Calkins: Grizzlies Randolph deserves NBA MVP

Jan 29 2010 - 2:44pm

On Nov. 19, 2009 -- barely two months ago -- The Onion did a piece on the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Onion. The Web site that scans the country looking for things to mock.

What easier target than the Grizzlies, eh? They started 1-8. They were as hilarious as they'd ever been.

Since that start, the Grizzlies have gone 23-11, a winning percentage of .676.

Only three NBA teams -- the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics -- have a season-long winning percentage better than that.

Right now, the Grizzlies might be the fourth-best team in the NBA.

So never mind Zach Randolph in the All-Star Game. I say he should get votes for MVP.

No, he won't win it. He's not as gifted as Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.

But has either of them stopped an entire country from laughing? Has either of them turned hilarity into high-fives? Has either of them put a franchise on his back and transformed it in the course of nine astonishing weeks?

The Grizzlies used to be losers. Now they're winners.

They used to be soft. Now they're tough.

Earlier this week, I asked Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace if he'd ever been part of an organization that had been changed so quickly by the addition of a single player.

"In my career?" he said. "No. Nothing like this."

Kevin Garnett turned the Celtics around in 2007-08. Steve Nash turned the Phoenix Suns around in 2004-05. But those teams had history, long traditions of winning. This team had a long history of being inept.

This is not to take anything away from Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay or Mike Conley, by the way. They've all done their part. But this season's roster is essentially last season's roster with one big addition. No, not Hasheem Thabeet.

"Z-Bo." The player I once warned Griz fans about.

I have been wrong before in my column-writing career. I will certainly be wrong again. But I'm not sure I'll ever be as wrong as when I wrote a column headlined: "Acquiring Randolph would be worst move Grizzlies could make."

Whoopsie. Get me re-write! Change the "worst" to "best!"

But then, I was hardly alone in my skepticism. In a preview of the season, ESPN picked Randolph as this year's "Worst Newcomer."

"He's one of the biggest black holes in basketball and he doesn't play defense," the story said.

At the time, that was actually true. Randolph was a black hole. He didn't play defense. He had a way of finding trouble, too.

And then Randolph changed. That's what makes the story even better, isn't it? He did what Allen Iverson -- another guy I warned Memphis fans about -- couldn't or wouldn't do.

"He's matured," said Wallace. "He's doing everything but sell programs for us."

Randolph is 12th in the league in scoring, averaging 20.9 points a game. He's fourth in the league in rebounding, averaging 11.5 a game.

"But Zach has given us a whole lot more than statistics," Wallace said, in what has to be one of the more unlikely sentences of the year.

It's true, too. Randolph has emerged as the leader of these Grizzlies. He's the one who barrels into scrums when teammates are in peril. He's the one who stopped Thabeet to congratulate him after a particularly good game last week.

He's the one who set up Gay for the key basket Monday against Orlando. He's the one who, at the end of the first half, heaved a ball in from three-quarters-court.

"When you're rolling, you're rolling," said Wallace.

There's no telling where this could stop. The concern about Randolph was that he would ruin the Grizzlies' young players. Instead, he has given them the chance to win. He has enabled the perimeter players to be perimeter players. He has taken on Marc Gasol as his butt-kicking first mate.

The Grizzlies have already matched last year's win total. At the rate they're going, they'll more than double it.

"He's made every player on this team better," said Wallace.

Sounds like an MVP candidate to me.

(Contact Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal at calkins(at)commercialappeal.com.)

SHNS

 

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