Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies form an atypical star tandem. While they're the best frontcourt pair in the NBA, Randolph was once the so-called thug and Gasol, as the Memphis Flyer's Chris Herrington noted, was projected to be the next Jake Tsakalidis.
However, the forced hand of Jerry West—the Pau Gasol trade that landed Marc—and the slick fingers of Chris Wallace—the high-risk deal for Randolph—married this pair.
Before going too deep, one should acknowledge that this isn't the first foray into discussing the dynamics of Memphis' inside grinders. In an article for the Wages of Wins blog titled "NBA Psychology: The Bromance of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol," Andres Alvarez lingered on Eric Weiss' hypothesis that Gasol helped turn his elder teammate around.
Below the surface, this duo shares a beautiful portrait.
The two have contrasting identities. While both are gruff, meaty big men who can tear apart opponents, Gasol is an intelligent, selfless maestro, whereas Randolph is an old-fashioned bruiser.
In an interview with Matt Moore of CBSSports.com, Gasol tells Moore about how they fit the new players into the system after the Rudy Gay trade.
The 28-year-old broke down for Grantland's Jordan Conn his affinity for the left block, saying, "From there, I can do whatever I want. I can distribute, I can play one-on-one. I can shoot. I can drive either direction, or I can go into the lane for my hook."
Meanwhile, Randolph stays home, battling in the low post. His physicality is a throwback to an earlier period. He has grappled with Blake Griffin in this series and last year's the way Dennis Rodman would tussle with Karl Malone in the 1997 and '98 NBA Finals.
Gasol didn't only win the Defensive Player of the Year award because he was fifth in defensive rating (98.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) and 12th in blocks per game (1.7), but also because he bettered his partner, who had long been considered a defensive liability.
Randolph dropped his defensive rating from 109 points allowed per 100 possessions in 2009-10 to 99.5 in 2012-13, partly due to his growing commitment and partly due to Gasol's help.
The 7-footer often rotates to help Randolph. This was the case on many possessions in the first two games of the series with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Gasol and Randolph's styles blend perfectly together. On offense, Gasol is the inside-out threat who hits mid-range jumpers and occasionally throws down dunks, whereas Randolph is the earthbound short-range shooter.
Gasol's eyes for distributing the ball strengthens their bond. Gasol is the best passing center in the league, leading his position in assists per game with four.
The Spaniard told Moore:
Zach knows that when I get the ball in the post, my first read is him. And I know it's the same with him. We understand the game the same way and we're both willing passers. When you care about someone on the floor and you've got their back, it's always going to give them confidence.
Through this balanced relationship that becomes more even with time, the two have held the key to Memphis' playoff success in each of the last three postseasons.
In 2010-11, Gasol unleashed his inner beast with 15 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, while Randolph tore it up with 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, as Memphis nearly reached the conference finals.
In that last series with the Clippers, Gasol came on late with 23 points in both Games 5 and 6, but Randolph helped sink the Grizz playoff run with a 3-of-12 effort in Game 7.
After combining for 46 points and 23 rebounds on Tuesday to give Memphis a 3-2 series lead, they once again look to be the key combination.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.