Having Paid His Dues, Z-Bo Doing Work

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Zach Randolph has come a long way, baby.

From a 20-year-old, tantalizingly skilled and pudgy rookie reared by the infamous Portland “Jail” Blazers, to the now 31-year-old supremely skilled and pudgy leader of the first Memphis Grizzlies team to play for the Western Conference crown.

Randolph arrived in Memphis in 2009 still the bearer of a bad rap and possibly even a worse rep. Thirty-nine games into his stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, Randolph was moved out to move in, ironically, No. 1 pick and soon-to-become Randolph’s playoff nemesis, Blake Griffin.

Randolph’s third trade in two calendar years — from Portland to the New York Knicks in June 2007; from the Knicks to the Clips in November 2008; and finally from the Clips to the Grizz in July 2009 for Quentin Richardson — has been the tonic for peace and happiness and maturity and some darn good basketball.

Randolph can now boast being a two-time All-Star with Memphis.  He’s also an emblematic figure of this blue-collar city and a fan favorite of its hard-nosed citizens, and a loyal teammate that his peers pull for and gush over.

“His career has had a lot of ups and downs, and it’s just evident when you think of being in this moment that not a lot of people get here, and Z is a perfect example of that,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said. “He’s been in the league so long and done so many great things, he hasn’t had the experience to go to the Western Conference finals or the Finals yet, and so it’s kind of the message that’s being sent around to everybody, and we’re feeding off what Z’s been through and the fact that this could be special.”

Before the low-post — and lower-center-of-gravity — scoring machine arrived in Memphis, his Portland teams had two one-and-done postseasons. The first, as a rookie, he logged one minute. The next season, in 2003, he averaged 13.9 ppg and 8.7 rebounds as those misfit Blazers almost became the first team to come back from a 3-0 hole against the Dallas Mavericks, but they were blown out in Game 7.

He then went six seasons sitting on the postseason sidelines. Now he’s seizing the moment heading to the biggest stage of his career. Randolph is averaging a team-high 19.7 ppg and 9.3 rpg while shooting 51.2 percent as he and low-post partner Marc Gasol get set to face the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the West finals Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

Along the way, Randolph dominated Griffin in the final four games to dispatch the Clippers in a rugged, emotion-filled, six-game series. He saved his best game so far to eliminate the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Wednesday’s Game 5, a punishing performance from the jump that ended with 28 points, 14 rebounds and one wide grin.

“This moment means a lot to me,” Randolph said. “I’m happy, but we still have work to do. I want to win a ring.”

Randolph can be the king of colloquialisms when talking about others, such as when he described the defense teammate Tony Allen was applying to Kevin Durant: “Tony’s a dog, man. He’s in the mud.” The Grizzlies marketing department has crafted slogans and campaigns around Randolph’s colorful descriptors and phrases.

But he’s mostly bland when talking about himself. It’s a subject best left unto others, like Allen.

“I’ve [known] Zach ever since I got in the league, what his skill level was,” said Allen, who joined the Grizzlies a season later in the summer of 2010. “But he was … at first all about going out and getting his. And ever since I got alongside him, he’s done a good job of mixing it up, passing the ball when you don’t have a shot, being more of a vocal leader and just a teddy bear off the court. When I say teddy bear, just a nice guy. He’s the nicest guy in the world. I saw him grow a lot despite what I heard about him previously before I got here.”

Previously?

“Just rough around the edges, that’s all,” Allen said, chuckling. “But me and him pretty much got the same characteristics. Growing up we overcame a lot. Right now, it’s a big time to do something big and I think that’s what his mindset is right now — trying to do something real big.”

Everything with the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Randolph is big, especially his game. Nicknamed Z-Bo back in middle school growing up in gritty, small-town Marion, Indiana, the southpaw’s game is described as “old-school” or “old man.” That’s because his vertical won’t win him any dunk contests and because he relies more on guile and honed skill than athleticism. Randolph’s excellent footwork makes him quick, agile and unpredictable with his back to the basket. He has tremendous upper and lower body strength to gain position and a sublime touch to finish with short hooks and up-and-under bank shots. And he can always float in fall-away jumpers. His arsenal is a lethal combination of power and finesse that few power forwards today posses.

Just listen to Thunder coach Scott Brooks go on and on when asked to detail the difficulty in defending Randolph in the low post.

“He has relentless determination, he’s an aggressive offensive rebounder and he has so many different shots he can throw at you,” said Brooks, who watched Randolph work over Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Serge Ibaka for 18.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg. “He can face-up and hit a shot; he can drive right with one dribble and the little pull-up off the glass; he goes to the left, to the middle very well, and he has so many different release points. He can score down low at the block. He doesn’t look like he can do it, he just doesn’t have that body that you think that can score, and he doesn’t jump very high, but he has that determination and he obviously has the ability to score.

“He’s a handful.”

Allen calls the whole package “backyard ball.”

“He’s the backyard bully. Welcome to the Z block,” Allen said. “He’s just a monster down there; he’s a load.”

He’s now the responsibility of Spurs big men Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, a tough job compounded by the fact that one of them will be preoccupied with Gasol, also having a brilliant postseason averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg.

The big stage has been a long time coming for Randolph, a player many assumed would have run himself out of the league by now. That’s not the case or even any longer an option. The 12-year veteran has found a home and fulfillment in Memphis.

“He just understands the big picture a little bit better. He understands winning better,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “I think there are lot of good players in this league that have statistics, that have talent, but never win, never understand that it takes more than their 20 points to win; that it takes moving the basketball, it takes playing defense, it takes being a decoy sometimes.

“We just try to challenge him and he accepts being challenged, and he’s risen to the occasion.”

