Why Zach Randolph and JaMychal Green Need to Start for the Memphis Grizzlies

While Zach Randolph is one of the NBA’s last true power-forwards, lineups featuring him at center next to JaMychal Green have made for a successful frontcourt look.

Last season, the notion of starting or giving significant run to a four-five pairing of Zach Randolph and JaMychal Green probably did not occur to any coaching personnel or any human beings who watch basketball in general. Now with Marc Gasol out indefinitely, the aforementioned duo ascends to top choice of bigs in the starting lineup, and the proof of this pair’s efficacy began accumulating long before Gasol injured his foot.

The two players provided the Grizzlies with near flawless play in and around the paint in the team’s most recent wins against the Brooklyn Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging a combined 28 points per game on the combined shooting average of 56.1 percent from the floor. While both the Nets and Timberwolves are losing teams who are not exactly taking the league by storm, extended playing time against those opponents allowed opportunities to further examine the effectiveness of lineups that utilize both Z-Bo and JaMyke. Getting a monster game from Mike Conley and double figure scoring including an 80-foot three-point basket from Vince Carter certainly helped the Grizz of late, but as briefly touched on in the most recent edition of the Memphis Grizzlies Week in Review and Three Takeaways , having Randolph and Green on the floor at the same time generated positive results for the Grizz all season long.

According to NBA advanced lineup statistics, Coach Dave Joerger’s Grizzlies have played JaMychal Green alongside Zach Randolph in 34 games this season for a total of 276 minutes played together. Rankings of the Grizzlies’ most effective two-man lineup combinations indicate that of any two Grizzlies who have shared time on the court in 30 games or more this season, lineups with Green and Randolph have had the highest net rating with a staggering +8.0 for every 100 possessions. Fun fact: the second best, yet no longer available, two-man lineup by net rating was the combination of Tony Allen and Courtney Lee as the Grizzlies outscored opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions while appearing together in 37 games for a total of 573 minutes played together.

Of the JaMyke and Z-Bo lineups, the most effective and most used has been a second-unit type Grizzlies squad of Mario Chalmers-Courtney Lee-Matt Barnes-JaMychal Green-Zach Randolph (pour out another one for the dearly departed C-Lee). Though only appearing in 10 games this year for a grand total of 31 minutes, this crew posted an absurdly high net rating of +27.6, slightly higher than the net rating of the similar lineup that featured these same players but with Marc Gasol at center in place of Randolph.

In addition to being a forward who could guard multiple positions, finish fastbreaks, and hit the occasional three to stretch defenses, JaMychal Green has been a versatile weapon for the Grizzlies because he complements either Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol in the high-low game. While Gasol is widely acclaimed as gifted passer who can be a triple-threat operating as an offensive fulcrum from the top of the key, Randolph is underrated as a passer (probably because for much of his early career passing the ball out of post-ups was not of much interest to  the ball-demanding forward) and has shown a penchant for finding Green down low while operating from the high post. Here’s a perfect example of the Zach to JaMyke high-low game in action in this highlight.

Those prolific lineups anchored by Randolph-Green frontcourts have enjoyed most of their success against opposing lineups that mostly or partially consist of bench players, but we’ve seen enough to make a case that starting both players gives this current Grizzlies team the most competitive starting bunch it can offer.

Some may assume that the Grizz could just slide Brandan Wright into the starting center spot vacated by Marc Gasol thereby allowing Wright to lead the committee that would share the massive amount of minutes previously allotted to Gasol. However, Wright has not played enough this season to demonstrate that a Randolph-Wright frontcourt would be as potent as Randolph-Green frontcourt. The Grizzlies acquired Wright to be a quality second string big man, and until Wright exhibits a superior level of play that forces Joreger’s hand to play him over JaMychal Green, Wright should continue to serve the Grizzlies well in a reserve role, even in Gasol’s absence.

The Grizzlies have trotted out quite a few different lineups this season, and following the season-ending injury to Gasol and trades that shipped off Jeff Green and Courtney Lee while bringing back new faces like Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston and center Chris “Birdman” Andersen, expect Dave Joerger to try out and tinker with quite few more lineups. Coach Joerger can go with several new look lineups for various situations, but his best starting lineup option needs Randolph and Green holding it down.