May the 4th 2014, the morning after the night before, many of us are sat around feeling sorry for ourselves following the Grizzlies game 7 loss in Oklahoma. But not Marc Gasol, no, Marc hits the gym as he begins his quest to transform himself into an NBA champion rather than just a Western Conference also ran.
After the game 7 loss against OKC the next time we would see Marc in action was in Spain's first game of the FIBA World Cup, he had lost a ton of weight and was destroying all his opponents right up until the quarter finals when France eliminated Spain. I, for one couldn't wait to see him back in his Grizzlies uni ready to start the new season.
Marc took to the court on the 29th of October as the Grizzlies opened the new season at home against the Timberwolves. What he went on to do in the game was nothing short of incredible. 32 points, hitting 12-17 from the field, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks as the Grizzlies recorded a 105-101 win. The new look Wendingo had arrived in Memphis and hasn't looked back since.
Right from the get go Marc has been mentioned to be in the running to win the MVP award this season, but could he also be in the frame to win the Most Improved Player award, and in doing so become the first player in history to win both awards in the same season?
Marc's stats for the season so far are as follows:
Points per game - 20.1 (5.5 ppg higher than last season)
Rebounds per game - 8.3 (1.1 rpg higher than last season)
Assists per game - 3.8 (0.2 apg higher than last season)
Blocks per game - 1.6 (0.3 bpg higherr than last season)
Steals per game - 0.9 (0.1 spg lower than last season)
PER - 23.1 (4.9 higher than last season)
Gasol has also logged 4 30+ point games this season and 13 games putting up 20+ points. Prior to this season he had just 1 game in his career in which he had put up at least 30 points. He has had 2 separate games in which he has dished out 9 assists and recorded multiple blocks on 16 separate occasions, including a season high 6 in the home win over Charlotte.
*all stats are correct as of 1/2/15*
It's not just the stat sheet that has improved for Gasol this season though, we have seen how he has improved physically with his dramatic weight loss, he improved mentally as he came to realise that he could take this team over and become the main scoring option for the team. He also improved aggressively as he began looking to shoot more often rather than be the facilitator for his team mates.
But why should Marc be named MIP this season? Elite players of 30 years of age can't win this award can they? Maybe not, but surely Gasol has to be in the top 5 improved players this year, can you name 4 other players that have shown more improvement than Big Spain has this season?
History tells us Marc shouldn't win this award, Hedo Turkoglu holds the record for being the oldest player to win the award. He was 28 years old in 2008 when he won the award whilst playing for the Orlando Magic.
Turkoglu was playing for a team that would reach the Eastern Conference semi finals before being eliminated by the Detroit Pistons. During the regular season Hedo had improved his averages from the season before by 6.2 points per game, 1.8 assist per game and 1.7 rebounds per game. He finished the season setting new career highs in all 3 categories. Turkoglu won the award with 61 first place votes, with Rudy Gay coming in 2nd in the voting.
If Gasol were to win the award this year he would become the first center to win the award since 2002 when Jermaine O'Neal won the award whilst playing for the Indiana Pacers. During the regular season he led the team in both scoring and rebounding. At the end of the season he had set career highs of 19 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game. O'Neal was 23 years of age when he won the award.
The MIP award is typically reserved for younger players who show dramatic improvement over their first few years in the league. But when players get to 29 years of age, like Gasol, it becomes harder to show the same level of improvement. Which is why I believe it is phenomenal what Marc has done so far this season, this is the reason Marc needs to be in the running for the award. It will be extremely difficult for him to win it, as he's been a quality player in the league for a while now, which will make him a less obvious candidate. But other than Jimmy Butler there isn't any other player who has shown the same level of improvement as Marc has.
To complete the sweep and take home the MVP award as well Marc will have to overcome the talents of the likes of Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. Again, a very difficult task which will be made harder by the fact the Grizzlies don't receive as much national attention as the teams of the players mentioned above. Though if Gasol can keep up the level of performance that he's shown so far this season he should come extremely close to gaining enough votes to win the MVP award.
I'm sure that come the end of the season Marc Gasol would happily give up any individual awards that may come his way for the opportunity to parade the Larry O'Brien trophy down Beale Street. If he does so could Marc then decide to leave Memphis for pastures new? It's hard to tell, but whatever happens between now and June we need to enjoy what Marc is giving us this season and appreciate the greatness we are witnessing.