Zach Randolph finds himself as the lone offensive force remaining for the Memphis Grizzlies against the San Antonio Spurs.
Randolph has spent the last decade being becoming synonymous with low-post physicality, and the identity of the Memphis Grizzlies has been tied to the effectiveness of Randolph’s inside scoring and rebounding ability.
His skills are going to have to be on full display for the Grizzlies to have even the slightest chance of winning this series.
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The Spurs have the luxury of Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge being fantastic interior defenders, and Randolph won’t be able to push them around down low. Aldridge is listed as questionable for game 1 of the series, in which case David West would probably get the start at power forward. West has also proven throughout his career to be a solid defender from his days in New Orleans and Indiana.
Randolph is likely to try to resort to pulling whoever’s guarding him away from the basket, which would normally be considered a victory for a defense to force Randolph further away from the hoop, but not after the year he’s had. His midrange shot has actually been more reliable compared to averages around the league than his low-post shooting.
While he doesn’t shoot as many midrange jumpers as Aldridge does, they both serve as examples of interior scorers who defenses are forced to honor from midrange. Any rim protectors guarding them are dragged away from the basket, allowing open lanes for perimeter players to cut to the hoop and score inside.
Randolph’s defense has slipped this year, and his career as a whole has produced frustrating returns from a guy who had the skills to be a better defender than he was even at the peak of his powers. His move to Memphis saw him buy in to a defensive identity that had been absent during his days with the Trail Blazers, Knicks, and Clippers, but his partner Marc Gasol was always the vastly superior defender.
Without Gasol to cover up some of Randolph’s weaknesses, he’s been more exposed as an average-at-best interior defender. Randolph has never been a rim protector either, and causes more anxiety for opponents on offense than defense.
Look for Randolph to be the the focal point of the Grizzlies’ offense in this playoff series. A combination of Duncan, Aldridge, West, and Boris Diaw patrolling the paint on defense this season had the Spurs tied for 3rd in the league in fewest points allowed in the paint. Randolph’s effectiveness will probably have to come in the form of midrange jumpers, and the Spurs are ready for the star power forward to put his team on his back.