A look at the effectiveness of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol


Apparently, it’s becoming a tradition of mine. Looking at one of the major contributors after a Game 1 loss and seeing what can be done differently in Game 2. I did it last year after Dirk Nowitzki torched the Spurs in Game 1 of the Spurs-Mavs first round series with 36 points on 12-14 from the floor.

In the San Antonio’s Game 1 loss to Memphis on Sunday, Grizzlies big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 49 points and 23 rebounds. That’s a lot. The two didn’t do as much damage on the offensive boards on Sunday as they did during the regular season, but defending them was still a problem.

I don’t know what adjustments, if any, Gregg Popovich will make. So instead what we’ll do today is look at what Memphis likes to do to get shots with these two big men, and how the Spurs defended it.

One thing I noticed is that the Grizzlies like to use Gasol a lot like the Spurs use Duncan. Gasol is involved in every offensive possession when he’s on the floor.

Gasol is the guy who trails the play and swings the ball from side-to-side, sets most of the picks and looks to distribute from the high post. A lot of Memphis’ sets start with Conley bringing the ball up and Gasol setting a pick for him. Gasol doesn’t usually roll to the basket, instead he flares to the side and looks to take a pass from Conley. If he gets it, Gasol looks to get the ball down low to Randolph or take the shot.

If neither of those options are available, he tends to swing the ball to the other side of the floor to get the defense rotating and find a way to exploit that. Gasol also distributes the ball to cutters like OJ Mayo and Tony Allen using dribble-handoffs. A dribble-handoff enables Gasol to get the ball to one of these players on the move, while essentially also setting a pick for them.

While Gasol is the central hub of Memphis’ offense, Zach Randolph is used differently. The majority of the time, Randolph sets up on the opposite side of the ball. The Grizzlies then find various ways to bring Randolph across the lane to get position on the block. This can be through a block-to-block cross-screen or just some pick-and-roll action on the strong side of the floor, hoping the weak side defense gets distracted.

On one play the Grizzlies ran on Sunday afternoon, they did just that. Mike Conley (1) brought the ball up the floor, on the left side, and Randolph (4) was lined up on the right side.


Shane Battier (3) was set up in the corner on the strong side and he cleared out to the other side. Marc Gasol (5) curled around Battier’s movement and set a pick for Conley out on the perimeter.


While this was going on, Battier set a screen for Randolph on the weak side. Actually, I wouldn’t say he set a screen so much as he got in the way. Off the pick, Conley drove to the hoop looking for a layup. When it wasn’t there, he passed to Gasol near the elbow. Randolph went baseline and looked for position on the block. Watching the video, Randolph was open, but Gasol didn’t get it to him.


Instead, Gasol passes back to Conley, who went to the corner after passing. Randolph continued to fight for position on the block.


Gasol followed the ball and looked to set a pick for Conley on the wing, but Conley is able to find Randolph on the block. The play leads to Randolph finding Conley on the perimeter for a 3-pointer, which he missed.

Moving without the ball is really and underrated skill for a big man. Most think of post play as deliberate. Big men simply go to the block and set up shop. Not Z-Bo, though. He gets a running start when getting post position. He looks for cutting lanes and angles. It’s fun to watch, really.

The Spurs started the game with Antonio McDyess on Randolph and Dice played behind Z-Bo. Both Randolph and Dice are the same height at 6’9″, but Z-Bo obviously has some weight on McDyess.

Tim Duncan talked after Game 1 about how he had to pay a lot of attention to Randolph, and that may have been part of the reason Gasol had such a good game. On this play, you can watch Duncan always watching where Randolph was, but as the game went on, I saw less and less of Duncan with his head on a swivel in regards to Z-Bo. Part of that could be because of the game Gasol was having.

“We need to pay a little bit more attention on defense, especially myself with Marc,” Duncan said. “I gave him a bit of an easy time there trying to keep half an eye on Zach instead of focusing on Marc.

“I need a little more focus in that respect.”

When Dice was out of the game, the Spurs put DeJuan Blair on Randolph. Blair started the game three-quartering Randolph, not totally fronting him and not playing completely behind him, either. It mainly involved shading your body between Randolph and the ball, and if the ball successfully gets to Randolph in the post, Blair has to quickly get between Z-Bo and the hoop.

It looked like in the second quarter, though, the Spurs changed their strategy and had Blair fronting Randolph. On this play, you can also see Darrell Arthur setting the cross screen to get Z-Bo open.

