Zach Randolph: The NBA's Most Underappreciated Player

Richard ElkindContributor IFebruary 2, 2011

BOSTON - MARCH 10:  Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies heads for the net as Kendrick Perkins #43 of the Boston Celtics defends on March 10, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

23.6, 17.6, 20.8, 20.8, 20.0

10.1, 10.3, 10.1, 11.7, 13.2

The first line represents Zach Randolph's points per game over the last five seasons, the second line his rebounds per game.  This season only four players are averaging 20 and 10.  Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Zach Randolph.  You'll see plenty written about the first three, and all three have a very real shot at playing in the all-star game (Howard has already been voted in as a starter), Zach Randolph will not be an all-star. 

Part of the problem is the perception that Randolph is not a winner.  Indeed over those five years Randolph has played on the Blazers (back in the Jail Blazers days), Knicks, Clippers, and currently the Memphis Grizzlies.  Randolph has also not played in a single playoff game since his second year in the league in 2003.  Playing with Jason Richardson and Charlie Bell at Michigan State he was able to help his team to the Final Four, but that is ancient history in today's NBA.

The real problem however, is that Randolph is not a sympathetic figure, and the NBA has no interest in marketing him.  He has had a series of off-court issues, self-inflicted wounds that have served to severely damage his reputation.  As Charles Barkley would say, Randolph is NOT a role model.

In truth though, most professional athletes shouldn't be role models, and Randolph's crimes certainly aren't as bad as some who we still revere.  As far as winning, Randolph has never really played on a good team in the NBA.  Not the Jail Blazers, certainly not the Isiah Thomas led Knicks, not the joke of the Clippers, but the Grizzlies? 

Since coming to the Grizzlies in a trade for Quinton Richardson (yes a consistent 20/10 player was traded straight up for Richardson), Randolph has helped lead a quiet turnaround in Memphis.  Behind a very young, very solid core of Randolph, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and OJ Mayo, the Grizzlies showed dramatic improvement last year.  This year the Grizzlies currently stand at 25-24 and have made a recent push to take them right into playoff contention.

Randolph has been a vital component to the success of the Grizzlies, and continues to put up consistently strong numbers.  As he works to take his team into the playoffs, others will focus on Griffin's exciting dunks, or Love's incredible rebounding, but at this point in his career Randolph would probably settle on playing for the team that gets to the playoffs.  If he keeps playing at a superstar level, even if he doesn't get talked about as a superstar, his team has a very real chance of reintroducing Zach Randolph to the average NBA fan.