Will Ed Davis Make Zach Randolph Expendable for the Memphis Grizzlies?
Ed Davis has a chance to prove that he has a place with the Memphis Grizzlies for the long term. He has a new coach who may be more willing to play him and no competition for playing time behind Zach Randolph.
Whether this eases his path towards surpassing Randolph as the Grizzlies' starting power forward is a greater dilemma.
Davis has plenty of potential. He shoots well at the rim, blocks shots and rebounds fairly well. But the 24-year-old lacks polish.
At the same time, Randolph is heading downhill but still can dominate the boards and control a playoff series.
Both are heading into contract seasons, although Randolph has a player option for 2014-15. Randolph would surely exercise that $16.5 million option.
Davis has some hope of denying Randolph the opportunity a year after his second All-Star appearance, but the likelihood is slim.
Will Ed Davis be ready to overtake Zach Randolph this season?
A fine, yet unrefined talent
Davis has a few admirable attributes. His blocking ability is spectacular. Last season, he blocked 1.9 shots per 36 minutes and had a 4.2 block percentage.
Beyond shot-blocking, his overall defense is strong. He allowed 102 points per 100 possessions last year—including 96 in Memphis—and totaled 2.4 defensive win shares while only playing 20.1 minutes per game. The year before, he allowed 101.
Davis consistently shows a presence on the boards, having averaged between 10.2 and 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes in his three pro seasons. He had a 16.7 percent total rebounding rate in 2012-13, including 17.4 for the Grizz.
However, he still needs to grow in this aspect as he doesn't always attack the glass with great strength.
His shot is nice but needs development. Davis, who is a 54.4 percent field-goal shooter and shot 51.7 percent for the Grizzlies, must show improvement with his jump shot. The acquisition from the Toronto Raptors in the Rudy Gay trade took half his shots in the restricted area last year, hitting 66.8 percent.
But he made only 41.1 percent away from the rim.
Indeed, former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins muzzled Davis' growth last season by limiting his playing time. The Commercial Appeal stated that Hollins "wasn't confident" in Davis. CBSSports.com's Zach Harper said that while many Grizz players spoke highly of Davis, Hollins suspected that Davis didn't know how to win.
One can hardly know what he'd be able to do in the Memphis lineup. In his 28 games as a starter, he shot 55.2 percent from the field, but that was mostly in a more open Raptors offense.
Randolph won't go quietly
The veteran power forward took a nose dive in the latter part of last season. He shot 43.9 percent from the field after the calendar flipped to 2013 and didn't make 46 percent in any of the last four months.
That prolonged slump ended once the playoffs rolled around. Randolph shot 51.2 percent in the first two rounds. His 30.2 percent against the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals may be cause for concern, but it was largely because the Spurs crashed in on him and Marc Gasol.
Aside from his shooting woes, Randolph doesn't have big issues. After missing most of 2011-12 due to injury, he made it through his 12th campaign without a serious ailment.
His defense isn't as replaceable as it once was. He was 12th in defensive rating at 99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions in 2012-13. He had 4.7 defensive win shares, one more than his previous career high.
Randolph's still one of the premier rebounders. He led the league in offensive rebounds and was fourth in offensive rebounding percentage and fifth in total rebounding rate. Both of the latter marks were second in his career and franchise history.
His action on the offensive glass is especially important as he cleans up for a team that was 21st in field-goal percentage last season. Memphis was second in offensive rebounding percentage and ninth in defensive rebounding rate due to his efforts.
Gasol and Randolph won't break up quickly
How much do the Grizzlies have to lose by breaking up Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol?
One factor that can't be dismissed is the dynamic duo that Randolph and Gasol form.
The two work together remarkably well on both ends. On offense, they create mismatches by mirroring each other on cuts and rolling off the pick and roll. Both love to dump the ball to the other inside.
Part of the reason they're able to seal the paint is that Randolph and Gasol sense where each other is and know when to help the other.
Also, they combined for great playoff efforts in their two postseasons together. In bowling over the Oklahoma City Thunder, they combined for 37.8 points and 18 rebounds per game. Two years ago, they joined forces to post 37.2 points and 22.2 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
This is about more than sentiment. Gasol and Davis played 238 minutes together in 31 games last season. Davis averaged 11 rebounds per 36 minutes and shot 62 percent from the field with Gasol on the floor, but that's in a small sample size.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein said that a trade involving Randolph would have to be carefully chosen "because breaking up Z-Bo and Marc Gasol means breaking up the combo that made Memphis uniquely dangerous over the past few seasons."
Supplanting Randolph with Davis might look good on paper. However, the loss of the chemistry between Gasol and Randolph is difficult to measure. The possibilities of having Gasol working with Davis will be a great unknown to enter.
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