The Basketball Jones 40: What does that mean exactly? Well, it’s a little hard to define. It’s certainly not a list of the 40 best players in the league right now — in fact, a couple players on the TBJ 40 would be ones that teams would gladly pay just to go away (and some have). And it’s not a list of our 40 favorite players, either — the combined man-hours that some of us have spent rooting against a couple of these guys would certainly disqualify that as well. It’s not even the 40 funniest or most interesting players, as a couple players are dull as dishwater off the court, but do enough on the hardwood to make their inclusion undeniable.
No, the best way we can define the Basketball Jones 40 is as the 40 players that are most important to our site right now. The players we write about the most, the players we follow the closest, the players that TBJ could least afford to be without. And what goes into that is an entire series of factors, ranging from their on-court success to their off-court headline making to their general likability as athletes, celebrities and human beings.
So hit the jump for No. 9 on our list …
The problem child made good, Zach Randolph is one of the nicer NBA redemption stories of recent years. Previously thought of as an immensely talented but undisciplined and uncoachable troublemaker, Randolph has emerged in his two seasons in Memphis not only as an elite NBA talent, but a legitimate franchise player and even a true team leader. Nobody could’ve seen it coming during his days in New York or Los Angeles, but after the Grizzlies’ first-round upset of the Spurs last post-season, we now live in a world where Zach Randolph is officially one of the most important players in pro basketball.
2011 Season: Zach’s regular season was a very good one, statistically perhaps even a superior one to his All-Star campaign the year before—even if he was snubbed in favor of Timberwolves stat-stuffer Kevin Love at this year’s ASG, to the consternation of some. But it was the post-season where Randolph really put foot to ass, hitting a game-sealing three (!!) against the Spurs in Game Three of their first-round series, and absolutely burying San Antonio with a series of late-game jumpers in Game Six. Discussed as a possible mover at the last trade deadline, after his ’11 post-season, and the accompanying $66 million contract he earned, for seemingly the first time in his career, nobody is talking about dealing Zach Randolph. (17/20)
Legacy/Career: Like our No. 10 player, Randolph’s early years were statistically brilliant, but littered with question marks. Since earning full-time starter duty with the Blazers in ’03-’04, when he was voted the league’s Most Improved Player, Zach has never averaged less than 17 and 8, and in fact has had five 20/10 seasons in his career, including each of the last three seasons. But it’s only recently that Randolph has proven that his stats can be converted to W’s, as the series win against the Spurs was the first of his career, and the first-time he even sniffed post-season ball since 2003. It’s not often you see franchise players play on four teams in the space of five years, which is fairly indicative of the difficulty teams have had with assessing Zach’s value. (7/10)
Drama/Controversy: Zach has been dogged by a bad rap since his days as a founding member of the Jail Blazers, getting arrested for smoking pot while driving, fighting with his fellow bad-seed teammates, and just generally keeping some unsavory company. However, in the years since, Randolph has been increasingly viewed as a good teammate, a team leader, and if not precisely a model citizen, then not an explicit troublemaker, either. You never know when his past might catch up with him, but Zach’s been mostly drama-free for some time now. (7/10)
Go-To Move: Also like our #10 player, Randolph’s go to move is a face-up on the wing, but Randolph’s is far more terrifying—unlike Bosh, who seems to use the pump-and-drive only when absolutely necessary, once you’re in Randolph’s kitchen, there’s no telling which way he’ll take you. His jumper is true as any, but his incredible size and strength also means he’ll be more than happy to back you into the paint, of which the Spurs are all too acutely aware after last April. (8/10)
Highlight Play: Gotta be that game-sealing trey against San Antone, a stupefying dagger for a player who had connected on 8 of 43 threes during the regular season. (9/10)
Comedic Potential: Strong for a guy who might have once seemed legitimately threatening. Now we hear stories of how he put off a pre-draft interview to finish an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants and just think to ourselves “Oh, Zach.” (8/10)
Nicknames: “Z-Bo,” randomly assigned to Zach by a middle-school classmate, has always done a pretty good job of conveying Randolph’s lovable silliness, while “Ga-Z-Bo,” chucklingly ascribed to Randolph by Knicks announcer Walt “Clyde” Frazier, might be even better. (8/10)
Definitive Quote: “We just finished the whole game. We played the whole 42 minutes.” (9/10)
Non-Hoops Ventures: Outside of occasional run-ins with the law, Zach’s non-hoops resume is pretty thin—likely due to his generally lackluster marketability for the first decade of his career. Don’t be surprised if you start to see him Subway ads in the not-too-distant future, though. (1/5)
Poignant NBA Relationship: Zach’s turbulent NBA career hasn’t left him much of a chance to make any lasting connections, though he and fellow undervalued grinder Marc Gasol are building a nice little rapport in the Memphis front-court. (2/5).
TOTAL SCORE: 76/100