30 Comments

  1. Portland Fan says:

    I’ve been a Z-bo fan since he was in Portland, he’s been a 20-10 guy all his career. he can get it any night. When he and TD were younger he always had a problem with TD. I think it was just TD’s length. Should be a lot of shoving and fun to watch basketball for people who are tired of the guard oriented basketball of today. Old school big guys going at it….can’t wait, and hope for Z-bo and the Grizz to get to the finals.

    Z-bo deserves this recognition. He was ignored for so long, he’s always had this talent level, just glad the stigma the Portland media put on him (somewhat deserved) is finally over for Zach!

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  3. Kalbo!! says:

    Why don’t you all stop being furtune-teller wanna-be’s or “I-wanna-get-the-credit-for-predicting-it-right” fools? Just watch and learn.. You’re not the Pro’s here.. And if you are that smart, how come you’re just commenters here?

  4. sports fan says:

    Memphis will beat San Antonio in 6 or 7 games. The end of this series will show Duncan giving much respect to Z-Bo. Memphis’ strengths, their talented big men & strong rebounding, is Miami’s biggest weakness. Memphis beats Miami in 6 or 7.

  5. Kimmy says:

    It doesn’t matter how good he is; and he is good. But he, his team, the Spurs, Pacers or Nicks, are not getting past the Heat. Unfortunately. But I’m still rooting for you anyway. I guess I have no choice, since OKC lost……

  6. nba fan says:

    I like this guy even before he was in other team, he is a good one on one low post player, not as athletic like others but he has a lot of low post moves, although I never thought that he will come this far since he is the type of the player which is subjected for trades. good luck Z-BO

  7. theholyspectator says:

    ragardless which team comes out the west its gonna give problems, all tho i do see heat ultimately winning the title its gonna be a much bigger challenge compared to OKC, that was just too easy for them…but miami in 6 maybe even 7

  8. Ty says:

    They won’t make it past the spurs..

  9. Patty says:

    RANDOLPH IS AN OUTSTANDING PLAYER.

    WE WERE WATCHING THE SERIES WITH OKC AND RANDOLPH WAS THE PLAYER THAT TOOK OVER THE GAME. RANDOLPH IS A GREAT PLAYER. WE WILL BE WATCHING FROM CHICAGO THE SERIES BETWEEN GRIZZLIES AND SPURS.

    RANDOLPH IS A POWERFUL PLAYER.

  10. joel says:

    if the griz heads to the nba finals this would be a nightmare for the miami heat and i’m not even sure if they would win the series against the pacers

  11. bball says:

    This guy has the most beautiful big man game in the NBA. This will be a great series

    • Kalbo!! says:

      Most talented YES… Most beautiful? NOT quite.. I mean ZBo? Have you’re eyes checked, man.. H’es so ugly he looks like the real-life grizz…

  12. Patrickmarc says:

    There are beast in the league,
    Zibo is one of these strong man,
    with clever hands and high IQ basket ball.
    Great effect on the team.

  13. miles hunt says:

    The grizzlies r goin 2 the finals. But they r not goin 2 win because the r goin 2 repeatf

  14. MOSSjr says:

    Z-Bo is a beast… He’s a wrestler… Look at how he wrestled Blake Griffin in the 1st round.

  15. jmndodge says:

    Good player, I give Memphis a solid chance at the title. The rest for Miami will make them tough in the finals, and SAS will play hard and give it their all, but the Randolph/Gasol combination is going to be a problem for both SAS and the Heat.

    • Old school ball says:

      I totally agree. Plus i think between Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince they can frustrate Lebron and Wade. They won´t stop them but they can definitely frustrate them. Gasol will dominate like nobodies business.

      GRIZZLIES IN FINALS AND GRIZZ WIN IT ALL IN 7 GAMES. YEAH I SAID IT.

  16. G says:

    Old school final. Should be a great series!

  17. Karlo Garcia says:

    Randolph is likely 2 matchup with Duncan.

    • jared says:

      lol where’d you figure that one out genius? not from the big picture of them two on the main screen leading their teams….

  18. rigor mortiz says:

    finally the Grizz is on the west finals i hope they can make it to the finals to face The heat

  19. I’m a die hard Celtics fan & i have to say just like this article says-ZBo has come a long way-def lots of props to him for rising above to take advantage of the privilege of being in the nba-period. Not a lot of people get that chance to do so & to get a 2nd one, to mature & take that opportunity was manhood stuff. Sure glad he did cause you just don’t see that low post game anymore & that’s a shame cause it adds a lot more excitement & competition to the game-keep up the good work Z!

  20. jack23 says:

    m betting on the GRIZZ to make it to the Finals,..this is the new ERA of WEST basketball!! love to see this changes!!

  21. The Scripted says:

    Grizzlies will not win the title. No way! Heat will repeat as champions.

  22. Law says:

    The grizzlies to me are going to win it all call me crazy but if they had perimeter shooting they would be even better they they play aggressive defense, rebound, and play post offense (1st in second chance points this season). Its funny because tayshuan prince played for that 04 pistons where he contributed fairly but he is older but I got the grizz to win it all

  23. OKC says:

    Man Z-Bo is such a beast. I knew he was going to dominate our bigs. It’s a shame low post scorers like this are rare, most any team in the league could use a player like him.

  24. Kamote says:

    Just thinking how much he declined in NYC wouldn’t even let you fathom that he would this good again. The Grizz’ blue collar culture has really helped in getting ZBo back to his feet. But it takes a lot of maturity and dedication to bounce back like that. Beasley should live with this guy so he’d know what it takes to reach one’s potential LOL.