In the aftermath of the loss on Wednesday night to the New York Knicks, a game that looked like a blowout before the Grizzlies clawed their way back into it late in the second half, fans on Twitter and Facebook had plenty to say. Some praised the team for their efforts that made it a close contest in the waning moments. Others lauded Marc Gasol for playing while obviously not 100% with a torn abdominal muscle. A few talked about how many shots Jerryd Bayless has been taking the last few games. Yet, the one thing nearly everyone at least pondered, if not outright asked was: What’s up with Z-Bo?
His numbers over the last few games are nothing pretty, that’s for sure. He only took 3 shots against the Knicks, which followed up an 8-shot performance in a loss to the Wizards on Monday. And this wasn’t a case of him getting fouled and going to the line a lot, therefore taking away from his field goal attempts. He attempted 4 free throws in those two contests — total.
This recent trend seemingly started with the huge home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, an overtime victory where the offense was obviously geared to run through Randolph. Rather than shining, as he has done in the past, Z-Bo went 6-23 from the floor with 7 turnovers, as the Thunder big men (especially Nick Collison) did a great job of forcing him out of his comfort zone. In spite of his less-than-stellar performance, the Grizzlies still won, making his numbers less consequential as a result.
In the past 5 games, Randolph has shot 23-61 from the floor (37.7%). The Grizzlies have lost 3 of those games. Surely those two things are related, right? Well….maybe, maybe not. Two of his three worst shooting performances (OKC, BOS) were Memphis wins. In the other one, the Knicks made a point to keep the ball out of his hands by running a second defender at him almost as soon as he touched the ball, forcing him to kick it back out more often than not. In the other two losses, Z-Bo was 50% from the field in each contest. However…he played 28 minutes or less in all three losses, which is notable, although the reason for this is unclear.
People have alternately speculated or refuted the notion that there is friction between Randolph and Lionel Hollins. I’m not in the business of slinging gossip or promoting idle speculation, so I’ll just leave that discussion to the Twitter-sphere.
People (fans, media, pundits) keep waiting to see the return of the Zach Randolph that put the team on his shoulders and carried them through the 2011 playoffs, averaging 22 and 11 in the process. I hate to tell all of you (and confirm it for myself), but that guy isn’t likely to show up again.
Z-Bo played 3 full games last season before getting injured last season against the Bulls on New Year’s Day. In his first game back, he dropped 25 and 9 on the Raptors. He wouldn’t score 20 points again the rest of the season. Through 65 games this year, he has scored 20+ points 11 times. I’m no math whiz, but I’m pretty sure that works out to roughly once every 6 games.
If you compare his per 36 minute numbers from last season to this year, you’ll see that they are nearly identical. That’s right — immediate post-injury Z-Bo and this season’s version are producing at nearly the same rate across the board. Points, rebounds, FG%, everything — remarkably similar.
So, what does this mean? It means that Z-Bo didn’t bounce back all of the way. I’m not sure why that is surprising to anyone though. The expectation that Randolph would return to form was unrealistic to begin with. He’s been playing professional basketball for 12 years now. He led the league in minutes played during the 2009-10 season. There are a lot of miles on his tires now, especially since he is a post player who relishes contact. He is wearing down, as all players do. (Other than those who visit mysterious German doctors during the offseason.) That’s just a fact of life.
Time waits for no man — and nowhere is that more true than in the world of professional sports.