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Zach Randolph: One of the NBA's Best Bargains

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Plot twist! Take a contract that is viewed as a bit too much for a 33 year old with deteriorating skills but is still productive, subtract $6.5 million that off-season and what do you get? A great deal for a 34 year old player who was more concerned with flexibility for his teammates than his own pay day. The actions of a savvy businessman, and now one of the best bargains in the entire Association.

Zach Randolph, even on a bargain contract, has plenty to be smiling about.
Zach Randolph, even on a bargain contract, has plenty to be smiling about.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA continues to evolve in many ways.

The speed of the game continues to be ramped up. Athleticism and length allow for more position-less play, meaning more run-and-gun, up and down pace. More three point shots are taken as analytics takes a strong hold on the Association.This era of the NBA is more and more being called the "Golden Age". There is perhaps a good bit of truth in this given the development of the game worldwide and the tremendous athletes that grace the court night in and night out from October to June. The NBA is becoming must-see TV for more and more people; not just the NBA fanatic, but the casual sports fan.

The business end of things are also evolving quickly. New TV money will start leading to salary cap expansion, and that impact is already being seen. The contracts for the players are getting bigger and bigger as the definition of what a "bargain" is changes. A new era is under way when a player like DeMarre Carroll signing a 4 year $60 million is considered by many a "good contract." It may well be, but those numbers are staggering and will take some getting used to for some.

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Other players signed big-time deals as the NBA off-season turned, and yet aside from Brandan Wright the Grizzlies largely were quiet in free agency. This has to do with being a bit cash-strapped: after re-signing Marc Gasol and acquiring Matt "The Ibaka Brawler" Barnes via trade, the Grizzlies had essentially just the mid-level exception to play with. Aside from a veteran minimum signing, Memphis is done with the market and is "hard-capped" with just a little over $4 million separating them from the luxury tax.

Because of this, it benefits the Grizzlies to have some bargain contracts on their roster, and they have a few for the 2015-2016 campaign. Mike Conley at about $9.4 million with players like Goran Dragic making roughly $14.8 million? A bargain...but that will last for only one more season, as Conley is due a big raise in his next contract. The previously mentioned Brandan Wright at almost $5.5 million this coming season is very nice when you consider his predecessor in the "3rd big for the Grizzlies" role Kosta Koufos will be making $7.7 million this season for the Sacramento Kings.

Outside of perhaps Conley, though, the best bargain on the Memphis Grizzlies may well be in a player who some (myself included) once felt was one of the most overpaid.

Check out some advanced statistics from last season on the following players (stats provided by basketball-reference.com)

Statistic Player A Player B Player C
PER (Player Efficiency Rating) 15.4 21.2 19.5
Total Rebound Percentage 13.3% 17.9% 18.5%
Usage Percentage 15.7% 23.9% 24.3%
Turnover Percentage 16% 13% 12.8%
Win Shares 5.1 6.8 7.2

Somewhat similar in these select categories. Here is another comparison, with more general numbers.

Statistic Player A Player B Player C
Total Minutes Played 1979 2137 2304
Total Points Scored 694 1098 1143
Total Rebounds 456 704 747
Total Assists 117 142 153
Free Throw Percentage 61.20% 75% 76.50%

Of course there are seemingly infinite numbers and data that can be used to show differences here and there with regard to these players and their impacts. However, hopefully we can all agree on the following based on these 10 criteria-

  1. Player A is well below the quality of Players B and C, at least using last season's statistics.
  2. Player B and Player C are comparable in every category listed and both make a consistent impact.
So, who is who?
  • Player A is Amir Johnson, who just signed a 2 year, $24 million contract with the Boston Celtics and will make $12 million next season.
  • Player B is Greg Monroe, the newest member of the Milwaukee Bucks, who signed a 3 year $49.4 million maximum contract and will be paid about $16.4 million in 2015-2016
  • Player C is Zach Randolph, a key cog of the Memphis Grizzlies whose salary will decrease from $16.5 million in 2014-2015 to an average of $10 million per year over the next two seasons.*
There are reasons for these contracts. Zach Randolph is a 34 year old veteran who has made approximately $152 million over the span of his 14 completed seasons to this point. He also deferred his contracts in the past so that he is still being paid by former teams. On top of all that, Amir Johnson is 28 and Greg Monroe is 25. Youth will be served when it comes to NBA contracts, and often in professional sports deals in general.