Zach Randolph is a fascinating post player. He doesn’t jump very high and yet, he has a quick first step. That makes him dangerous because he can hit the 18-foot jumpshot. And with his size, he can body most big men up, even those taller than him. And when he gets to the hoop, the touch he puts on the ball is uncanny. If he was 6’11”, he might be a more legitimate MVP candidate.

I don’t know how the Spurs should defend Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Game 2 on Wednesday. I’m not sure what changes they can make, if any. Playing Tiago Splitter is one idea, seeing if he can steal some minutes on Gasol or something. But I’m of Gregg Popovich’s willingness to play Splitter until he’s run out of options.

Either way, keep an eye on how the Spurs respond to the Grizzlies’ attempts to pound the ball insides to Randolph and run the offense through Gasol.

For a look at some of the Spurs’ offense in Game 1, check out what Sebastian Pruiti did over at NBA Playbook.

All diagrams were made using FastDraw from Fast Model Software.

  • Sauce

    Great analysis. I do have one minor problem though with the post in regards to Randolph:

    “If he was 6’11″, he might be a more legitimate MVP candidate.”

    I feel you should back up this qualifier or give reason for it because as I read it I took it as an unfair slight and a subtle dig/disrespect for someone who is probably the most underrated/under appreciated big time player there is right now and has given us fits this year.

    Anyways, hope the Spurs bounce back and that Ginobli is back at full health and effective!

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Sorry for not clarifying. Simply think that if he was a little bit taller, he’d get a little more recognition as a really great player. Don’t have anything to back it up, really, it’s more of a hunch or feeling.

  • Wtharri2

    well…he is THE reason the grizzlies went from a 20-something win team two years ago to a 40 win team last year. and this year, he has stayed consistent and been a bigger leader, and with a deeper and better bench, the grizzlies were able to win more games and make the playoffs. so you’re hunch is pretty dead on. I doubt he would be in the top 5 for the MVP, but he is the reason the grizzlies are so good.

  • Meskous

    RJ can be an x-factor in this series. He’s got tools and size to get to the rim and maybe put Memphis front line in foul trouble. I have seen that on two separate occasions during game 1. First he made driving layup after faking three strait through the middle and second driving from left corner that resulted in two free throws. If he can just grow some huevos it would be great.

  • http://regularfan.blogspot.com/ Humberto

    Nice video break down.

    I can’t believe the title had the words “effectiveness” and “Marc Gasol” in there. Spurs really need to fix that.

  • Len

    I expect more double teams on Z-bo, and it won’t be from whoever is guarding Gasol either.

  • Senorglory

    i like it.

  • frustrated coach

    Ducan did a great job fo stoping Zak if pop would play Splitter on Gasol and Tim on Z-bo we would win going away!!! Splitter has out played Gasol for years over in Europe and Ducan can block most of Randolfs shots.

  • Kenrae

    Splitter has out played Gasol for years over in Europe? Really? You haven’t watched much european basketball, do you?

  • SAJKinBigD

    That is some ARR-SOME analysis!!! Hopefully we’ll take things to another level tonight!

    I have a question: Why is he called Z-Bo???

    Also… Tonight’s Refs are: Scott Foster | Ron Garretson | Leon Wood | Gary Zielinski (alternate).
    No Crawfords and Kennedy’s @ the NOLA-LAL game. Poor, poor Hornets… They’re gonna get smacked tonight… From all sides… :(

  • Manu.

    Splitter. Like I’ve been saying for a long time, Blair is useless as a defender when he’s playing a talented big. Maybe he could body up Gasol (who can’t really make a contested jumper) but Randolph can just shoot over Blair.

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  • Titletown99030507d

    It’s always been close between the two. It will be a fun rivalry to watch in the years to come if Pop allows it (I mean if he ever lets Splitter play the minutes like he should). Check this out.


  • Titletown99030507d

    It aint about RJ its about what’s going on down low that’s going to determine this series. Tonight people will see just how important it is to focus on the front court instead of shooting forever with reckless abandon.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Z-BO and Gasol. It takes a front court presence to be successful. Look at LA (Lakers).

  • Bruno

    Worse than Duncan/Dice in game 1 he can’t be. And he played well against some soft bigs

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  • Carolus86

    He’s one of the reasons of the Grizzlies improvement but not the only one, that 20something wins team was just a bunch of talented kids, it was expectable they’d be more competitive ias the time passed, also the promotion of Hollins was crucial and i think he doesn’t receive the credit he deserves.