Recently there have been rumors from multiple sources claiming Pau Gasol would be interested in signing with the Memphis Grizzlies. Making this actually happen is quite difficult and if Zach Randolph decides to exercise his $16.5 million player option, all hopes of it will be lost. Even if Randolph were to sign for a discount, getting Pau on board would be almost impossible considering the looming extensions for Mike Miller, James Johnson and the restricted free agency of Ed Davis.
Randolph has expressed his interest with re-signing and retiring with the Grizzlies, and his deal is likely to be a David West-type of extension for $10+ million a year for a multitude of years. Z-Bo is a fan favorite in Memphis and still a really good player, and the Grizzlies are already stacked with big men with Jon Leuer, Kosta Koufos, Davis, Z-Bo and Gasol.
On the other hand, Pau is the leading scorer in Grizzlies history and has already played with them before for seven seasons. Reuniting the Gasol brothers would be amazing in its own way, and together they would be the best passing frontcourt in the NBA by far. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see the Gasol brothers playing together a-la Team Spain?
Zach Randolph vs. Pau Gasol
Marc and Z-bo have built a great chemistry together; Marc roams on the perimeter more in dribble hand-off actions and setting picks for short rolls to the foul line while Randolph cuts to good position near the basket and posts up more. The staple of their teamwork is the high-low pass which they run incredibly well together.
The contrasting styles of play between the two is evident in their shot distribution. Gasol shoots 39 percent of his shots closer to than eight feet from the basket, compared to 65 percent for Zach Randolph. This has worked well but it can also be problematic; out of the Gasol brothers (Marc 59 percent, Pau 55 percent) and Randolph (50 percent), Z-Bo is the worst at finishing at the rim. He makes up for it by rebounding his own misses well and putting them back up, but with Randolph’s declining athleticism it’s hard to say how long he can still get away with missing shots at the rim and beating his opponents to the rebound.
Obviously it’s a bit different when it’s Serge Ibaka, but during the times Randolph has been hobbled by injury, it has looked much worse than that, and against everyone. Randolph is listed as 6’9″, and while his game has never been predicated on jumping over guys, you should pause and think that before extending him for multiple years, there’s a good shot it gets ugly at the end.
Another reason to be a tad bit skeptical about the Gasol-Randolph pairing is that Marc absolutely needs to score in the paint more which I detailed here previously. He shoots from the restricted area about as much as Chris Bosh, and do you remember the last time Chris Bosh was around the rim on the offensive end? All that guy does is shoot jumpers nowadays, it’s even gone so far that he has pretty much said he will never ever go down low again.
Gasol is a 7’1″ monster, a Grizzly bear if you will, meaning he has to get down there more often and that is where Pau can help. The Grizzlies haven’t run the reverse of their patented high-low action very often, mainly when Gasol is obviously mismatched but it has and should continue to work very well. With Pau in the lineup, the Grizzlies ccould basically divide up post touches and dives into the lane 50/50. Both Gasol brothers are great and creative passers, and the combination of them would be a nightmare for opposing defenses. According to Synergy Sports, the post up numbers between Gasol, Gasol and Randolph are pretty comparable, each of them averaging around 0.9 points per possessions, which is a pretty solid mark.
Where both Gasol brothers do a lot better than Z-Bo is in pick and roll situations, where Pau scores on a sizzling rate of 1.11 points possession, Marc on 1.07 and Zach on only 0.8, ranking 142nd in the NBA. Mike Conley is a fantastic pick and roll player, and is probably the most creative guy in the league at choosing when to take a screen and when to discard it. He’s an expert at using jabs and head fakes to confuse the defender. With Marc and Pau together the Grizzlies could get more creative with their screen and rolls and dribble hand-offs.
The problem with this pick and roll is that Marc is shooting from the foul line. This one goes in, but overall he is a “blah” spot up shooter. This shot is basically faking spacing and he has to take quite a few from the elbows, mainly from the left side where he shot only 33 percent this season. Zach is the better midrange shooter, yet he spends more time in the paint because of Gasol’s playmaking skills around the elbows, which doesn’t perfectly take advantage of Marc’s skill set. Pau isn’t a lights out midrange shooter either, but he is pretty much comparable to Z-Bo. With Pau, this play would be even more devastating as it could be him shooting and Marc ducking in near the rim.
Randolph on the other hand has been the more impactful rebounder, a key part of Memphis’ identity; the Grizzlies rebounding fell from elite to middle of the pack when he was off the floor, while Pau didn’t really move the needle for the Los Angeles Lakers last year. For Pau this is out of the norm, as his teams have always rebounded tons better with him on the court. His situation with the Lakers has been poisonous for the last couple of seasons with constant trade rumors and people throwing him under the bus. The guy helped LA win two titles and is one of the most skilled big guys in the league, so a little appreciation is in order.
The horrible situation led to Pau basically giving up on defense this year and at worst it was almost shameful. I shouldn’t say that a professional basketball player didn’t care about giving his all on both ends but Pau got pretty close to that this season, as he showed no effort rotating over or battling his man down low. Z-Bo has been a better defender than Pau for the last couple of years, but Pau is by no means stupid and does know what to do on defense when he’s motivated. Both Pau and Z-Bo lack foot speed, but if you’re seven feet tall and as smart as Pau Gasol you should be able to be something above an average defender, especially with the help system that Memphis would surround him with.
Looking multiple years ahead, big men tend to decline quickly when they start declining, and Pau’s stats took a real hit two years ago. An especially grueling cause for concern was when Pau started off the year slowly, even with Dwight Howard leaving for the Houston Rockets. The situation with Howard was a weird one though as he got benched a week in, was forced to shoot threes and generally found himself in a dog house. A small secret about the Gasol-Howard combo is that at the end of the year when the Lakers made their playoff push they found a real connection and Gasol made beautiful lob passes to Howard from the high post. If Howard hadn’t bolted and the coach didn’t force Gasol to jack up threes, there’s a good chance they would have been great together; something that brings hope to the hypothetical Gasol-twin-towers combination.
Pau had a bounce back second half of the season averaging 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game on 51.3 percent shooting in his last 35 games, and his game should age well. He will always be big, smart and skilled. And while him ending up with the Grizzlies is a long shot, it would be a fruitful one. Randolph, on the other hand, is loved by the city of Memphis and still a very good player. It’s hard to see Pau garnering the same type of love in Memphis anymore. Predicting the future is difficult to say the least, but I feel like there are more red flags in giving a multi-year deal to Z-Bo and the Gasol-Gasol pairing would be even more special than anything Grizzlies have had before.