Johnson is also more of a presence athletically at the rim on both offense (60.7% shooter at and around the rim in 2014-2015) and defense (59 blocks last season for Johnson; Monroe had 34 and Randolph had 14) than the stats above showed. Monroe in a way is a younger Randolph, a Z-Bo 2.0, with more years ahead of him as he enters his prime. There is value to these contracts, and again, as the salary cap expands and forces NBA front offices to continue to adapt, these deals will look better and better to more and more folks. To many, they're already considered good contracts.

In that case, how good of a contract is Zach Randolph on?

The two-year extension he signed with the Grizzlies in 2014 that starts this season is a coup for General Manager Chris Wallace and the Grizzlies' front office. It helped make space to bring Marc Gasol back to Memphis on the max contract he deserves. It increased flexibility for the Grizzlies in the off-season of 2016, who will likely have about $20 million to play with in cap space thanks to the growing cap. That is even after re-signing Mike Conley to a theoretical contract in the neighborhood of $20 million a season (a number from our resident cap expert Matt Hrdlicka), which may be a bit high for Conley but is well within the realm of possibility.
The evolution of Zach Randolph continues as he goes from a declining max-contract player to one of the best bargains in the NBA.
This is for a player who, while his skill set may well be diminishing, is still extremely productive, as his 2014-2015 numbers above show. He helped keep Memphis afloat in the Western Conference when Marc Gasol went down with a knee injury in 2013-2014 and with the issues to Mike Conley and Tony Allen this past season. He has been a steadying presence, contributing to not only the Grizzlies on the court but the Memphis community off the court. That has been discussed here and elsewhere on numerous occasions, but it cannot be overstated how important he is to this franchise. This is why it is so hard to consider trading him at this point; with his contract and the equity he has in the community and franchise, he is simply worth more to Memphis than he would be to anyone else.

As Zach ages, his game is adapting and evolving. He is allowing for Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to lay claim to this team while continuing to be an elite NBA rebounder (7th in the Association last year at 10.5 per game.) His defense has not been the liability that you'd imagine it would be as Zach has advanced in his career, either. In fact, according to ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic (an imperfect stat, but all of them have flaws to an extent) Zach Randolph was darn-near elite as a defender in the post. He finished 9th among NBA Power Forwards with a 2.71 DRPM. For comparison's sake, Greg Monroe had a 2.28 DRPM and Amir Johnson had a 1.32 DRPM.

Again, imperfect numbers. DRPM says that Z-Bo had more defensive success & impact than Marc Gasol (1.91 DRPM last season) for example, which your eyes would tell you is not the case most nights. However, Zach has really committed to being a serviceable defender, and his WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, as well as his overall Real Plus-Minus, reflects that.


Statistic Johnson Monroe Randolph
Real Plus-Minus 1.83 (21st among NBA PFs) 2.65(14th among NBA PFs) 4.55 (4th among NBA PFs)
Wins Above Replacement 5.09 (15th among NBA PFs) 6.49 (12th among NBA PFs) 9.58 (5th among NBA PFs)

This is for a player in Randolph who many (again, myself included) talked about what an albatross Randolph's previous deal was. Two players who he compares with using these statistics- Paul Millsap (5.09 RPM) and LaMarcus Aldridge (9.95 WAR) just signed deals paying them about $8 million (Millsap) and $11 million (Aldridge) more than Randolph's roughly $10 million in 2015-2016.

Aldridge and Millsap are 30, like Marc Gasol. They are worthy of the money they are making at this stage of their careers, and you can argue that Monroe and Johnson are worthy as well as the NBA salary cap situation changes. The fact remains though that a player like Zach Randolph has gone from a contract for a near-max player to a contract half of that at just 13.7% of the cap while still producing at a very high level. That is impressive and worthy of praise all-around. The extension is a hell of a deal for the Memphis Grizzlies, and Zach continues to thrive in Memphis both on and off the court.

Is it possible Zach hampers Memphis' ability to adapt to the new NBA to an extent? Sure. Will he regress some the next two seasons? Potentially, yes. But any way you slice it, with his extension kicking in he just became one of the best bargains in the NBA. Two years, $20 million for a top 5 or so Power Forward in the NBA currently whose regression may lead him to be top-15 at worst? Grizzlies fans will happily take it.

And Zach Randolph will continue to lead this "Grit and Grind" era, in his own ever-evolving way.


*All salary information provided by Spotrac.com and HoopsHype.com