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Twin towers: Playing Marc Gasol and Kosta Koufos together

Stick two skillful (enough) seven-footers on the floor, and you've got a workable lineup.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Something that Dave Joerger has experimented with before is a twin towers lineup of Marc Gasol and Kosta Koufos. In the absence of a particularly good backup power forward, and with two terrific centers at his disposal, it's not surprising that Joerger would try the twin towers look. And in spot minutes, it worked out.

Second quarters are usually when coaches go deepest into their bench. Starters play through the first quarter for the most part, and then some coaches will trot out an all-bench lineup at the outset of the second. The starters come trickling back to the game from there on. Joerger does the same, and Koufos usually joins Jon Leuer in the frontcourt to start second quarters.

There's a point midway through second quarters, or sometimes in fourth quarters, that Koufos stays on as Gasol switches in for Leuer. It's a way to bridge the time between when the second unit plays and when the first unit plays, with a lineup that can hold its own within the flow of the game.

Lineups with both Gasol and Koufos struggled last season and have had mixed results this season, with a net rating of +1.2 (below Grizz average for a two-man pairing). They predictably shut down opponents on defense, with a defensive rating of 96.9 in 94 minutes this season, but struggle on offense to the tune of a 98.1 offensive rating. And because of how important the matchup is with a twin towers lineup, the mixed results aren't surprising.

But the ingredients for success, at least in careful portions, are there. Gasol and Koufos are both capable of stopping a drive in its tracks and have the mobility to play out to the perimeter against pick-and-rolls – Koufos in particular can hedge out pretty hard. Teams try to expose defenses by drawing a big man out of the paint in the pick-and-roll, but with two rim protectors on, it's a lot harder to use the pick-and-roll to bend defenses.

Look here, as the Utah Jazz are able to get Gasol out of the paint by involving Enes Kanter in a pick-and-roll, but still run into Koufos zoning up the paint. The value of having two rim protectors on the floor is very real.

Impenetrable isn't the right word for a Gasol and Koufos frontcourt, but certainly a twin towers pairing has a harder shell to crack. There will always be someone to contest looks in the paint, and conveniently with these two bigs, they also happen to be difficult to expose outside of it. Both are mobile enough to handle assignments that take them to the perimeter.

Even when opposing teams actively try to stretch out the two big men, the Grizzlies' defense runs like a well-oiled machine. The Hornets counter the twin towers look by matching Koufos up with Marvin Williams and try to clear the lane by luring Gasol out on the pick-and-roll, but even still, the Grizz stuff the play and Koufos rotates crisply even with his man spotting up from 3:

(Of course, the Hornets' floor spacing isn't that great – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is no threat from outside.)

The Grizzlies' defensive rebounding rate shoots up when both centers are on the court, and that shouldn't surprise anyone. Having two 7-footers on the floor is an awful lot of Grizzly boxing opponents out.

Where the pairing gets interesting is on offense. The idea of playing two centers always rings with some uncertainty, interior spacing being the main concern. Centers that can shoot are rare, and often, they're as much a "stretch 4" as they are a center when it comes to designation. Few shooting bigs offer any real form of rim protection, and the ones that do are generally stars.

Only one of Gasol and Koufos can really knock down a midrange jumper with consistency, and Marc's range doesn't extend to 3 – a hard cap on how much defenses will fear his jumper. The interior spacing situation will never be particularly good, and the Grizzlies have to adjust their offense for it.

Driving into the lane becomes much more difficult (though not impossible), and the Grizzlies have to constantly screen away from the ball just to get their bigs out of the paint. Gasol becomes the fulcrum of the offense, which isn't a bad thing, simply out of necessity because the alternative is forcing guards to weave through bodies in the paint. A lot of the usual options disappear, replaced by the need to accommodate two non-shooting centers.

Look how many bodies Courtney Lee runs into here after the curl, forcing him to take the leaning jumper off the bounce (and notice the offense running through Gasol in the post with Koufos setting a high screen – that's a planned attempt to engineer spacing):

But with that said, both Gasol and Koufos are smart and skilled enough to eke out spacing in the less conventional ways, getting them by on offense as much as is possible. Gasol, of course, is a savant on offense. He's practically interchangeable from the low block to the high post, with a full toolbox for working from anywhere in between. The murky depths of the baseline that often go ignored in basketball are where Koufos thrives, and he's smart about flashing in and out of the paint to keep his man honest. Something like this is workable:

Gasol and Koufos set hard screens, fill lanes smoothly, seal their man well, and have good touch on in-between float shots, all little things that contribute towards juicing as much as spacing as possible out of the duo.

Out of necessity, playing the two together "activates" some of the more crafty quirks in each player's skillset. Quirks don't instantly make a robust offense, but the two can demonstrate skillful chemistry all the same. Watch Gasol tuck in this nifty dish to Koufos on the roll:

As long as the Grizzlies' roster structure remains the same, this lineup matters. It's a good way to bump up Koufos' criminally-low playing time, but more importantly, it serves the Grizzlies better on the court. While there is a time and place for the more traditional power forward in Jon Leuer, it's worth noting that the Grizzlies have posted an ugly -8.6 net rating when Leuer shares the floor with Gasol. Leuer and Koufos are also a negative together, managing a -2.8 net rating. Leuer has been uninspiring.

There will be matchups where it isn't plausible, where a rangy, shooting 4 will be preferred for the offensive flavor. And Joerger will have to line up his substitutions carefully to get Gasol and Koufos on the floor together, so as not to wear out both of his centers without a third one behind them on the roster. But come the postseason, when rotations get shortened and teams need to play their very best lineups, deploying Gasol and Koufos together will be a valuable card for Joerger to have up his sleeve.