by Maurice Bobb / @reesereport

You almost need to be a history buff to find Zach Randolph’s name on SLAMonline’s Top 50 Players list. Give up? It was September 15, 2006. He came in at No. 44 and then Debo’d his way to 23.6 ppg and 10.1 rpg that next year for the Blazers. Who says SLAMonline doesn’t know how to preZach Randolphdict a player’s impact?

But as Verbal Kint would say, “And like that, poof. He’s gone.”

Z-Bo was like Keyser Soze in ’08 and ’09—nowhere to be found in our rankings. Ah, but oh what a difference a change of scenery can make. Traded to the Memphis Grizzlies prior to last season, the crafty southpaw from Marion, IN experienced a rebirth, drop-steppin’, jab-steppin’ and pump faking his way to a beasty stat line of 20.8 points and a career-high 11.7 rebounds per contest, his first ever All-Star nod and a cozy No. 36 spot in our definitive rankings.

Sure, Randolph gets into trouble off the court as often as DMX, but on the court, the 6-9, 255-pound forward flat out produces. Check his vitae: Won the ’03-04 NBA Most Improved Player Award after bumping up his scoring and rebounding averages from 8.4 and 4.5 to 20.1 and 10.5, respectively; averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in three of his eight seasons in the League; ranks eighth among all NBA players in double-doubles since the start of his breakout ‘03-04 season with 191; has three career 40-point games and two where he went off for 20 points and 20 rebounds.

Most bball aficionados forget this, but Randolph had microfracture surgery in the summer of ’05 and didn’t miss a beat. He’s been destroying cats down low with little or no athletic ability. Why? Zach. Randolph. Is. A. Workhorse.

Despite operating in real estate clogged with taller and more athletically gifted big men, Randolph is the “ground bound mound of rebound,” somehow coming up with 4.1 offensive rebounds per without ever leaving his feet. Then there’s his vast arsenal of post moves that keep defenders guessing.

Z-Bo is also very deceptive in the way he pads the stat sheet. Even if you’re watching him play, you end up surprised by how many points and boards he has when the final buzzer sounds. Prior to landing in the host city of The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the largest pork barbecue cooking contest in the world, Randolph detractors banked on the Michigan State standout bringing a “black hole” mentality to the team’s offensive scheme.

But then a funny thing happened. The Grizz started ballin’. For real. Paired with the promising Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Z-Bo found purchase in Lionel Hollins’ system and gave his squad the jolt in the arm it needed to win 16 more games than the previous year.

With the steady improvement of all parts involved and the addition of sharpshooter Xavier Henry, Z-Bo & Co. will definitely wreck enough havoc to challenge for a playoff berth next summer. And though there is a dark legal cloud circling above Randolph’s noggin (to date, he has not yet been charged with any crime after he was accused of being a “major marijuana supplier”), he reportedly will hit training camp 30 pounds lighter. If that’s true, the man whose feet stick to the hardwood like chewing gum may actually start going aerial on the opposing D and they ain’t ready for that.

Ray AllenCelticsSG50361110
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG4934109
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646912
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR8NR
Andrew BogutBucksC39NR4NR
Yao MingRocketsC38NR3NR
Brandon JenningsBucksPG37NR11NR
Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF36NR11NR

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.