Zach Randolph represented a bit of a risk with the potential to give a sizable reward for the Memphis Grizzlies when they extended him in April 2011. The four-year, $66 million extension that the Grizzlies gave Randolph was a big investment to put in a player who was close to turning 30.
The first year of his extension wasn't exactly a boon for the franchise. Randolph went down in the fourth game of the season with a partial MCL tear and missed 38 games due to the injury.
Randolph was effective off the bench towards the end of the season, but didn't hit his stride until Game 2 of the first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Losing Randolph for most the first year of his big extension meant losing the last year of the prime of his career. Even more, they lost that valuable year after he had an amazing 2010-11 season—one that stands as the greatest in Grizzlies' history.
The Grizzlies will hope that Z-Bo can rise up for another strong year at age 31. Not only are they hoping that their big-money power forward can make good for his deal after suffering a serious injury in his prime, but that he also can help them compete for a championship.
Here's a guide to how Randolph can start the backside of his career the right way.
Like any player who is past his prime, Randolph would benefit from receiving a little more rest this season than he did in 2010-11. He played 36.3 minutes per game that season.
Giving him 34 minutes per game would both give him enough time to have the maximum impact on the offense and give him enough rest to stay fresh from game to game.
Also, it will reduce the risk somewhat of Randolph suffering another serious injury. If he can get additional energy by resting a little more, then Randolph will be a little less likely to become injured.
The Grizzlies have two impressive backup power forwards behind Randolph in Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur. Speights can knock down jumpers and rebound effectively. Arthur is a solid mid-range shooter who is long and athletic.
Notably, Kevin Garnett saw his minutes decrease at age 31. Garnett's minutes went from 39.4 per game to 32.8 per game.
The Grizzlies aren't quite as different from what they were in 2010-11 as the change Garnett saw when he went to Boston. Still, having Speights and Arthur behind him instead of just Arthur, as was the case in 2010-11, gives Randolph the chance to rest more.
Hopefully, Lionel Hollins gives Randolph a little more time to rest. Hollins is a demanding coach who has pushed key players like Randolph, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to play a ton of minutes in the last couple of years.
To the coach's credit, he sensed the need to put Randolph on the bench after he returned from injury last season and eased him back into his role. One may be able to reasonably believe that he'll understand the needs of his star's body.
While Zach Randolph was down, two key Grizzlies players took significant strides in their growth.
Marc Gasol took a big leap forward in his overall game. Notably, he became a more dynamic and more involved offensive player.
Gasol went from 11.6 points and 8.5 field-goal attempts per game in 2010-11 to 14.6 points and 11.4 field-goal attempts per game in 2011-12. His usage rate went from 16.9 percent to 19.1 percent.
Gasol also developed his hook shot and became a more willing jump shooter.
Gay didn't alter his contributions by any statistical measure. However, he opened up his playmaking ability more. Gay pushed harder to make plays in transition, either finishing on the fast break or simply going coast-to-coast to score. He also became more willing to make plays off the dribble and more aggressive posting up.
Generally, Gay took some steps in becoming a more aggressive playmaker. Sure, Gay still needs to show that he has the desire to take the game over offensively, and he has the opportunity to do that this season.
Randolph can help allow Gay to do that. Randolph can let Gay and Gasol have a couple of more shot opportunities each game. Gay would thus be able to push himself further as a playmaker.
As for Gasol, he'd be able to build his offensive skills further.
Randolph would be able to increase his shooting percentages and become more efficient by letting others do more on offense. This was the case with Garnett, whose field-goal percentage jumped from 47.6 percent to 53.9 percent in his first year while taking 3.7 fewer shots per game in Boston.
Part of what makes the Grizzlies successful is the way in which Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph work in tandem. On offense, they create mirrored looks in the post and on pick-and-rolls. On defense, they form a dynamic duo defending the inside.
With Randolph moving past his prime and Gasol not quite entering his, the pair might work better if Gasol leads a little more.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Gasol can take a couple more shots. Randolph can play off Gasol to make himself open. Also, Randolph can follow Gasol’s attempts and assert his dominance on the offensive glass.
On defense, Randolph can let Gasol lead more. Gasol can do a little more of the dirty work of playing help defense and denying attackers at the rim. Randolph, who is naturally less athletic than Gasol, can deflect attackers to Gasol when he feels overwhelmed.
He can then follow Gasol and do what he can do, grabbing rebounds and occasionally forcing turnovers.
For years, Randolph has been dogged by a reputation for not working hard. Last offseason, he started to refocus himself with an intense training regimen called chameleon training.
A major part of the latter part of a player’s career is not being able to get by on talent. When a player gets older, he has to play smarter and work harder than others.
While in Memphis, Randolph has had a good habit of playing hard and getting ahead of opponents in the post. He takes a swift path to the basket for rebounds. When fighting for position in the post, he muscles opponents down to gain an upper hand.
Randolph might not be able to do it quite the same way as he has done it. He’ll have to take even smarter paths to the basket for rebounds, playing his instincts a little more. He'll also have to find out where his strength can take him in gaining positioning in the post.
Zach Randolph has made his name as a below-the-rim scorer and rebounder who muscles opponents down in the post. He doesn't need to drastically change his game to stay on top.
Randolph can continue to score the way he does since it doesn't require him to explode as much as other players or burst through the lane as hard as others.
He should be able to continue his physical play in the post. His strength won't elude him for several years. As long as he works hard in the weight room and keeps his timing relatively consistent on the court, he'll be fine.