The serious nature of this debate is not that Randolph is, should or will be the MVP, but he does deserve to have his name show up in the conversation. It's not simply because he led the Grizzlies to their first playoff appearance since the 2005-06 season, but I think it's pretty clear that if we ask the age-old, layman's MVP-debate question "If you took (Player X) off (Team Y) would they still be (Record Z)?" and inserted the proper X, Y and Z's the case would be made for Randolph.
At 46-34 and still in the hunt for the 6th seed in the West, the Grizzlies haven't necessarily exceeded expectations, but they failed to follow the post-Rudy Gay eulogy which had written them off as a playoff contender even prior to Gay being deemed out for the season. Without Gay, the Grizzlies have gone 15-8 (heading into Tuesday night) and it's thanks in large part to the play of Zach Randolph.
Statistically, Z-Bo actually fell of a little once Gay went down--at least looking at his base numbers. He actually dropped to 19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds (from 20.1 and 13.2) in the post-Gay era. But as we known, scoring and rebounding totals don't always tell the whole story. Randolph, while garnering the focus of opposing defenses became more efficient on the offensive side of the ball. He's shot a sexy 55.2% from the floor since the ASB and has upped his high-post passing with 3.2 dimes dropped per game. Randolph has been looking at not only getting his teammates more involved in the offense, but he's playing smart basketball. Go figure!
While we've always been able to give Randolph his propers for his offensive game and his ability to clean the glass on both sides of the ball, this year we've been seeing a more enthusiastic Randolph on defense. Look back to the Jazz game (March 22) where he hounded Al Jefferson and held him scoreless until 2 minutes to play in the first half. And how he made Blake Griffin look pedestrian on March 14, holding him to 8 points on 4-of-10 shooting and 9 rebounds. This "new" side of Randolph we've witnessed over the past two months has been refreshing and led many to assert that even without Gay the Grizzlies are one of the 2 or 3 toughest outs among the lower seeded teams in the playoffs.
For those of you who care about advanced statistics, it's worth noting that Randolph has posted career bests in win shares (10.8) and, yes, defensive win shares (3.8). He's also just slightly under his career-best PER (player efficiency rating) at 22.6. In sum, he's having a great year. And one which has helped lead the Grizzlies from being dead in the water after the Gay injury to being a scary out in the first round of the playoffs.
Don't get me wrong, this team has been playing great basketball over the past two months, almost to a man. Mike Conley has become more than just a suitable point guard. Tony Allen gets nothing but the utmost respect from anyone who has watched him play. Marc Gasol has been an anchor in the middle. The bench (Shane Battier, Darrell Arthur, O.J. Mayo and even guys like Grievis Vasquez and Hamed Haddadi) has been stellar. But without the Zach Randolph this team would have been an afterthought some weeks ago.
Sure, he doesn't have the same cachet or resume as LeBron James or Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook or Dwight Howard... you get my point. But he does deserve your consideration. That doesn't seem like too much to ask, does it?