The Memphis Grizzlies have gone undefeated since their bitter opening night loss to the Clippers. On Sunday night they beat the defending champs to move to 5-1 on the season. Defeating the Miami Heat was nice, but they did so as part of an outlier performance from their reserve shooting guard, Wayne Ellington, who was 7-11 from long range.
In the game, Marc Gasol, their lumbering center, scored a season-low two points on 1-6 shooting from the field. He made up for a poor shooting night, if six field goal attempts is large enough to count as that, by also grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out six assists in 32 minutes of action.
It’s a performance that’s common for the Spanish Grizzlies center. If Ellington hadn’t shot lights out from long range, they could have benefited from more Gasol shooting; in fact, they could benefit from more Gasol on most nights. Taking advantage of their center’s skills has been frustrating for a team that’s found scoring hard to come by (they ranked 21st out of 30 teams in offensive efficiency last season, per Hoopdata) even as they’ve become an upper tier Western Conference team.
While Memphis has been able to maintain their place as a legitimate playoff team out west, and a dark horse candidate to win an NBA title, they’ve done so while ignoring their all-world center’s offensive skills.
After a thorough Game 1 beat down, the sport’s most prolific scorer humbly referred to him as the best power forward in basketball. Apart from the likelihood that these words were used to motivate his own beefier teammates, the statement by Kevin Durant on Zach Randolph still sent minor shockwaves throughout the league. Zach Randolph? The defensively inefficient, often overlooked, weed dealing, gun toting guy who doesn’t know how many minutes make up an NBA game? In his 10th season playing for his fourth team, how is this possible?
This post’s title is slightly hyperbolic, but after Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers general manager, recently said he’d be open to making a trade before the deadline, half of me thinks it’s a motivational ploy to get his team’s juices flowing while the other half believes Kupchak is truly voicing concern. That was until Phil Jackson piped up. Then Magic Johnson. Now I think his statement was more forthcoming than inspirational, and a deal seems imminent. But is it necessary?
Los Angeles is 33-15 and hold a 10 game lead over Phoenix for first place in the Pacific Division. Around the league, they’re tied for third in field goal percentage, fourth in defensive field goal percentage, tied for first in offensive rating, and are 10th in defensive rating. Despite their much publicized inability to defeat the league’s top teams (they’re winless against Miami, Boston, and San Antonio), statistically speaking the Lakers’ roster as constituted isn’t a complete waste of a ticket buyer’s hard earned money. Each year the NBA’s regular season is exaggerated up on a mountain top by national analysts who make claims based on little to no validity. Last year, the Boston Celtics were a prime example of a veteran bunch who couldn’t seem to get things going during the long winter months, but in the end were able to reach the NBA Finals. What Boston had in common with this year’s Lakers is their possible want yet understated need to make some sort of deadline deal. (The Celtics acquired Nate Robinson from New York and were in serious talks to move major pieces like Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins for the Caron Butlers, Antawn Jamisons, and Carlos Boozers of the league.) Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge held off on everything and let the season play itself out; with most of his aging core healthy he chose to roll the dice. If L.A. was to disregard Boston’s blueprint and emulate the late 80′s Pistons, who after losing to L.A. in seven games in the 1987-88 finals, traded 20 points per game scorer Adrian Dantley to Dallas for Mark Aguirre at the following year’s All-Star break—the Pistons went on to sweep the Lakers in the 1988-89 championship—they’d be rolling some dice of their own. If the Lakers were to make a dramatic move, and I’m not saying they necessarily need to, their most obvious trading chip would be young center Andrew Bynum. While Bynum’s length is certainly a pointed Laker strength instead of weakness, his inefficiency on offense and peripheral inability to coexist with Pau Gasol makes him the most likely Laker to play the unhappy “Dantley” role. In 24 games this season Bynum has four double-doubles and has yet to eclipse the 20 point mark. He’s contributed over 30 minutes of action exactly four times and is as injury prone as anyone in the league. So what impact players on the market might shake things up a little for L.A.? As Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld wrote this morning, there’s a former All-Star in Memphis who would love to showcase his talents on a larger stage.
While many players are rumored to be on the move, few are more likely to be dealt than Zach Randolph. The general consensus around the league is that Randolph is one of the most realistic options for teams looking to make a splashy move before the deadline. The power forward is both attractive and attainable for a number of reasons.
This season, many teams are opting to hold onto their ending deals until they know the specifics of the new collective bargaining agreement. This makes Randolph’s $17,333,333 expiring contract intriguing to many teams that would love to add a contributor without adding to their payroll beyond this season.
Randolph is also having one of the best years of his career. He’s one of only four players that are averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds – alongside Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love. His points, rebounds, and field goal percentage have increased significantly while committing his lowest number of turnovers and fouls since becoming a starter. Randolph has been named the Western Conference Player of the Week twice in the past month and his dominance hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Executives are drooling over him because he’s a double-double machine,” said one league source. “Teams will always be interested in a player like that. His stats speak for themselves.”
An Andrew Bynum, Theo Ratliff, and first round draft pick for Randolph deal miiiiight be crazy, but at the very least it would make teams around the league a bit weary. Playing alongside Gasol’s younger brother, Marc, Randolph has been one of the most dominant inside players in the league; ranking only behind Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, and Dwyane Wade for made shots at the rim. He averages just under 14 boards a game and is undoubtedly a better player than Bynum, but does he fit in better with L.A. than the 22-year-old center? That’s doubtful. Comparing the two players statistically isn’t even close and probably isn’t even a decisive point when seriously discussing the merits of moving a player like Bynum—someone whose intangibles far surpass the power that a few numbers next to his name can ever capture. In the end something hardly creating a blip on the NBA’s radar will be the type of deal L.A. makes, but wouldn’t this be more fun?