The 2016-2017 NBA season kicked off with a new face on the bench prior to tip off for the Memphis Grizzlies. Not new to the team, definitely not new to the league, just new to the bench. Zach Randolph, a crowd favorite, has been a consistent double-double threat since coming to Memphis. His averages since joining the team in 2009 have been 17 points and 8 rebounds. The only problem is he’s been producing those numbers at 33 minutes a game. This season, through ten games, he’s averaging similar numbers at 14 points and 8 rebounds a game, while only playing 21 minutes.
This move to the bench has allowed Randolph to produce almost equal numbers in less minutes because he’s not asked to score against starting caliber power forwards, such as Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, and Draymond Green. These fantastic numbers early in the season have Randolph as an early front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. A similar situation would be when Golden State moved Andre Iguodala to the bench, where he quickly became one of the league’s most prominent bench players, even earning a Finals MVP award in 2015. Moving Randolph to the bench has also spiked Memphis’ pace, as well as their offensive and defensive efficiency. Randolph’s replacement, JaMychal Green, is a much younger, more athletic player, a better defender, and fits well into Coach Fizdale’s new scheme of space and pace.
To add to Fizdale’s space and pace, Randolph is shooting the three-point shot at around 35% a game, while shooting one three a game. This is a huge improvement, seeing as Randolph hasn’t shot more than .4 attempts, or shot over 30% since coming to Memphis.
One would assume Randolph’s new role would damage his chemistry with Memphis’ core four of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Randolph himself, but it’s been quite the opposite so far. Another huge producer off the bench so far, Vince Carter, has been on fire. He’s averaging 20 points for the last three games, but that’s not the important part. Carter, along with Randolph, bring experience, veteran presence, spacing, and an old man’s game that seemingly never ages to Memphis’ bench. Randolph has been put in a position to teach the young guys, like Green, 2015 first round draft pick Jarell Martin, and 2016 second round pick Deyonta Davis how to play physical basketball, which has always been a cornerstone of Zbo’s game. The locker room presence they both bring, along with defensive mastermind Tony Allen, is unfathomable. A term coaches often used to describe players who aren’t stars but keep the team together is “glue guys.” In the locker room, these three are glue guys to an extreme level. At a given moment, you can see Randolph and Carter telling players like Davis or rookie Wade Baldwin what they were doing wrong without criticizing them.
This is key to player development. As a leader and a teacher, you don’t want to hamper the growth of your students with constant criticism and scalding. You have to point out flaws, and then compliment strengths, which Randolph and Carter are seen constantly doing. As coach Fizz will tell you, Randolph’s move to the bench wasn’t just good for the play on the court, but it was necessary for Memphis’ transition into the new NBA, while not forgetting where they come from in the Grit N’ Grind era. Grind City moving forward has a lot to look forward to, and Randolph is key to the end result.