Reuniting Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay has been a boon for the Memphis Grizzlies. Both are inextricable members of a contending team. Randolph is a dominant rebounder and an effective short- to-mid-range shooter. Gay is the creative slasher. Both are essential parts to a Grizzlies title team.
But the two players playing at their highest levels don't affect the team equally. The Grizz need Gay to be able to score 25 points or more in a given playoff game. However, they need Randolph's rebounding and offensive efficiency even more.
Which Grizzlies star is more crucial to the team's playoff success?
The 11-year pro is rebounding better than he—or any player in Grizzlies history—ever has. He's pulling down 12.9 rebounds and 4.9 offensive rebounds per game, which comes out to 12.8 rebounds and 4.8 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes—all career highs.
Only recently did he drop behind Anderson Varejao in the league race for rebounds per game.
Z-Bo is seventh in offensive rebounding rate (15.7 percent) and fifth in total rebounding rate (20.6 percent). These are also career highs.
That these figures are not statistical outliers is encouraging. He's only 0.5 percent beyond his best total rebounding rate (set in 2010-11) and 0.6 percent better than his top offensive rebounding rate (set in 2000-01).
Thus, his numbers are likely to hang around this neighborhood for the rest of the season.
His offensive rebounding dominance is especially important for a team that needs every opportunity it can get in the half court, since those boards create second-chance scoring opportunities.
What's even more important about Randolph's game is his general offensive efficiency. He creates 108 points per 100 possessions. This beats back assertions by those like Kevin Arnovitz and Will Leitch describing Randolph's offense as a "black hole."
The Grizzlies have historically been more efficient on offense with him on the floor than without him on the floor. In 2009-10, they produced 7.4 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. In 2010-11, they compiled 7.6 more points per 100 with him out there.
Last season, they scored 7.7 more points per 100 with him in the game.
This season has been different. The Grizz actually put up 1.9 more points per 100 with him on the bench. This development is due to Marreese Speights' adjustment to his bench role, along with the addition of bench shooters in the offseason.
Chris Herrington tweeted another explanation.
@d_jacks89 Healthy Z-Bo also creates more interior shots, since Speights is more of a mid-range shooter. Better shooting off bench.— Chris Herrington (@FlyerGrizBlog) November 29, 2012
Also, as an aggregate, Memphis' offensive efficiency is better, not simply because of Randolph's good health, but the return to offensive normalcy with the core playing together.
The squad that's reputed for its defense went from 19th in offensive rating last season (104 per 100 possessions) to seventh this year (107.7).
With Randolph out last season, the Grizzlies relied mostly on transition scoring. This predictably reduced their field-goal percentage and incited more turnovers.
Additionally, in returning for his fourth full season in the Beale Street blue, Randolph has continued the maddening action he creates with Marc Gasol. Gasol and Randolph mirror each other in the post and popping out on the wing.
Having one big man who can mix hard finishes inside with mid-range shots and another who drops inside shots creates havoc for opponents. Hardly any team has such a physical, effective scoring combination.
Gasol has greatly benefited from Randolph's return. His offensive rating went from 111 per 100 possessions last season to 127 per 100 this season. He's shooting 2.1 percent better from the field, handling tough matchups with his frontcourt partner.
To say that the Grizzlies need to see big-time scoring from Gay is easy. Many playoff memories are formed by some player's heroic scoring exploits. But expecting a Grizzlies playoff game to come down to a scoring duel between the former Connecticut Husky and either Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant is fantastical.
That the "grit 'n grind Grizz" roll through the playoffs with offensive play that's stellar overall, not just from a single player, is more likely. Randolph's preeminent offensive rebounding and inside tandem with Gasol is a huge part of that jump.