Zach Randolph's Injury Turning into Blessing for Memphis Grizzlies

Jesse FeldContributor IIIJanuary 30, 2012

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 13:  Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots against Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on May 13, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Lets go back to last year's playoffs, specifically Game 3 in the first round between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.

Late in the game the shot clock was running down as Shane Battier passed the ball to Zach Randolph. Though Z-Bo is known for his play in the paint, he took and hit a three-pointer with 41.9 seconds left to clinch the win for his Grizzlies.

At that moment Z-Bo became a hero to Grizzlies fans.

The Grizzlies went on to beat the Spurs in the series and eventually lost in Game 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Randolph was the leader all the way through, averaging 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds a game in the playoffs.

The success Memphis had was surprising to some due to the fact that Rudy Gay was out for the playoffs and a large chunk of the regular season. After Gay's injury the team rallied around Z-Bo and continued winning games.

Randolph and the Grizzlies started the season coming out of the gates slow, as he averaged 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in the four games he played, through which the Grizzlies went 1-3.

In that fourth game, Randolph suffered a knee injury, which was determined to be a torn MCL. He is now expected to miss eight weeks but will be reevaluated Monday.

While Grizzlies fans might not want to believe it, there is actually some good that comes with Z-Bo missing some time. No, I'm not saying the team is better off without him, but I would like to let the silver lining be known.

The Grizzlies would not have gone after Speights had it not been for the injury to Z-Bo.
The Grizzlies would not have gone after Speights had it not been for the injury to Z-Bo.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Because of the injury, Memphis decided to make a move and traded Xavier Henry for big man Marreese Speights. Speights has started 10 of the 12 games he has played since joining the Grizzlies.

Right now Speights is starting in the power forward slot, filling the hole Z-Bo left. He is expected to play off the bench whenever Randolph makes it back into the lineup, and this would give the Grizzlies an extraordinarily deep frontcourt. 

Marc Gasol and Randolph starting with Darrell Arthur and Speights following them off the bench is a potentially scary combination—when they get healthy, of course. The point being that without the injury, Memphis wouldn't have made the move to pick up Speights.

The Grizzlies have put themselves in a good spot and made it so they will be a very dangerous team with the return of Randolph.

But wait, there's more!

Memphis was in a similar situation last season when Rudy Gay went down during his best season as a pro. Just the way players stepped up last season, they will have to step up again to keep the team afloat for the return of Z-Bo.

Gay in particular has plenty to prove. Since the team had such success with him on the sideline, it made people question whether or not it needed him. Gay will want to show the critics how wrong they were by putting up big numbers and carrying the team the way Randolph did in his absence.

Gay is averaging 21.2 points since Randolph's injury and has helped lead the team to a 9-5 record, bringing the Grizzlies to 10-8 overall.

PHOENIX - DECEMBER 08:  Rudy Gay #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies high fives teammate Zach Randolph #50 after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at US Airways Center on December 8, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Grizzlies defeated the Suns 10
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Gay isn't the only Grizzly to step up to make up for the scoring and leadership lost. Also helping are Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and OJ Mayo.

Conley is second in the NBA in steals (2.5) and 10th in assists (7.5).

Gasol has been carrying the load in the paint that is missing without Randolph. During the past 14 games, Gasol has recorded at least 10 rebounds in all but two games. Gasol is also fourth in the NBA in blocks (2.3 per game).

Mayo has been helping fill in the scoring that the Grizzlies miss without Randolph out on the court. Mayo is also leading the bench players with the absence of Darrell Arthur, and with Speights starting games at this point.

One final way Z-Bo's injury helps the team out is that it puts a very nice sized chip right on the shoulders of all the Grizzlies players. This is a team that relies on "grit and grind," and proving people wrong is what gets these guys going. Having people doubt them because of the loss will only put more fire in their bellies.

So even though the time-table for Randolph's return is unsure, the Grizzlies will fight to stay in the playoff hunt in the Western conference.

And if/when Z-Bo returns, he should be well rested for a deep playoff run on a team that has overcome adversity and will be ready to shock the world.