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Job Posting in the Post: Who fits alongside Gasol?

Zach Randolph is no longer starting for the Grizzlies. Who should start next to Memphis center Marc Gasol?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the end of an era in Memphis.

When opening night arrives and the starting lineups are announced, Zach Randolph’s name will not be announced for the Grizzlies. Head Coach David Fizdale announced last week that Z-Bo will be coming off the bench for the 2016-2017 season, according to Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and other sources, and the response was surprisingly positive. Zach was receptive to the idea, especially once Fizdale sold it as a chance to audition as a sixth man-type in the twilight of his career (did someone say new contract?) and fans for the most part understand the logic.

Memphis must adapt and pick up the pace, get into offensive sets faster, and it is hard to do it with the two big men on the floor together. The time had come to split the bash brothers, and Marc Gasol is the cornerstone of this team. So, Marc Gasol’s name will be read as a starter and Zach Randolph’s will not.

With that in mind, the Grizzlies are at least starting with JaMychal Green as the first attempt at answering the question of who replaces Zach Randolph. That doesn’t mean he will be the final answer. Memphis has several options in their front court (when all are healthy) and there will likely be experimentation throughout the early games of the regular season to see what style/type of player fits best alongside Gasol. It isn’t as much about starting as it is amount of time played, though- Zach and Marc will still play together some, but one of the following players should see the majority of those Marc minutes.

Who are the top contenders? Let’s start with the obvious.

JaMychal Green: The Jack of All Trades

Memphis Grizzlies v Houston Rockets Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

He gets first crack at being Gasol’s right hand man, and he does a little bit of everything. JaMychal has shown the capacity to potentially hit the three pointer (33% shooter from range on 45 shots last season) and his ability to switch defensively cannot be understated. The man who Dave Joerger once called a “small forward” has the capacity to defend the pick and roll, hit the pick and pop jumper and run the floor at a pace more suitable for what Fizdale is trying to do offensively.

An athlete who can defend and score from multiple areas on the floor. An excellent fit then, right? His game should be malleable enough to run well alongside Gasol, but there are some concerns. Green fouls far too often- almost three fouls per game, and he only played on average 18 minutes per game- and Gasol and Green’s +4.4 net rating as a two-man lineup last season was only good for seventh best among Grizzlies twosomes who played at least 20 games together.

Does that mean that these guys won’t play well off of each other? Of course not- if anything, Green will allow for Marc to be more aggressive as a scorer and less stressed about helping on pick and rolls defensively. Expectations must be tempered, however- JaMychal has shown he can be a good NBA bench player. That does not mean that once he takes a step up in competition he can match that level of production.

It is worthy of a look- but will it be a permanent fix, for this season at least? Can Green compete against the Blake Griffins, the LaMarcus Aldridges, the Derrick Favors and the Draymond Greens of the West? Time will tell.

Chandler Parsons: The Present and the Future

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about a change. To go from Zach Randolph to Chandler Parsons alongside Marc Gasol would be about as drastic a stylistic move as possible. It also isn’t the most likely action from a starting perspective- Parsons will most likely start on the wing for Memphis. But as Parsons ages, and loses some valuable foot speed, the move for him from the traditional small forward position to the modern stretch four is natural and logical...so why not give it some run now?

He has experience in this role. According to Basketball Reference, Parsons has spent almost a quarter of his career at power forward, and he played the position about 35% of his time on the floor for the Mavericks the past two seasons. He played well at times alongside Zaza Pachulia, Dwight Powell and other traditional NBA bigs who play in the post and on the pick and roll.

At 6’9” and about 225 pounds, he fits the mold for that stretch four type of player and obviously has the shooting skill as well. He can also more easily handle the transition defensively to trying to play with leverage in the post as he ages than try to maintain the foot speed necessary to defend NBA wings.

On top of all of that, Parsons can do more than Green can offensively. Parsons can not only shoot the basketball at an impressive clip, he can also create off the dribble and serve as another ball handler on the floor. A Gasol/Parsons pick and roll combination has some pretty high levels of potential, as does a Mike Conley/Parsons combo. Green has more athleticism, but Parsons has more tools in the tool kit offensively.

So why not make the change now? It has to do with the roster. The Grizzlies are quite deep at “power forward”- Green, Randolph, Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis, they all figure to be in the mix for Memphis at some stage this season at that position. Meanwhile, the wing is nowhere near as steady. James Ennis figures to be a key player off the bench for the Grizzlies- but if he were to start in a Conley/Allen/Ennis/Parsons/Gasol lineup? All Memphis would have to play the wing would be Wade Baldwin, Troy Daniels, and Vince Carter.

That does not really inspire confidence. Therefore, Parsons is probably going to see a vast majority of his time at small forward...for now. But if the Grizzlies were to break up the log jam in the front court and trade a big or two? More minutes may open for Chandler there, and the future may become the present sooner rather than later.

Brandan Wright: The Pick and Roll Dark Horse

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

I know, I know, he’s the back-up center. The response to that is...is he? Because those who watched the Grizzlies last season know that Zach Randolph looked quite good in that role himself at times, and a JaMychal Green-Zach Randolph bench front court pairing would be intriguing. Green and Randolph posted a +7.8 net rating when they played together last season, one of the better marks on the team, and those two picking apart second unit bigs would be fun to watch despite their lack of size (height).

Meanwhile, you would get another type of player alongside Marc Gasol that we haven’t discussed just yet- the athletic pick and roll finisher at the rim. Marc Gasol is staring to shoot threes consistently-David Fizdale wants him to shoot four a game- and Gasol being on the perimeter more means more room for slashers to the rim and players like Wright, who are explosive finishing in the paint off the pick and roll.

Wright would also provide more size next to Marc, meaning an almost twin towers-style look that would be more imposing when it comes to rim protection. Wright has the length and foot speed to be OK when defending the pick and roll (in theory) and Marc has the defensive chops to make people right on the back end of the defensive scheme. It frees Marc up to be more of a helper for others.

This look would mean a conscious movement away from a rim protector with size off the bench (although this was never really Wright’s strength anyway), and would also likely mean Marc not attacking the post as often as he possibly should due to Wright’s dependence on rim runs to maximize effectiveness. But Green has shown the capacity to defend at the basket despite being undersized and would be fine more often than not doing it against back-up bigs, plus Wright would fit nicely with multiple pick and roll partners- Conley, Parsons, and...dare I say...Gasol.

A Gasol-Wright pick and roll? Hey, it could happen.


Other possible answers down the road include Deyonta Davis and Jarell Martin, but they are still finding themselves as NBA players, especially the rookie Davis. This year probably isn’t the time for them to shine- not as long as Wright, Parsons, and Green are on the roster together. And this probably wont be a perfect transition- rebounding will be in question early and often- but the Grizzlies have players like James Ennis and Tony Allen who can hit the boards from the wing. Fizdale surely expects for there to be some growing pains as the team gets used to less Gasol and Randolph together.

The Grizzlies likely won’t have enough cap room to sign yet another star player to line up alongside Parsons, Gasol, and Conley next season and they also probably won’t have their first round pick. In fact, given salary cap rules, if Zach Randolph performs well off the bench it may make sense to re-sign him to a sixth man type of contract. This means that Memphis will likely have to “hire from within” to find the answer to who will fit next to franchise player Marc Gasol moving forward.

Thankfully, the Grizzlies have prepared themselves with a variety of potential candidates. It is just a matter of time until we see where Memphis’ vision is for the future of their front court.

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