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Can Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph lead the Memphis Grizzlies to glory?

Orlando Magic v Memphis Grizzlies
Sai Krishnan

Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies entered the play-offs like any other of the 7 teams in their conference, as a contender. Of course, they entered as a contender in name only as nobody, not even themselves, expected them to even reach the second round.

However, they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in a 4-2 upset and reached the second round where they defeated the fallible Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder. The San Antonio Spurs however, brought their fairytale run to an abrupt and cruel end with a 4-0 win.

What was the driving force behind the Grizzlies’ fairytale run? Who ensured that they won time and time again against stronger and more favoured teams?

The answer is: Their front court. Or to be more precise, two men: Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Marc Gasol (#33) and Zach Randolph

Gasol and Randolph’s relationship on the court isn’t mere professional respect. It borders on bromance. They’re both players of conflicting styles: Gasol has technique, he’s selfless and is soft at the rim. He scores through a series of intricate moves.

Randolph, on the other hand, often resembles a street brawler. He doesn’t defend the player, he grapples for the ball. He doesn’t attack the rim, he bruises any defender in his way until he reaches the rim.

Somehow, these have led the Grizzlies to the postseason 3 times in the last 4 years. That is not only the Grizzlies most successful playoff streak till now, but they also achieved the franchise record of 56 wins in a season last year.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what makes this pair click, and what their bromance holds for the future.

Offence as a pair

More often than not, the only reason Grizzlies even managed to put up whatever paltry score they did, was their front court pair. Randolph and Gasol, while having complementary styles, often blended perfectly together. Maybe because there was no overlap between them.

Gasol, being the best passing centre in the league, was always ready to dish the ball to Randolph when he (Randolph) got in to the paint. If Randoph felt trapped or smothered by the opposition’s defence, he would pass the ball to Gasol who could shoot the ball well from mid-range too. Their inside out game wrecked most defences.

Gasol on their tandem:

“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.”

Together, during the first two playoff series last year, Gasol and Randolph put up 38 PPG, 17.2 RPG and 4.8 APG before the Spurs’ smothering defence stopped the pair.

Defence as a pair

Gasol is obviously the better defender. Not just because he ranked fifth in defensive rating last season. Not just because he won the NBA defensive player of the year award, but because he improved his fellow teammate, who has always been considered a defensive liability.

Before last season, Randolph let through 109 points per 100 possessions. Last season, Gasol stopped some of the players Randolph let through and together the pair brought down Randolph’s numbers to 99.5 points per 100 possessions. A spectacular improvement.

Defence has always been the Grizzlies’ strongest asset. Their main liability was Randolph. Michael Conley, Tony Allen are all good perimeter defenders with Tayshaun Prince assisting them. Now that Gasol’s working with Randolph, their defence should probably be better than last year.

Grizzlies’ chances this year

Boston Celtics v Memphis GrizzliesAl right, now we have covered what makes the Gasol-Randolph pair so special. Now, how much do the Grizzlies depend on this pair? Most of their offensive production comes from these guys.Randolph is their biggest offensive presence trailed closely by Conley and Gasol. Last season, Randolph averaged 15.4 PPG, Conley scored 14.6 PPG while Gasol’s contribution was 14.1 PPG. Together, they produced 44.1 PPG last season.

Ironically, their Shooting Guard, Tony Allen is very hesitant to shoot. He scored 8.8 PPG last game, same as Tayshaun Prince. With not much support from anybody else, the onus to produce offensively fell on the trio of Gasol, Randolph and Conley. They could produce only so much, and overall their offence was one of the worst last year.

This season, they have secured a valuable albeit slightly risky player in Mike Miller. While we all know how good a shooter Miller is, we are equally aware of his problems with injuries. If Miller can stay healthy, he can provide the much needed perimeter shooting which would allow Gasol and Randolph to focus more on their own games.

Defence

Their defence is their forté. The Griz allowed the opponents to score just 89 PPG last season. Gasol, still approaching his prime, would definitely perform better this season. Randolph is past his peak, so we can expect a drop in performance from him which might nullify Gasol’s improvement.

Michael Conley’s defensive intelligence is improving. Tony Allen, who used to gamble on steals, is now very accurate. Overall, their defence would have improved from last season and this in itself will guarantee them a playoff spot.

Bench Depth

Their acquisition of Kosta Koufos, an up and coming rebounder, while definitely take some load off the shoulders of Gasol and Randolph. Koufos averaged 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, compared to Gasol’s 8.8 per 36 minutes.

Koufos can also serve as a good backup for both Gasol and Randolph which would mean more rest and better performance for the duo.

Jeryyd Bayless, is returning from injury. He can sub in for both Conley and Allen. This means Conley also has a suitable, albeit not good enough, replacement.

New coach

Their former assistant coach Dave Joerger has now been promoted to Head Coach. Joerger was one of the assistant coaches who helped the Griz formulate their famous “Grit n’ Grind” defensive strategy. While this is a big asset, more defence is not exactly what they need right now. Whether Joerger can adapt his mentality and coax his players to perform better offensively remains to be seen.

Overall, the Grizzlies team has definitely improved. Improvements in offence, defence and rebounding are immediately noticeable. These will lift the pressure of Gasol and Randolph. If Miller stays healthy, their offence will also pick up. If things go according to plan, don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies make a deep playoff run, possibly even to the NBA finals, with Gasol and Randolph leading them from the front.

Edited by Staff Editor

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