First things first: if and when there is a Grizzlies Hall of Fame, Zach Randolph had better be an inaugural member, right beside Pau Gasol, Michael Heisley and Tony Allen. His impact on this franchise is not just evident on the basketball court; he has truly made a bond with the people of this city and has made Memphis a better place for having him as a part of the community. He has done so many things to improve the Bluff City and the importance of that is tremendous. He isn't just beloved for his charity, however; he has played some darn good basketball for the Grizzlies as well. He has made two All-Star teams and also was the driving force behind the magical 2011 playoff run, with this being his virtuoso performance eliminating the San Antonio Spurs from the postseason.
So, Zach Randolph's place in Memphis lore is secured. However, as Bob Dylan said, the times, they are a changing. The Grizzlies are under new management and seem to have a new analytical and more financially sound approach to running an NBA franchise. New head coach Dave Joerger appears ready to institute a more fast paced offense, at least for stretches, as was outlined by our very own Andrew Ford here. The Grizzlies traded away the anti-analytic pro-eye-test poster boy Rudy Gay and got back as the key piece of the deal Ed Davis, a long and athletic 4 who has loads of the dreaded "potential." And Marc Gasol, the younger "brother from another mother" of Zach, is on the rise as the cornerstone and star of the team. The writing is on the wall; Zach's time with the Grizzlies may be coming to an end.
But that does not mean he will be moved for a ham sandwich tomorrow, nor should he be. He is still a very good player and the team is under the small-market killing Luxury Tax. A trade is not needed and should not be completed unless it helps the Grizzlies both now and in the future in terms of draft picks. It does, however, suggest that Zach could see a reduced role on the roster next season. And this could very well be what is best for the big fella; as he ages, the wear and tear of an 82-game NBA season will take its toll more and more. Fewer minutes would help keep him healthy.
Also, with the advent of small ball and the desire to play a faster pace, players like Mike Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos may be better suited to run the 4 in an up tempo system than Zach. The thing that sets the Grizzlies apart, especially in the postseason, is their ability to pound the ball inside against smaller teams. A healthy Zach later in the season, which the Grizzlies have not had for two straight seasons now, would do wonders for both him and the team. If the team is interested in limiting Zach's role while maximizing his skill set, here are some ways it can be done.
1. LESS SHOOTING, MORE REBOUNDING-
Zach's offensive post game, while advanced, is not as effective as it could be, or has been in the past. Here is Zach's shot chart from the 2012-2013 season.
Not the best. Compare that to his numbers from two years ago, his Super Z-Bo season...
More effective around the paint, which is where Z-Bo makes his money. As Zach ages, his inability to elevate and shoot as well as his lack of length will become more noticeable as other skills deteriorate. The Zach of 2011, the offensive juggernaut, is unlikely to return. And with the development of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, some of Zach's shots could be redistributed amongst those two and others from three point range. But that does not mean he does not have a place on the floor for these Grizzlies. What Zach lacks in athleticism and length, he makes up for in ability to position himself under the basket and get rebounds.
Take this video clip for example; he absolutely dominates Blake "Tragedy Mask" Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in multiple clips, using his low center of gravity and timing to position himself and render their athleticism useless.
When Zach fails to get position it is often because his timing is off from being away from the basket or because too much space is created between him and his competition under the hoop. Zach is a mauler; if he loses contact with his man, or has to travel too far to get to the rim, it allows a less physically tough player to use their length and athleticism to neutralize Zach's base. So how do you correct this and allow Zach to be in the best position to be successful?
You allow Zach to become the league's best garbage man; whether it is Marc from outside the paint, Tony or Jerryd Bayless cutting or Quincy Pondexter or Mike Miller from the three point line, you allow those players to get four or five of Zach's usual post-up shots per game, two of which likely would have been an inefficient mid-range step back jumper. Zach focuses on what he does best; physically intimidating and controlling his man in the paint, anticipating his teammate's shot and focusing on getting the rebound. He can become more efficient with his shooting, get to the line more and also get the bigs of other teams frustrated and in foul trouble. The step back jumper may not be seen as often, but Z-Bo the Paint Conqueror would be out in full force and would allow for other teammates to shoot more effectively (Marc Gasol) and efficiently (three point shooting).
2. FEWER MINUTES, MORE PHYSICALITY
There is little doubt that the Grizzlies now have one of the best front courts in the entire league. Gasol, Randolph, Koufos and Davis are as deep, physical and skilled as they come. But with more depth at the position comes fewer minutes for starters, and in Marc's and especially Zach's case, this is not really a bad thing. Ed Davis led the NBA in blocks per minute during his short stint out of Lionel Hollins' dog house and is a gifted athlete, while Kosta Koufos started most of the games at center for the Denver Nuggets, one of the most fast paced offenses in the league.
The Memphis bigs can create a true change of pace for the Grizzlies; Ed and Kosta on the floor with Jerryd, Mike and Q means running up and down the court and pushing the pace. Koufos and Gasol would provide a Twin Tower look of two seven footers, and Ed could serve a similar "garbage man" rebounding role while Zach is out. Defensively, the team will be even better with more Davis or Koufos and less Randolph. And in small ball situations, with a Mike Miller or Tayshaun Prince at the 4 and Marc at the 5, you could surround the perimeter with shooters and slashers which would allow for Marc to occupy the space in and around the paint and dominate using his size, skill set and physicality.
Zach in fewer minutes (25-30, like Tony Allen) is like limiting the reps of a dominant nose tackle in football in exchange for more effectiveness in those fewer reps. If Zach does not have to push the pace like Coach Joerger wants and can focus on his rebounding game with some post moves sprinkled in and use his energy in controlled spurts defensively, he can emphasize the strengths of his game and create problems for the opposition. A fresh and healthy Randolph could be the key to pushing the Grizzlies over the top of teams that are not as deep in the front court; the variety of different looks and match-ups would be difficult for teams like the Clippers, Thunder, Rockets and Warriors to control for a full 48 minutes. Zach could well be the Grizzlies' ace in the hole come playoff time, when fully healthy and rested after a less intense regular season.
Zach's career arc is truly inspiring; he has shown you can grow as both a player and as a man in the NBA and be better for the journey. As he heads toward the end of a contract (and possibly the pursuit of one last big payday), he and the Grizzlies would be wise to reinvent his role on the roster so that others can flourish and he can best maximize the strengths of his game. His physicality and positioning on the boards, especially offensively, can allow for more effective shots near the basket while creating more opportunities for Gasol, Conley, Miller Pondexter and company to space the floor more efficiently.
The deeper bench should also allow for Zach to rest more and prepare for an extended playoff push in which his brand of basketball could wear down lesser front courts. This chapter of his career with this team may or may not be coming to an end, but if he is willing to carve out a niche for himself and allow for others to take on more offensive responsibility while resting more during the season, he could well end his time as a Grizzly with a ring and a Championship celebration down Beale Street.