The 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies have been shocking the world, with their 6-game defeat of top-seeded San Antonio and already taking a 1 game lead against Oklahoma City. There are some very interesting things to note in this team's rise to shocking heights:
1) The Grizzlies are - WITHOUT Rudy Gay
This is the most important development with the team in the 2nd half. On February 15, Rudy Gay got injured and ended up having to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. The Grizzlies won that game (against the 76ers) and ended the season 15-8 without Rudy Gay. This run included victories over San Antonio (twice), Boston, Ok City, Dallas, so it wasn't like they were just beating bad teams. The main reason the team is better without Rudy Gay is...
2) Tony Allen is playing more minutes
Tony Allen is averaging 13.3 ppg, 3.9 rebs, 2.2 assists, and 1.96 steals per game, in 29 minutes per game since February 15th (when Rudy Gay got injured). (Before-hand, he only played 17 minutes per game) Perhaps more telling is this though... Rudy Gay is averaging 0.123 win-share per 48 minutes and Tony Allen is at 0.152 Win-share per 48 minutes (which is at an All-Star Level, and I can't imagine what the win-share would be for just the latter part of the season, I just can't sort the data in that way). Despite what I originally exepected, Shane Battier is playing just 24 minutes per game on Memphis since playing on Feb. 26th, and only an average 0.097 win-share per 48 minutes.
Basically, Tony Allen is playing at an All-Star level if not beyond, because defensively, he has blossomed into one of the best defenders in the league. The best part was during Game 4 of the Spurs series with the game still close in the 3rd quarter, and there literally were 3 possessions in a row where Tony Allen either caused a steal, or a deflection that led to a steal. The most amazing part of his swarming defense was when Tim Duncan got the ball at the top of the paint, he faked left, and then immediately passed right, but Tony Allen KNEW THE PLAY, and ran at full speed to the location of where the pass was going to be, resulting in a 3-on-1 dunk. Tony Allen had no problems creating havoc for Ginobili, and in the Ok City game, he presumably helped out on Westbrook (9 of 23) and certainly on James Harden (2 of 5).
Tony Allen, as it turned out, may have been the most important free agent acquisition of 2010 (from Boston), outside of Miami and Boozer on Chicago.
3) Zach Randolph is... amazing after leaving New York and after 2009.
Zach Randolph's NBA career is mystifying. It started out with him hardly playing on Portland, then putting up huge numbers on a bad team, then becoming a character/problem issue, getting traded to the Knicks and doing absolutely nothing, getting traded to the Clippers and doing absolutely nothing, then the Grizzlies deciding to give him a chance, and Randolph suddenly becoming... an NBA All-Star?!?
His win-share /48 this season is a career-high 0.185, and in the playoffs is a preposterous 0.255. Zach Randolph used to never help you win... and now he's all about it!
I can't explain the sudden change the last two years, but it's funny because all I can think back to is the 2007 NBA draft, when NY traded for Zach Randolph and I didn't think too much of it because of Zach Randolph's negative influence. MJ thought it was a great trade because of Zach Randolph... as it turns out we were both right to some degree... it's just that Zach Randolph didn't prove to be a game-changer until he left NY, and I was right in that he had behavior problems then (just not forever).
I also have to apologize to the Memphis GM. I wrote a scathing piece when he acquired Zach Randolph's massive contract in 2009 (in exchange for a smaller, shorter expiring contract of Quentin Richardson). I said Memphis fans would throw up in their mouths... but I was really wrong. I'm not sure who's advising Zach Randolph or what has finally motivated him, but the Grizzlies are on a great ride, and it is due in large part to the acquisition of Randolph!
4) Marc Gasol is one of the best centers
I already knew this, but most of the league didn't. I think most of the league underestimated the amount of production Gasol and Randolph can do when it's the postseason and they play monster minutes. If OK City doesn't get Kendrick Perkins healthy soon, they too will be in serious danger against the Grizzlies.