Wednesday, April 6, 2011

For Your Consideration: All NBA — Zach Randolph

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 2:28 PM

With the season winding down, I'm going to spend the next couple of days looking at the league's various year-end awards and making the case for Grizzlies players who deserve to be part of the conversation in each category. Up first, Zach Randolph's undersung career year and his candidacy for all-NBA honors:

Zach Randolph: Better than ever this season.

Zach Randolph had a career year in his first go-around with the Grizzlies, rehabbing his reputation, making his first all-star team, and becoming a team-leader and fan favorite. Randolph's surface stats were in line with his career averages — he's Mr. 20-10 — but he was a better, more efficient player than he'd been in previous stops, a case I made in this long mid-season piece.

Well, Randolph has bee even better in his second season with the Grizzlies, even if this new "career year" hasn't registered as strongly.

In his primary areas of contribution — as a scorer and rebounder — Randolph has repeated last season's performance —¬†even improved on it a little bit. Randolph is once again averaging 20 points a game, but this time with a shooting percentage — .502 — that is the second best of his career and his best since becoming a starting player in his third season. Randolph is shooting more jumpers this season, but not more threes, maintaining last season's reasonable decline in three-point shooting after growing far too fond of the shot in his time with the Knicks and Clippers. And while he's shooting roughly the same percentage from the perimeter (40%), the big difference has been that he's making his interior attempts at an even higher percentage, improving from 58% to 64% in the paint, per 82Games.com.

On the boards, Randolph's 12.3 rebounds per game is a career-best, as is, by a more substantial margin, his 20.1 rebound rate. In essence, Randolph has been an even more efficient scoring and rebounding machine this season.

But the areas in which Randolph's game has really improved this season have been the areas long considered his greatest weaknesses: Passing and defense.

Randolph's assist average is only slighter better than his career average (2.1 to 1.7), but his assist ratio (9.4) is a career high and anyone watching game-to-game has seen Randolph emerge as a more willing and effective passer over the course of this season, his assist average rising every month since January. Randolph has had as many 4+ assist games since February 1st (11) as he did all last season.

This season, when Zach Randolph is in the triple-threat position, all options are truly on the table.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • This season, when Zach Randolph is in the triple-threat position, all options are truly on the table.

Defensively, the Grizzlies have gone from being two points worse (per 100 possessions) when Randolph's on the floor to 1.4 worse, a slight improvement despite having better defensive options on the bench this season with a breakout year from Darrell Arthur. As with his assists, Randolph's steals have been edging up over the course of the season, and his increased effort — particularly hedging on pick-and-rolls and otherwise trying to contain drives — has been noticeable, apparently provoked by the influence of Tony Allen on the entire team's defensive demeanor.

Put it all together, and Randolph has been a more solid all-around player this season than ever in his career.

That Randolph failed to repeat as an All-Star team was the result, I think, of several factors: The Grizzlies' poor start, the gaudier per-game stats of Kevin Love, the nightly highlight reels of Blake Griffin, and the tendency to want to move on to the new thing that helped both of those players.

But, on the season, Randolph has put up similar numbers in a more meaningful context. (Love is terrific, but, I'm sorry, there's been some stat-padding going on there. Kudos to Bill Simmons for having a Nixon-goes-to-China moment and calling that out.) Randolph has also thoroughly outplayed both players head-to-head. As for fellow snub, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, I would argue that Randolph's vastly superior rebounding production and a rebounding-intensive position nets Z-Bo the tiebreaker. But Aldridge has been terrific and will factor prominently in a coming post.

How does Randolph stack up this season against other power forwards who might lay claim to an all-NBA vote?

Let's at a few core statistical categories:

Player Efficiency Rating:
1. Kevin Love 24.4
2. Pau Gasol 23.5
3. Dirk Nowitzki 23.5
4. Amare Stoudemire 23.0
5. Zach Randolph 22.5
6. Blake Griffin 21.6
6. Lamarcus Aldridge 21.6
8. Kevin Garnett 20.7
9. David West 20.6
10. Chris Bosh 19.4

Rebound Rate:
1. Kevin Love 23.6
2. Zach Randolph 20.1
3. Blake Griffin 18.9
4. Kevin Garnett 17.6
5. Pau Gasol 15.5
6. Chris Bosh 13.5
7. LaMarcus Aldridge 13.4
8. David West 13.1
9. Amare Stoudemire 12.8
10. Dirk Nowitzki 11.9

Points Per 48 Minutes:
1. Amare Stoudemire 33.1
2. Dirk Nowitzki 32.2
3. Blake Griffin 28.3
4. Kevin Love 27.1
5. LaMarcus Aldridge 26.5
6. Zach Randolph 26.4
7. David West 25.9
8. Chris Bosh 24.7
9. Pau Gasol 24.4
10. Kevin Garnett 22.8


Randolph stacks up statistically with any other power forward this season and is one of only three or four on this list (along with Nowitzki, Aldridge, and Stoudemire prior to the Carmelo Anthony trade) who is the clear-cut best player/offensive alpha dog on a playoff team. Randolph and Aldridge are the only power forwards to win one of the league's Player of the Month awards this season. Kevin Love profiles best statistically, but again, I feel like he's simply not yet the level of player that Randolph, Nowitzki, Gasol, and Stoudemire are, and think he's one case where the stats in question overvalue the player a little.

How I think the all-NBA teams should go:

First Team
G. Derrick Rose
G. Kobe Bryant
F. LeBron James
F. Dirk Nowitzki
C. Dwight Howard

Second Team
G. Chris Paul
G. Dwyane Wade
F. Kevin Durant
F. Amare Stoudemire
C. Pau Gasol (Gasol has spent at least half his season at center, and placing him here helps fill out the lineups with the best possible players.)

Third Team
G. Russell Westbrook
G. Manu Ginobili
F. Zach Randolph
F. LaMarcus Aldridge
C. Al Horford

The final frontcourt slots are the toughest. I had a hard time leaving off Tim Duncan at center or Kevin Garnett (the most important piece of the league's second-best defense) at forward, but yielded to Aldridge's more significant season and Horford's ascent and big edge on Duncan in minutes played. I had less trouble leaving off Love, Griffin, and Carmelo Anthony — terrific players who are nonetheless not quite as good as their gaudy stat lines indicate.

My guess, however, is that at least two of those three players find their way onto this list, and that Zach Randolph — once again — is left out.

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