The changes to the Memphis Grizzlies roster continues. Coach David Fizdale announced today that Zach Randolph will be coming off the bench this season. Replacing him in the starting lineup will be third-year pro, JaMychal Green.
The Grizzlies tried this experiment last season for 15 games, starting Jeff Green and Matt Barnes at the forward positions. Eventually, Memphis went back to the original starting lineup, with Randolph and Gasol.
Fizdale said he told Randolph, “Most likely no one is going to pay you to be a starter from here on out. So let’s audition you for what you will be the rest of your career.” Fizdale also said that they will be aiming to get Randolph in the sixth man of the year conversation. The opportunity to feature Randolph in the second unit has to be appealing to Randolph, who for his career averages 17 points a game. Now, going up against second unit big men, Randolph can still put up big numbers.
For Memphis, the benefits for this are twofold. First, this allows Randolph to be featured on the second unit, which is primarily filled with inexperienced players. Randolph in his 15 games off the bench last season averaged 14 points.
The bench for the Grizzlies was a bit of a question mark coming into the season. Vince Carter is 39 years old. Brandan Wright only appeared in 12 games last season for the Grizzlies. The rest of the bench is comprised of rookies or unproven players in this league. To have a go-to scorer with that group will balance the Grizzlies offense. The fear of long stretches without scoring when the bench unit is on isn’t really an issue anymore.
Randolph reportedly went to the locker room after being told the news by Fizdale and told Gasol, "I'll anchor the bench for us, don't worry about it. I've got that part."
That quote speaks so highly of Randolph as a teammate. This is a guy that has started over 800 NBA games, making more than 150 million over the course of his career. Randolph also said that he’s fine with it. “You know me. What’s best for the team.”
The second benefit is for the starting unit. Not only does this open the spacing, it simplifies the focus of the offense. At times in years past, Memphis has struggled to identify if Conley, Gasol or Randolph was the primary offensive focus. With the addition of Chandler Parsons, it would have been another player in the starting lineup that theoretically could be the focus.
Memphis wants to play with more pace and space this season. Fizdale point blank said that Randolph and Gasol together isn’t productive to what they are trying to do. But that doesn’t mean they won’t ever play together. There will be times when both the bigs are needed to match up with teams or to create mismatches the other way.
JaMychal Green is a solid complimentary piece for the Grizzlies. Green keeps improving his range, which opens up the floor offensively for guys like Conley and Parsons. The game plan against the Grizzlies of old was to pack the paint and make it tough inside for Randolph and Gasol. By separating those two in the lineup, it’s harder to do. Playing a stretch four like Green next to Gasol gives Marc so much more room in the post to operate.
Granted, the Grizzlies have tried this for the last few years. They Grizzlies have tried Tayshaun Prince, Jeff Green, Jon Leuer, and Matt Barnes all at that power forward position in order to free up space inside. Hopefully, for the Grizzlies sake, the answer to the problem is JaMychal Green.
At times last season after all the injuries, Green was the primary offensive threat for the second unit, and even in the starting five. This isn’t how he is most effective, though. Green isn’t a go-to guy at this point of his career. For Green, being the 4th option in the starting five will allow him to play more freely. Green is a talented offensive rebounder because of how hard he plays, and with defenses keying in on other guys, Green has a chance to make a big impact.
Both Randolph and Conley spoke about how well Fizdale approached Randolph to tell him what he was thinking about the situation. Fizdale is all about communication, and he passed his first major test as an NBA head coach. To tell a fixture in the starting lineup that he would no longer be starting is a huge thing. And for it to go as smoothly as it did, shows the level of respect Fizdale has already earned.
Make no mistake, though, Randolph is still one of the core four. Randolph may not start many games, but you best believe he'll finish most of them.