The Microscope: Zach Randolph's Return to the Block and More

Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterMarch 19, 2012

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotation curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.

Zach Randolph: Looking good in the post, but not so good in those horrible green and yellow unis. Zach Randolph is back in action, and though the Grizzlies were able to mount an impressive rally during their star's two-month absence, Randolph's effectiveness on the block is still very much the key to Memphis' long-term viability.

There's not much of a sample to rely on just yet (Randolph has only played two games post-injury thus far, totaling about 50 minutes against the likes of the Raptors and Wizards), but the initial returns have been promising.

Zeebo looks very much like himself, and though some conditioning issues could stand in the way of immediate, full-time utilization, Randolph's post work already looks sturdy.

Knee injuries are tricky for any NBA player, but they can be particularly problematic for guys who often use their base for pivoting and leverage in the post. Luckily, Randolph appears to be fairly comfortable putting pressure on either planted foot, and is already developing a nice rhythm with his face-up jumper. It should only be a matter of time before Randolph completely returns to form, making this but the first troublesome omen for the other teams in the Western Conference.

But for Zach's sake, if nothing else—can't we keep the Grizz out of those brutal mismatched, green-and-yellow throwbacks? It's not a flattering look for anyone, and it's certainly not doing Randolph any favors.

Stephen Jackson, stepping into Richard Jefferson's shoes. For all of Richard Jefferson's faults, he could never be accused of overstepping his bounds in San Antonio. He filled a role. He didn't dominate the ball. He operated well as a spot-up shooter, where he connected on a cool 40 percent of his three-point attempts from the corners, and 42 percent on his threes from above the break.

He played off of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, and sublimated his more aggressive offensive instincts for the sake of the Spurs' system. 

Stephen Jackson can't really be accused of doing any of those things, as he often inserts himself into a team's offense without much regard for what impact that might have on the team as a whole. He can be a tenacious defender and a good supplementary playmaker, but his shooting discretion is never quite what it should be.

Jackson has simply never managed to let his team's system, his individual role, or even his own poor shooting get in the way of hoisting up attempts at will.

Jackson is simply nothing if not aggressive, for better and worse, and yet the nature of his acquisition will slide him into the same role that the more conservative Jefferson was once asked to fill as a very natural default.

Jefferson was often criticized for his perceived complacency in San Antonio, but Spurs fans will now get to see a more assertive shot creator in his stead. It certainly could work out well; as it's frequently been said, Gregg Popovich is uniquely suited to curb Jackson's more destructive habits. Yet this could also be a case study in being careful what we wish for, if only because Jackson has so often represented the other extreme of the same spectrum that Jefferson inhabits.

The immediate silver lining to Portland's rebuild. The Blazers went kaboom at the trade deadline, and though their playoff hopes for this season have been completely obliterated, Portland's sudden lack of depth (and change in coaching) has opened the door for rookie guard Nolan Smith and second-year forward Luke Babbitt to score some regular playing time.

Neither figures to receive huge amounts of playing time, but both could be due for around 15 minutes a night from here-on-out as the Blazers take stock of their youngsters. Armon Johnson, where art thou?

Smith is the more intriguing of the two prospects, if only because Raymond Felton's season has been such an indisputable catastrophe. Still, Smith has shown some nice scoring instincts in his own right.

He's already demonstrated a nice ability to finish over defenders with runners, and he's fairly creative once he commits to getting to the rim. It's obviously quite early yet, but Smith is well worth a closer look—as is Babbitt, who had a nice January stint as a high-usage scorer in the D-League—as Portland finishes out the formality of their season.