Zach Randolph is finally getting the recognition he richly deserves. It took 10 seasons and four stops in NBA cities, which included Portland, New York, Los Angeles and now Memphis, but the man/beast known as “Z-Bo” is showing the basketball world that he is the real deal and the only reason why we haven’t realized it is because we’ve never seen it on the big stage.
Well, it can’t get any bigger than the NBA playoffs and Zach Randolph is sending one loud message: “Do you see me now!”
The Memphis Grizzlies power forward recently ripped the Oklahoma City Thunder for a career playoff high 34 points and 10 rebounds to lead Memphis to a stunning Game 1 victory. Just as he did in a Western Conference first-round upset of top-seeded San Antonio, Randolph was an absolute beast in the paint. The Thunder tried the long and athletic Serge Ibaka on him and didn’t work because Randolph was too strong for Ibaka. Then they matched him up with center Kendrick Perkins, one of the best low-post defenders in the league, and didn’t work because Randolph was too quick for Perkins.
Randolph was so dominant that Thunder superstar Kevin Durant threw him the ultimate compliment. “He’s the best power forward in the league, I think,” Durant said, without hesitation, during his postgame press conference. “He’s phenomenal. He’s the go-to guy. They get him the rock and finds his position and gets its where he wants to get it. He’s unbelievable.”
Durant added, “He’s an animal. I thought Perk and Serge did a good job in forcing him out down low but he kept making those fadeaway jumpers. We just gotta make him make tough shots, and hopefully he’ll miss.”
Wow! The best PF in the game? That’s high praise for a guy who a year ago was the subject of trade talks. How things have changed in a matter of months. Randolph went from expendable to most valuable. In Durant’s eyes, Z-Bo is better than Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire.
When Randolph was told about Durant’s bold claim, he leaned back and soaked in his newfound accolade. “I gotta agree with that,” Randolph said with a huge smile on his face, which got some laughs in the press room. “Thanks, KD. Appreciate it.”
“I just try to be the same player, play my game all the time,” he added. “The good players stay consistent.”
Durant says the Thunder will look at the tape from Game 1 and figure out how to change their coverages against Randolph. The Spurs tried just about everything but throw the living room couch on Randolph, and they’re now at home watching the playoffs.
Randolph had two games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in the regular season against the Thunder, as Memphis won the series 3-1. As we all learned after Game 1, Randolph and the Grizzlies are for real and it will take a phenomenal series from Durant and his fellow All-Star, Russell Westbrook, to knock out the red-hot eighth-seeded team.
He’s the only player in the league to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of the last three seasons, and he and center Marc Gasol form a formidable 1-2 inside punch for Memphis that was the NBA’s most productive team in the paint with a 51.5-point average.
NBA TV analyst and former NBA great Steve Smith says what makes Randolph tough to defend is his ability to take what the defense gives him. You know he’s got an array of post moves, but when that’s taken away he’s got that fugly-looking, no-lift lefty jumper that always seems to go in. He’s also a relentless rebounder, which wears down his opponents.
If there’s an MVP award given after the first round of the NBA playoffs, Randolph wins it hands down.