The Memphis Grizzlies' Problems Aren't About Zach Randolph
After torching Memphis' first two playoff opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, for 19.7 points on 51.2 percent shooting from the field, Z-Bo has managed a pedestrian 17 points on 7-of-26 shooting in two games against the Spurs.
For a team that's been cashing checks on the defensive end of the floor all season long, the Grizzlies can ill-afford more subpar scoring performances from one of their main offensive threats.
But getting Randolph going is just one of a myriad of problems that Memphis coach Lionel Hollins must fix to give his team a puncher's chance in this best-of-seven series.
Make no mistake, Randolph's sluggish start rests well beyond the broad shoulders of the 6'9", 253-pound bruiser.
The Grizzlies are one of the few true inside-out attacks left in today's smaller, faster NBA. Only one team, the Orlando Magic, found a higher percentage of its points from two-point field goals than Memphis (67.0 to 66.6, via TeamRankings.com). Their one-trick offense sent them packing in mid-April with nothing more than the league's worst record, 20-62, to show for their efforts.
With no long-range threats to hold defenders on the perimeter—Grizzlies shooters have connected on just 31.9 percent of their postseason threes—the Spurs have continually collapsed defenders to close off the interior.
Memphis' closest clone to a sniper is third-year forward Quincy Pondexter (43.9 percent in the postseason) shot just 30.1 percent from distance last season. Its second-best playoff marksman, Keyon Dooling (38.5 percent), didn't start playing with the team until April after a nearly year-long retirement.
Not to reopen a closed wound, but Memphis' success this season was always going to be held under the microscope after its bold decision to trade away dynamic wing scorer Rudy Gay.
Gay's far from a perfect player. His less-than-desirable efficiency rating (14.1 in 42 games with Memphis this season, via Basketball-Reference.com) and expensive salary ($34 million for this season and next, via HoopsHype.com) didn't jive with the new analytically driven regime at the Grizzlies' helm.
But it's hard to imagine that the Grizzlies couldn't use an offensive presence on the wing like Gay—career 18.0 points per game—in this series. Especially when considering the woeful offensive numbers of their starting wings, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince (combined 12.0 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting from the field in the series).
Memphis' offensive margin for error is wafer-thin. Hollins' playoff rotation has largely been trimmed to just seven players, at least two of which (Allen and Prince) are only seeing playing time for their defensive ability.
So how can Hollins kick-start his offense?
It starts with finding better floor spacing, forcing the Spurs to account for perimeter shooters and making them pay for ignoring the arc. That means backing off of the minutes given to Prince—31.9 minutes per game in the postseason—and boosting the playing time of Pondexter (22.7) and Jerryd Bayless (20.4).
Which player is the most important to getting the Grizzlies back into this series?
Both have the ability to consistently knock down outside shots. Pondexter shot 39.5 percent from deep in the regular season while Bayless converted 35.3 percent of his looks. But neither have the NBA resume to demand defensive attention on reputation alone.
If the Spurs ease up on the interior, that could be enough to get Randolph and Marc Gasol (13.5 points, 39.3 field-goal percentage in the series) going. With more room to attack, Mike Conley could continue his breakout playoff campaign (17.4 points and 7.4 assists).
Randolph's a compelling case study, a blue-collar star shining in a league littered with prima donnas. But he's not a player capable of consistently changing the outcomes of a game with his scoring. He had 20-plus points just 13 times in the regular season.
The Grizzlies found their grit in Game 2, turning a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit into an overtime thriller.
But all the grit and grind in the world won't mean a thing if they can't find more offense in a hurry.
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