Memphis Grizzlies' Most and Least-Improved Players of the Season

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIDecember 21, 2012

Memphis Grizzlies' Most and Least-Improved Players of the Season

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    The Memphis Grizzlies are off to their best start ever on the heels of some special player performances. Some players have pushed themselves to new heights in order to help the Grizzlies reach a new platform.

    Zach Randolph has picked his game back up after suffering through injury most of last season. Watching him work the boards to the tune of 17 rebounds on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks was like watching a new man.

    Quincy Pondexter has also played like a new man. He wasn’t supposed to be scoring more than a few points per game, but he is.

    On the other hand, some players aren’t doing quite what they were expected to do. Rudy Gay, Marreese Speights and Jerryd Bayless are among them.

    Read along to see which Grizzliess player has made the biggest jump and which guy has improved the least.

Second-Least Improved Player: Rudy Gay

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    Rudy Gay told before the season that he felt motivated after being snubbed for an Olympic roster spot.

    The rush was certainly present in the first seven games. He scored more than 20 points in four of those first seven games, averaging 20.7 points per game. Gay also showed a little more aggression taking shots. He had at least 17 shots in each of those games, while averaging 19.6 field-goal attempts per game (his career average is 17 per game).

    Since then, Grizz fans might be justified in wondering if that chip fell off his shoulder. He’s had only five 20-point games in the last 16 and put up 17 or more field-goal attempts in seven of those contests. In that time, he’s averaged 17.3 points and 15.2 field-goal attempts per game.

    The Grizzlies’ leading scorer hasn’t been too accurate shooting the ball either. He’s knocked down a career-low 41.8 percent from the field and just a third of his threes. In 10 games, the seven-year pro has shot worse than 40 percent.

    Gay hasn’t maintained a reasonable scoring edge as his scoring average has fallen to 18.4 per game, the lowest since his rookie year. If he simply hit shots at a career average of 45 percent, he’d be over 20 points per game. But one would like to see him do more than that.

Least Improved Player: Jerryd Bayless

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    Hype abounded when the Grizzlies snatched Jerryd Bayless from the Toronto Raptors in the offseason. Bayless’ season numbers last year looked impressive (11.3 points per game and 42.3 three-point shooting), even though he only played 31 games.

    Bayless has failed to make a significant impact as a scorer off the bench for the Grizzlies. He’s averaging just 5.9 points per game and 12.5 per 36 minutes. He’s scored in double figures just three times. The fifth-year pro is shooting a meager 40.5 percent from the field.

    His three-point figure has fallen dramatically, down to 34.1 percent.

Second-Most Improved Player: Zach Randolph

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    After a rough return to the court last season following a partial MCL tear that sidelined Zach Randolph for 38 games, many wondered if his best days were behind him.

    Randolph has shown that he had not yet scratched the top of his game before O.J. Mayo bumped into his knee on Jan. 1, causing the injury.

    The 31-year-old has rebounded his greatness on the glass. He’s second in the league in rebounds per game with 12.9. Also, he’s pulled down 111 boards on the offensive end, second-best in the league.

    His rebounding rates are much improved from last year. He’s pulling down 20.9 percent of available rebounds, three percent more than last year. On the offensive glass, the Michigan State product is cleaning out 15.6 percent of misses, 3.5 percent better than last season.

    He’s fourth in offensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage.

    Also, Randolph has 19 double-doubles, putting him on pace for 68, which would be the most he’s had while wearing the three shades of blue.

    He’s also shocked NBA observers with his outstanding defensive play. Randolph is allowing 97 points per 100 possessions, seventh in the league. That rating is 10 points lower than his career mark.

    This big bounce back has greatly helped the Grizzlies in starting better than ever. Sustained success this season from Randolph could bring a big postseason run.

Most Improved Player: Quincy Pondexter

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    While no one was looking, Quincy Pondexter suddenly became more than just a non-scoring low-rotation guy.

    Pondexter has exceeded expectations this year by becoming a relevant scorer off the bench. He went from 4.2 points per game in 2011-12 to 6.4 per game this year. He has scored in double figures five times.

    He’s jumped from 107 points per 100 possessions last season to 118 per 100 possessions in these first 23 games.

    Against the New Orleans Hornets, he dropped 16 points. The swingman knocked down four treys against his old team.

    Pondexter has transformed his three-point shooting, bounding from 30.1 percent last season to 44.3 percent this season.

    His defense has also improved, as he’s gone from allowing 106 points per 100 possessions last year to 103 per 100 thus far in his third year.

    As the season continues, Pondexter should continue to blossom. The chances are great since Memphis lacks a demanding bench scorer like O.J. Mayo was the past two years.