Few developments in the NBA this season have been more surprising than the Grizzlies becoming a playoff contender, or, more specifically, the Grizzlies being led to playoff contention by Zach Randolph. After spending the last few years on the Knicks and Clippers, Randolph was so far removed from playoff contention that he wasn’t even able to watch the playoffs on TV – he had to travel 100 miles to the nearest sports bar in order to watch them. Now he’s the best player on a team fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
What does this tell us about the NBA? I see at least three things:
Lots of players come into the league with lots of hype, at
a very young age. If they don’t produce quickly, they are written off as disappointments. Yet, even after a few years of disappointing play, they are still young and talented. Randolph is only 28 years old. In other walks of life, it isn’t considered strange for a person to be better at his job and more mature when he’s 28 than he was when he was 24. It shouldn’t seem all that crazy when a 28-year-old player finally “gets it,” and starts to approach his potential.
The game is not “evolving” to a place where good post players are obsolete, as some have wondered. Teams with guys who like to operate in the paint have an advantage over teams that try to win exclusively from the perimeter.
We’re at a moment now where there are very few excellent post players. So, the opportunity exists for a guy like Zach Randolph to step up and dominate. Consider: KG is now a shell of his old self. Things like this now happen to Shaq. More importantly, three of the best young big men are out for the season; Yao, Greg Oden, and Blake Griffin. Plus, the stars of the future, like Jordan Hill, are just getting their feet under them. Actually, strike that last sentence. I got to see much of the Cavs-Knicks game yesterday, and it became clear that Jordan Hill is simply another version of Anderson Varejo, but one that grabs fewer rebounds and makes fewer hustle plays.
Still, the point remains that three of the best young big men in the Western Conference are injured this year. The table is set perfectly for Zach Randolph to sit down and feast. If he’s an All-Star NEXT YEAR, then that will be a big deal. Becoming an All-Star this year is a good accomplishment, but, really, he’s just filling a void.