The following is from Andres Alvarez.
Here’s a twitter conversation that lead to today’s post
Bouncex3 J. O. Applegate
Before the season everyone would say someone like Horford, but Z-Bo is (was) by far the most underrated player in the league.
NerdNumbers Andres Alvarez
@Bouncex3 I’d say Z-Bo is more surprising. He went from ave->good->great.
Bouncex3 J. O. Applegate
@NerdNumbers Last 5 years really. Not in the playoffs of course, but still.
Bouncex3 J. O. Applegate
@NerdNumbers But he had the same numbers last year too, no?
And from that a story was born. It’s not as if people haven’t seen Memphis coming (and by people I mean Arturo of Arturo’s Silly Little Stats). The question is how did Memphis go from a laughing stock (from trading Pau Gasol) to being considered contenders?
Quick refresher, here were the Grizzlies this season.
Table 1: 2011 Memphis Grizzlies
The basic break down is Zach Randolph played very well and had a good collection of talent next to him, including Conley, Gay, Gasol, Allen and Battier (who was hired as a replacement when Gay got injured). That’s fine but what’s happened in the playoffs?
Table 2: 2011 Playoff Memphis Grizzlies
(Through Game 1 of the Second Round)
A much more comprehensive write up can be found here, done by none-other than the prognosticator himself: Arturo!
First, let’s make a quick reality check. Despite dispatching the Spurs and stealing home court from OKC, the Memphis numbers in the playoffs aren’t at the same levels of teams like the Heat. They are still playing top basketball, though, and that is linked to three players: Shane Battier, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Shane Battier is older, and playing well above his normal levels. Call it being hot at the right time. Grizzlies’ fans can hope it will last. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol tell a much more interesting tale. Let’s start with Pau’s “replacement” Zach Randolph.
Table 3: Zach Randolph’s Career. 2002-2010
Handcrafted Numbers, 2011 Automated Numbers
Zach Randolph’s career has been fascinating. Let’s do a quick recap of his trip to Memphis.
- 2002 – As a rookie played limited minutes (below average)
- 2003, 2004 – Given more minutes, as veterans get older and traded (average – good)
- 2005 – Injured mid season (below average)
- 2006 – Plays terribly while recovering from injury (terrible)
- 2007 – Recovers from injury (good)
- 2008 – Portland sick of off court issues ships to Isiah Thomas, who loves scorers. Plays alright as out of position Center (average)
- 2009 – Traded to the Clippers by New York to make cap room for LeBron James (above average)
So going into 2010, Randolph had been at his best a good power forward with both on and off court issues. What’s more these issues were enough to get him kicked off of such terrible franchises as the Knicks and Clippers! I would not have been thrilled to hear he was the new face of the franchise, especially after watching Pau make the finals on the 08 Lakers.
However, Randolph turned a corner by upping his shooting efficiency and rebounding, and turned into a star in his first year in Memphis. This year he’s improved even more, and now he is a super star. In short, Memphis gambled on a player with “attitude” issues and lucked out.
Now let’s look at the Memphis’s current playoff MVP: Marc Gasol.
Table 4: Marc Gasol Career Numbers.
09-10 Handcrafted, 11 Automated
In his first year in the league Marc was an above average center. In his second year he upped his game and played very well, but in this season he seemed to regress. Yet his playoff numbers are spectacular. There’s one more important tool to use, Arturo’s season gadget (http://nerdnumbers.com/gadgets)
Marc Gasol started the season close to his last season’s numbers, which were good. He slowly played worse and worse until he bottomed out in February, when he was not good at all. However, he rebounded from his fall rather well, and was played at star level entering the playoffs. Marc Gasol is right around the age players peak and it is possible we are seeing the levels he is capable of keeping. It is also possible he is simple hot at the right time. Regardless going into the playoffs the Grizzlies had two top big men playing hot, and that has been key to their success.
To sum up:
- The Grizzlies lucked out with Randolph, who had up until Memphis been at best a good power forward with many issues and an expensive contract.
- Marc Gasol is a young player who may very well be hitting his peak as a star player (we’ll have to wait another few years to be sure)
- The Grizzlies were lucky on their timing to have the Spurs play poorly and Shane Battier play very well
While still underdogs, the fact is the playoffs are a small sample size and it’s entirely possible the Grizzlies could make the finals. After all, other “Contender” teams out West have been having their fair share of issues this postseason.