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Coming Up Spartan: Zach Randolph and Deyonta Davis

The Grizzlies have had issues protecting the rim with Zach Randolph on the floor. The key to solving those problems? Another Michigan State Spartan.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, GBB’s Kevin Yeung touched on the Grizz front court, some of the issues surrounding the current logjam, and some of the possible combinations that might be employed by Fizdale. There’s some great work in there, but I’d like to talk more about one of these pairings in particular, one pairing that I’d like to see on the court a little more. It’s a combination of Memphis’ old guard and its new, a pairing of two former Spartans: Zach Randolph and Deyonta Davis.

The issues with Z-Bo have been well-documented. Since moving to the bench, Randolph has been an offensive force, still able to bully second units and score (almost) at will. His physicality and his litany of savvy, veteran moves make him hard to handle for NBA reserves.

But on the other side of the floor, Randolph is a liability. He gets destroyed in the pick-and-roll, and his lack of athleticism at this stage of his career make it nearly impossible for him to offer any sort of rim protection. With Z-Bo on the floor, the Grizzlies have to hope that the offensive boost he provides is enough to outweigh what they’re conceding on defense. Based on the on/off metrics so far, it looks like that’s not the case. Grizzlies opponents are 1.6 points per 100 possessions better with Randolph on the floor.

Right now, most of the options not nicknamed Big Spain don’t really work as a viable pairing with Z-Bo. JaMychal seems entrenched as the starting power forward. Brandan Wright is still injured and doesn’t look to be available any time in the near future. As for a Jarell/Z-Bo pairing, Kevin Yeung had this to say:

Kevin said it right: that’s a no-go.

As for Davis, he’s looked to be a draft night steal based on where the Grizzlies selected him. Just look at what he was able to do as a rookie in the Conley-less, Gasol-less game in Minnesota.

It was a game where the Grizzlies were blown out, but those highlights provide a great showcase of Davis’ tools: athleticism, an ability to block shots, an innate ability to read the ball off the rim. This kid can do so much already. And in spite of the fact that he wasn’t even healthy for the full offseason, Davis still doesn’t look over-matched even while playing against some of the best young players in the NBA (e.g. Karl-Anthony Towns). The moment isn’t too big for him.

Davis’ offensive game still needs polishing, and will take time to develop. His athleticism allows him to score off of missed shots or to roll to the basket off of screens, but there’s plenty more that still needs refining. But that’s where having Randolph with him works. With Z-Bo able to create offensively and score, Davis won’t be asked to carry the offensive burden. Instead, he can score when open looks present themselves, focusing the bulk of his attention on protecting the basket and providing a defensive presence in the paint, something the Grizzlies have sorely lacked, particularly with their reserve units.

It’s still too early to really gain any real insight from the metrics, but in the 6 minutes Z-Bo and Davis have played together so far, the returns are mostly positive. For what it’s worth, Davis’ net rating numbers are also eye-popping, even while wrapped up in “small sample size” and “unsustainable” warning tape; a 146 ORtg and a 100 DRtg for a net of +46.

There’s going to be some issues, of course. Davis is a rookie, so he comes with the usual disclaimer that there will be uneven moments and rough nights. There’s also the issue of playing time. Even without Brandan Wright, there’s still a bevy of front court players and only so many minutes to go around (Parsons as a small-ball four doesn’t help that, either).

Still, pairing Davis with Z-Bo and giving the pair of Michigan State products more minutes together gives the Grizzlies something that they don’t have elsewhere. It gives them a much needed presence in the paint while still allowing Z-Bo to continue his dominance of back-up bigs. It may not be a basketball panacea, but it at least offers a semblance of a solution to one of their most pressing issues.

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