Grind City GameDay: Grizzlies @ Thunder
By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
OKLAHOMA CITY – Grizzlies’ coach David Fizdale says he maintains an open dialogue with Zach Randolph to discuss any challenges the veteran power forward has in coping with a full-time role off the bench for the first time since his initial NBA seasons.
“I try to be open with him, totally open with him,” Fizdale said of his communication with Randolph. “But I don’t feel like I need to hold his hand through this process.”
Fizdale’s comments came as the Grizzlies (24-16) prepared for Wednesday’s nationally televised game against Oklahoma City (23-16), and also with Randolph coming off his best two-game stretch of the season. Managing Randolph's transition to a reserve role has been a delicate process for the Grizzlies, especially amid the injury issues that have forced the team to use nearly a dozen different starting lineups.
Throughout those changes and adjustments, Fizdale has been steadfast about bringing Randolph off the bench to ensure the second unit has a viable scoring option for extended stretches. However, Fizdale has used Randolph alongside starters Marc Gasol and Mike Conley on the five-man units that have been on the floor at the finish of close games.
Although Randolph hasn’t necessarily embraced the transition, he has remained professional about the change and has been one of the biggest supporters of JaMychal Green, who took over as the starting power forward from the outset of Fizdale’s first season in Memphis. Both Fizdale and Randolph have maintained communication about the role throughout the season.
Randolph was disappointed with playing just 19 minutes in last week’s loss to the Clippers, a game in which Green sat out with an orbital fracture, but has seen his minutes increase the past two games. He had 27 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes during an overtime win at Golden State, and followed up with 13 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 27 minutes in Sunday’s home victory against Utah. It was the first time this season Randolph has posted consecutive double-doubles.
In an interview with ESPN.com after Sunday’s game, Randolph said opposing players have told him the Grizzlies were taking pressure off defenders by not playing him alongside Gasol as often as Memphis has in previous seasons. “It’s just coach wanting to play different and do a different style,” Randolph was quoted as saying to ESPN.com after the game.
That’s the closest Randolph has come to publicly criticizing or questioning his move to the bench. Fizdale said he understands the pride factor that comes into play when a career starter moves to the bench. While the Grizzlies have outscored opponents by a margin of 25 points in the 278 minutes Gasol and Randolph have been on the court this season, there are other numbers that strongly suggest Randolph is thriving and far more efficient in the role he’s adjusting to in his 16th season.
While Randolph’s 23.2 minutes a game this season are the third-fewest of his career, his 29.8 usage rate percentage is the second-highest mark of his career. In other words, the plays in which he touches the ball and has a direct impact on the offensive result in his time on the court is the best it’s been in Randolph’s eight seasons with Memphis. His assists and defensive rebounding rates this season have never been higher in his career, and his turnover rate has never been lower.
Fizdale points to that level of efficiency and effectiveness and suggests the move is not only working, but that Randolph should be considered a legit candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. On the other hand, Randolph believes the production should warrant a more consistent role on the court, especially in the deciding moments of close games. He’s scored in double figures in all but five games and is averaging 13.7 points and 7.8 rebounds in 33 games this season.
Both player and coach have been open to listening and applying the other’s suggestions along the way.
“That’s huge, but at the same time, I don’t think it needs to be overkill,” Fizdale said of his talks with Randolph. “He knows what his role is. He knows what I expect from him. He knows it’s not going to be perfect for him every game from a matchup standpoint, from a finishing standpoint.”
Fizdale also admits he’ll make some mistakes with handling Randolph at times, but that both are ultimately on the same page in terms of what’s best for the team overall.
“If he feels like there’s something that can help us, he doesn’t hesitate to come to me – and it’s not in a negative way,” Fizdale said. “He just says, ‘Coach, let me talk to you.’ And we talk. We’ve had two or three of those this year. It’s just two guys talking it out, because we’ve got the same agenda. We want to win. If he thinks there’s more he can be doing, or I think there’s more he can do, we communicate.”
Rookie center Deyonta Davis has been upgraded to questionable heading into Wednesday’s game after missing a month with a plantar fascia injury in his left foot. Davis has participated in practice for two weeks, gradually increasing his workload. He last played in a Dec. 13 loss in Cleveland and has averaged 2.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 7.9 minutes over 21 games this season. “It’s super encouraging to think of what he can add to our basketball team,” Fizdale said. “It’s a tease to see him sitting over there.” Brandan Wright (ankle) is out. For the Thunder, both guards Cameron Payne and Victor Oladipo have returned from injuries since the teams met two weeks ago in Memphis.
54. That’s the number of career triple-doubles for OKC guard Russell Westbrook entering Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies. It’s also the most among all active NBA players and fifth most in league history behind Oscar Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138), Wilt Chamberlain (78) and Larry Bird (59). Since the start of last season, the Thunder are 32-3 in games when Westbrook posts a triple-double. However, he’s never had one in 27 career games against the Grizzlies.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Mike Conley. The Grizzlies’ catalyst flat-out admitted that he tried to do too much too soon as a scorer when he initially returned last month from a near three-week absence from a back injury. A three-game losing streak coincided with Conley’s return, and the Grizzlies are just 6-7 since that Dec. 16 home loss to Sacramento. But Conley shifted his approach slightly, has focused more on facilitating from the outset and has gradually looked for scoring opportunities as games progressed in the past week. Over his last three games, Conley has averaged 21 points, 11 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He’s attempted 17.6 shots a game from the field during that stretch, but there’s been a clear motivation to get other teammates going first. With backup Andrew Harrison seeing reduced playing time in recent games, Conley’s minutes are also increasing at the point guard spot. His continued production will be key in these next two games against Westbrook’s Thunder and James Harden’s Rockets this week.
Thunder swingman Andre Roberson to OKC media Tuesday about the Grizzlies’ late threes in a 114-80 win on Dec. 29 in Memphis - I felt l like we got disrespected in a way. Them launching threes at the end, I didn’t take that too kindly. And we remember that. We bring it up on film and we’ll come out (Wednesday) aggressively and try to get after them.
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