Great NBA frontcourts are a dying breed, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Few teams run a true inside out offense these days, opting instead to penetrate and kick the ball out to shooters, much like the Miami Heat. The Grizzlies, however, are a bit of a throwback squad, using two supremely skilled big men to run their offense. The only frontcourt that comes close has the other Gasol, along with Dwight Howard. Unfortunately they were held back a bit by the system they play in and it was also just their first season together. Any team would be lucky to have either Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have both and they have used them to their fullest potentials.
Many teams find it difficult to use two great big men at the same time on offense. The problem arises when both bigs need to be in the post and the defense is able to easily collapse on whoever catches the ball. Gasol and Randolph however are both effective out to 15 feet and are able to leave enough space for each other to operate. You will often find Marc in the high post, shredding defenses with his great passing. Randolph likes to stay closer to the rim and use his superior footwork and physical strength to dominate defenders. Randolph and Gasol also each have reliable midrange jump shots to keep defenders from leaving them. Both are also big time glass eaters, the Grizzlies ranked third this season in offensive rebounding.
Since the departure of Rudy Gay, the rest of the Grizzlies have learned to play off of their two big men to get great shots. Mike Conley especially has excelled since the trade. Part of the credit goes to Conley himself, who has taken up the slack for the Grizzlies in the second half of this season. His aggressiveness has risen to the level management was hoping for when they made the trade. Conley does a great job of setting up Marc in the post and they have a great two-man game. They will sometimes pass back and forth several times setting up great scoring chances. The other Grizzlies are finding space on the perimeter and spotting up for uncontested jumpers after defenses collapse.
Now I would have to scold myself if I went this whole post without addressing the defensive side of the ball. Gasol and Randolph are not the best defensive combo in the league, but they are certainly toward the top. As a team the Grizzlies were second in defensive rating. They force teams to grind out possessions in the half court, shown by their rank of 30 in pace of play. The Grizzlies do have great perimeter defenders in Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, but the two bigs also contribute. Marc makes many great plays that do not show up in the box score, such as cutting off drives and making great hedges. In the post, both players use their great size (Zach is 253lbs while Marc is 265lbs) to keep opposing bigs from getting good position. After the catch it is almost impossible to move these guys, forcing offensive players to end up kicking it back out or shooting a fadaway.
Whether it is offense or defense, Gasol and Randolph are a strong combination and in my opinion the best in the NBA. Feel free to comment and make a case for who you believe has the best frontcourt in the NBA.
– Jay Bowne