When the 2012-13 NBA regular season began, very few believed that the Memphis Grizzlies would have the most wins of any team in the NBA come November 19th. Even fewer would have predicted Memphis would have victories over the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks.
Such has transpired, however, and Memphis now sits atop the Western Conference. As for how this has all gone down, Zach Randolph's macho man routine has given the Grizzlies the edge they need.
For those unfamiliar with Randolph, he is the Grizzlies' All-NBA power forward. Aside from being their verbal leader, Randolph has posted borderline elite career averages of 17.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Such is why he has established a reputation as one of the game's premier players.
The latest chapter in Randolph's career has been about more than statistics. During the 2012-13 season, Randolph has posted extraordinary averages of 17.2 points and 13.9 rebounds per game, including 5.4 offensive boards.
As for how he and the Grizzlies have started the season so well, it's Z-Bo's tough guy personality that has the team fired up in Memphis. Even if it is costing him.
Per a report via Marc Stein of ESPN, Randolph and Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins were involved in a post-game altercation. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Randolph has been fined $25,000 for the incident.
Memphis forward Zach Randolph has been fined $25,000 for confronting Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins in the lockerroom area.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) November 20, 2012
We know what this act has cost Randolph individually. The question is, can we truly ignore how beneficial it is for the Grizzlies to have their own resident enforcer?
No matter how much it may have cost Z-Bo, we cannot.
A Finesse Team's Brute Force
While this may not be the act of a role model, Zach Randolph's tough-guy persona is exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies have needed.
During the 2011-12 NBA season, the Grizzlies had the top-tier talent necessary to compete in the Western Conference. What they lacked, however, was the power to complement their extraordinary finesse.
In other words, they were far more skilled than they were tough.
As a result, the Los Angeles Clippers were able to drive the lane at will and oftentimes bully the Grizzlies en route to a 4-3 first-round series victory. Such came one year after the Grizzlies gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a run for their money in the Western Conference semifinals.
Now that Randolph is healthy, that has all changed.
Randolph's toughness is exactly what the Grizzlies need to complement the Euro-style play of Marc Gasol at center. The tandem will offer the fair balance of power and finesse, thus creating the elite frontcourt local fans had come to expect.
In turn, perimeter players such as Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay will have the opportunity to thrive with their offensive versatility.
First Time at Full Health
During the 2011 NBA postseason, we were offered a glimpse at how much this Memphis Grizzlies team could achieve. As an eighth seed, the Grizzlies upset the heavily-favored top seed in the San Antonio Spurs.
They did so without Rudy Gay, who was sidelined by surgery on his left shoulder (via ESPN).
One year later, the team lost Zach Randolph to a partially torn right MCL (via The Commercial Appeal). Although Randolph would return from injury and play in the 2012 postseason, his contributions were limited.
A direct result of his extensive recovery from surgery.
As we work through the 2012-13 regular season, this is the first time in which the Grizzlies' current core of players is at full strength. Both Gay and Randolph are in the rotation at complete health, while the likes of Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol are playing at a career-best level.
With Randolph playing the role of enforcer and Tony Allen holding down the perimeter, this team has finally reached elite.