Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay are back for what Memphis Grizzlies fans hope to be a healthy, productive year together. The Grizzlies badly need Randolph and Gay together to go deep in the playoffs. Randolph's rebounding and inside scoring are necessary fuel, and at the same time, Gay's explosive scoring is essential.
Some have asserted that the Grizz would be better off if they gave up either Randolph or Gay. This idea is based largely on the thought that, since both are high scorers and they haven't played together for the whole season the last two years, they may not play well together.
This idea doesn't fit together, not in the context of a team that is based on chemistry and team commitment.
When asked about such talk by Zach Lowe of SI.com, Tony Allen dismissed it outright. Allen said, "You can't believe a word of that. People on the outside are going to think what they think, but when it's time to go on the hardwood, it's going to be the Grizz together."
Accordingly, Gay spoke affectionately of Randolph to Memphis Sport, saying, "I see him as a big brother. Anything I needed, he'd help me and vice versa."
In the three years Randolph has been with the Grizzlies, he and Gay only played one season together in its entirety. Randolph led the team with 20.8 points per game and 16.5 field-goal attempts per game. Gay followed with 19.8 points and 16.1 shots per game.
That the Grizzlies missed the playoffs with a 40-42 record that season had nothing to do with them being in a close race for the team's leading scorer. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were early in their development. Lionel Hollins was in his first year as a full-time head coach.
Would the Grizzlies go deeper in the playoffs this year if Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph play the whole season together?
After Gay went down in February 2011, the Grizzlies rallied together to finish strong, averaging two points more per game in those final 23 games than they did with Gay in the lineup. But it wasn't because Randolph scored more. The team scored more because wing men like Sam Young and Tony Allen stepped up.
Upon Memphis's departure from the playoffs in the second round that year, some asserted that the Grizzlies didn't need Gay. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley reacted vehemently, saying that the team would have beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder with Gay healthy.
Lowe sketched out why Heisley was right in an SI.com piece this year. Lowe said:
The Grizzlies, even with Randolph doing his superman act of last season, need perimeter offense badly, and they don't get enough of it without Gay around creating shots and drawing attention. Go back and watch the Memphis-Oklahoma City series from last season, and you'll see the Thunder happily ignoring just about every Memphis perimeter player in order to crash down on the Grizz big men.
When Randolph went down in January, the team altered its offense into a higher-energy transition flow to cope with his absence. This strategy helped Hollins's squad win games, but it averaged four points per game fewer than the previous season.
While the Grizzlies managed to make magic in transition, they struggle in the half court, as Jay Caspian King noted in a Grantland article. With about a month left in the 2011-12 season, the Grizzlies were among the bottom five in jump shooting. King noted their inefficient scoring near the rim.
The Grizzlies aren't a high-scoring team by any stretch of the imagination. They averaged 95 points per game last season, 19th in the NBA, while averaging 104 points per 100 possessions for 20th in the league.
They averaged 105.4 per 100 possessions with Gay and Randolph in the lineup, which, according to Lowe, would have ranked them fourth.
Memphis needs both of its big-time scorers in order to be able to hang with real scoring teams, particularly when its grinding defense fails them. Randolph has a nose for scoring inside despite being a below-the-rim player and rolls off screens to knock down jumpers.
Also, Z-Bo's dominant offensive rebounding adds significantly to Memphis's scoring ability.
Gay gives the Grizz the versatile scoring that few other players in the league can provide. The UConn product jumps out on fast breaks and finishes with roaring jams. He goes coast-to-coast for buckets. His dribble-drive ability is difficult to replace.
The idea that their offensive qualities conflict is confounding. Gay isn't a demanding scorer, rarely scoring more than 25 points in a game. Meanwhile, Randolph is an adept passer, averaging 2.4 assists per game last season and 2.2 per game the year before.
Gay is often in perfect position to play off those outlet passes when the Marion, Ind., native makes them.
Having two premier scorers is a blessing for the Grizzlies. Few teams have a versatile scoring wing man and a high-scoring frontcourt player, as well as a budding young inside partner (Marc Gasol, in this case) for the aforementioned high-scoring post player.
With both Gay and Randolph healthy and well-conditioned for an entire season, the Grizzlies would have enough scoring to complement their defense in order to contend for the NBA Finals.