Despite carving a niche as one of the NBA’s best power forwards for nearly a decade, Zach Randolph is one of the league’s most underrated players. Although Z-Bo has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in a season five times throughout his career, he’s been rewarded with just one All-Star appearance.
Sure, Randolph does have his negatives. He’s shot higher than 50 percent from the field in just one season, and his career average of 0.3 blocks per game makes some NBA guards look like Dikembe Mutombo.
Despite that, Randolph is a guy that most (if not all) NBA owners would love to have on their roster.
So far this season, Randolph ranks second in the NBA in rebounding, averaging 13.6 rebounds per game. That’s second only to Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
At just 6’9” and having arguably one of the worst vertical leaps in the entire NBA, Randolph uses his high basketball IQ and body positioning to grab boards with the best of them. As Jonathan Abrams of Grantland.com put it in a recent article about Z-Bo, “Randolph rarely gets enough credit for his game, his positioning, his craftiness in the post. It's so natural, it almost seems innate.”
In addition to Randolph’s impressive rebounding stats this season is his ability to score. His 46.8 percent shooting from the floor is not fantastic, but his 16.7 points per game ranks him behind just seven true post players. That number grows to eight and/or nine if you choose to include Ryan Anderson of New Orleans and Andrea Bargnani of Toronto (both of whom are three-point threats).
Only Greg Monroe, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, Bargnani and Anderson average more points per game than Randolph. Of all those elite NBA big men, five attempt more field goals per game than Randolph, while Griffin averages the same number (14 attempts per contest). Bargnani and Aldridge both average more than 16 attempts per game.
That ranks Randolph second in the league in rebounding, and top 10 in the NBA in scoring among big men (power forwards/centers).
Again, where Randolph fails to measure up with elite post players is defensively. His ability to grab defensive rebounds and end offensive chances for opponents makes him invaluable. But with just seven total blocks this season, he has fewer swats than Monta Ellis, Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe (all guards).
If you choose to include NBA big men in the conversation, Randolph certainly didn’t get his invite to the block party. Leaders in the category, Roy Hibbert and Serge Ibaka, average more than five times as many blocks per game as Randolph.
Z-Bo will never be an elite defensive talent in terms of blocking shots. However, his ability to score and rebound with the best post players in the league makes him an elite talent.
So why does Randolph have the reputation of being unappreciated? Well, it could have something to do with his temper.
At 31 years old, Randolph is no longer the brash young pup who played for the notorious “Jail Blazers” to start his career in Portland. However, he still manages to have run-ins that get him into trouble. You don’t have to look far into Randolph’s past to find an incident.
Just last week, Randolph was fined $25,000 for a verbal altercation he had with Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins following their ejections from the game, according to the Associated Press.
Sometimes having a bit of a mean streak and intimidation factor is a big positive for NBA teams. However, Randolph’s frequent outbursts have become a headache.
With a guy like Randolph, you take the good with the bad. His scoring and rebounding is stellar, while his temper and inability to block shots find their way into the negative category.
Randolph is a top-10 NBA big man and has been for a long time. He’s healthy, averaging a career high in rebounds per game and has lead the Memphis Grizzlies to a 9-2 record to start the season.
If he can avoid injury and continue to do what he does best out on the court, the Grizzlies need to be considered a major threat in the Western Conference.
(Note: All statistics used in this article are accurate as of Nov. 25, 2012).