by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

Who is Zach Randolph?

This simple question has long been the root of headaches and confusion for fans, pundits and executives around the NBA. With Zach Randolph, the common perception is that there’s no middle ground. He’s either the unstoppable mix of power and finesse—the mix that has earned him two max contracts—or he’s a lazy, destructive player who is ultimately a detriment to the health of an organization.

For me, though, this question has always had a linear, easy answer. In a League filled with enigmas, Randolph has always been one of the most transparent, you-know-what-you’re-getting players.

He’s 6-9, 260 pounds with the strength of a defensive lineman and footwork of a ballerina. A bizarrely perfect blend of fat and fluidity. Lethal back to the basket and face-up abilities, with an explosive first step and feathery touch out to 18 feet. Lefty. Unorthodox and undersized body that on the surface comes across as a disadvantage, yet he has full sovereignty on where, and how, he operates on the court. One of probably 10 or 12 NBA players who can go into Unstoppable Mode, scoring at will, and physically and mentally wearing opponents into submission. Not a franchise centerpiece, but probably can suffice as the second best player on a Championship team.

For me, it’s really that simple. Everybody has a bad day, and sometimes even a bad week(s), but with Randolph the reward easily outweighs any risk.

Roughly 18 months ago, the basketball world was in love with Randolph. He was Z-Bo, a player perceived to be among the NBA’s elite, and was celebrated as a legitimate All-Star.

And predictably, considering the myopic lens through which we view sports, roughly eight months later Randolph was, in many circles, back to being a “bum.” Skeptics said the 2011 Playoffs, when Randolph averaged 22 and 9 in the first round and 23 and 12 in the second round, was a fluke. Tim Duncan, probably the best power forward of all-time, would disagree with that sentiment. So would Kevin Durant. So does, it seems, Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

In an offseason filled with rumor and innuendo, Randolph ended up staying put. He wasn’t traded for Pau Gasol and wasn’t amnestied. Instead, he’s back as the starting power forward for the Memphis Grizzlies. And if history (and his right knee, which he says is fully healthy) is right, Randolph is back to continue the abuse.

Since the ’03-04 campaign—Randolph’s third year in the NBA—Randolph has averaged 19.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per season. If you exclude his shortened 46-game campaign in ’04-05 and 28-game campaign last year, Randolph’s numbers stand at 20.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per year.

That’s 20 and 10, for about a decade. That’s production. That’s coaches conceding that you can’t really stop Zach Randolph, you can only hope to contain him.

Although labeled a misfit, and sometimes even a criminal in Portland and New York, and now an indispensable talent in Memphis, Randolph has never really changed. He still takes over games, still hasn’t caused problems in the locker room (don’t know where that notion even began), still produces at a high level, still could careless what you think and is still getting max-contract money.

With Zach Randolph, maybe it’s not about digging deep and thinking hard to figure it out. Maybe you’re spending too much time obsessing with extremes to even acknowledge the middle ground. Because Randolph is right there, ready to average 20 and 10.

Where should Zach Randolph rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.