. Randolph is more valuable as a player for the Grizzlies than he would be as a trade piece, by a pretty wide margin, so it’d be good of the front office to hold onto Z-Bo and maximize their talent throughout next season. It’s possible, too, that Randolph will out-perform my expectations for him and then we’ll all be thrilled.

Unfortunately, Randolph is two years removed from the ZBo All-Star years that we remember and love. He made his first All-Star game in the 2009-2010 season, and it was well deserved. One season later, he was given a huge contract that was also well deserved. Then, he hurt himself, and he hasn’t played the same way since.

May 15, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) handles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the first half in game five of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In truth, Z-Bo hasn’t been worth his $17 million price tag for a while, though it’s certainly impossible to fault him for it. It’s been clear that he’s been putting everything into this team. The injury, in conjunction with his age, has simply slowed him down.

It’s tempting to want to be optimistic for next season and say that, hey, if the problem really was his injury, this has been the first full offseason in a while! Maybe Randolph will be back in peak form by the time that the season starts! I can’t help but worry, though, that at age 32, he won’t be climbing back to that 4 year old peak any time soon. Not to mention that his dip in production has lasted for two whole seasons.

Here’s the bright side: Randolph is still very, very good, and will be an absolutely brilliant third option on a championship contender.

However, that’s what he is — or should be — at this point: a third option, behind Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.

Since his injury, Randolph’s shooting efficiency has dipped by a very significant 5%. His individual scoring rate has dropped from being as high as 115 points per 100 possessions to 106. His PER has dropped from the mid-twenties to around 18. His win shares have dropped from 18 wins added to 14. In general, he’s hitting fewer shots, having more difficulty around the rim, and even having more difficulty getting to the rim. As a result, he’s also pulling fewer double teams, and having less of an effect on the team’s offense. His defense is still lackluster.

That said, Randolph’s role for the Grizzlies has been diminishing for a while now. Grizzly Bear Blues already has a wonderful argument in favor of reducing Z-Bo’s minutes next season, but it’s interesting to see that plan already in motion: in his 2010-2011 season before the injury, Randolph logged roughly 3 more minutes per game than he did last season. That’s not a totally negligible difference, really, over the course of the season, though it isn’t huge either.

The most interesting thing about his role reduction is not his reduction in minutes so much as the reduction in the role he’s played for the team. In that 2010-2011 season, Z-Bo used 17%  the team’s total minutes at the Center position, and almost 20% of the team’s minutes without Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies trusted Randolph completely to play as the singularly dominant big man, without Gasol to help. Randolph usually played center whenever Gasol was on the bench, so it’s our best measure for how much Memphis trusted Randolph to be a primary creator.

Last season, though, Randolph only logged 9% of his the team’s minutes at Center, despite there being no real suitable backup for Gasol. Even more tellingly, after the Rudy Gay trade (or, when the team’s lineups got really nailed down), there was only one major lineup that featured Randolph at Center: it logged 12 total minutes. The Grizzlies are becoming less and less reliant on Randolph as a scorer in and of himself.

Really, that’s fine, too. Randolph and Gasol work exceptionally well together. We know how extraordinary a passer Marc Gasol is, but Z-Bo is no schmuck when it comes to distributing, either: his AST% (the percentage of assists that come from Randolph) has consistently been pretty darn high for a big man — career 10.1%. Having Randolph only play in tandem with Gasol means that the Grizzlies never really have to worry about Randolph’s poor help defense and flat-footedness on defense, and it creates a naturally destructive inside-out presence that totally kills defenders.

After all, Randolph’s personal stats have always been much better with Gasol on the court with him: his Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions improve drastically — from 107 to 100 — between seasons where Randolph was relied on to dominate by himself vs. seasons where he wasn’t. An argument could be made, too, that he’s become a more efficient rebounder as a result of Gasol: he’s maintained the same rebounding rate over the years, despite spending more time around a player that is also decent at gobbling up rebounds.

The bottom line has remained very positive, too: of the course of the entire last season, the Grizzlies were a net 1 point per 100 possessions better with Randolph on the court than they were on average. Over a whole season, that is not a negligible improvement over a whole season, especially not with the amount of minutes that Z-Bo averages (since Z-Bo contributes so heavily to the team’s average, the fact that his individual influence on the team is that much higher is pretty astounding). Perhaps it’s not a $17 million improvement, but it’s a pretty great one, still.

Plus, it’s not like Randolph’s scoring is poor either, it’s just weaker than it used to be. The Grizzlies’ complete lack of outside shooting has meant that an open paint is hard to come by, and Randolph is still scoring at a fairly prodigious rate, personally. His well above average will also continue to be a huge asset.

So what are we looking for from Randolph in the coming season?

Hopefully, we’ll see Randolph be more comfortable relinquishing the spotlight in favor of his new role as a pseudo-star. With the additions of Mike Miller and Josh Akognon and with Pondexter to log more time, Randolph will have some more room to work and perform a bit more efficiently, too. Nonetheless, expect some of Randolph’s minutes to drop, again, to roughly 30 per game, in deference to Ed Davis and lineups with Tayshaun as a stretch four.

That said, expect Randolph to still be very good in that time. Watch for Z-Bounds, watch for Gasol-Randolph high-low plays, watch for the Grizzlies to perform noticeably better when Z-Bo plays, and watch Randolph continue to be one of the best PFs in the game, even as he declines a little bit.

More than I care about his lack of real recovery or his performance for next season, though, I’ll just be happy to see Randolph stay in a Grizzlies uniform for another year for personal reasons. Randolph has been the fulcrum of the Grizzlies’ shift to real relevancy, and as such, will always have a special place in all of our hearts. Money, cap space, and performance all aside, I think there’s a certain loyalty that we owe to Z-Bo. I think of it as reciprocation for the loyalty that he’s given us.

Grind on, Z-Bo, and we’ll see you next year.