It stands to reason that any sports team, regardless of the competition, is better when their best player is at their best.
Why, then, is it OK for fans of the Memphis Grizzlies to focus on the wrong area all of the time when it comes to what is truly ailing the ball club?
It is pretty easy to point the finger at Jeff Green. He is a career net-zero to net-negative player who has many defensive lapses and at times makes plays that leave you scratching your head. He is at best the third best player on these Grizzlies, though, and when Memphis is at their best he is usually the fifth or sixth best. Not a knock on Jeff, just the truth, but so often his head is called for on a silver platter.
Another common target? Head Coach Dave Joerger, whose searching for lineups that click may have stumbled upon some success finally against the Miami Heat. Joerger consistently allows for the mistakes of his predecessor to creep in to his game and lineup management, forgoing youth and embracing "nasty" veterans whom he no doubt feels he can trust more when the moment gets big. That makes it hard to develop younger players, though, and this has Grizzlies fans scratching their heads more often than not.
The list goes on and on and on...but a name that should be at the top of the list that is absent far too often.
Yes, Gasol had a tremendous overtime period against the Heat, and yes, we will always have this glorious image to remember from the last game of the year 2015-
The truth of the matter is, though, that before the OT period Marc was actually part of the reason the game needed extra time to begin with. He took two shots in the fourth quarter, missing them both, and scored only two points. Those shot attempts came at the 8:38 and 1:04 minute marks of the final frame, meaning there was a whopping 7 minute 34 second gap of time where the best player on the roster, and arguably the best one on the court, did not attempt a single field goal.
Then, overtime happened and Gasol became "Big Spain" using a monstrous effort worthy of the nickname "Wendigo" to lead the Grizzlies to an important win. Again, it was awesome to see...but we haven't see that Gasol, the First-Team All-NBA Center Gasol, enough this season. I have already asked for more Marc this season, as was documented here, and it has led to mixed results. Gasol is posting some pretty poor numbers in a variety of categories this season, according to basketball-reference.com-
|Offensive Rating||106||Career Low|
|Net Rating||+1||Career Low|
|Win Shares Per 48 Minutes||.116||Career Low|
Keep in mind that the 20013-2014 season is the one where Marc sprained his knee and missed a large chunk of time. His last season with that low of a PER number where he played more than 60 games? 2010-2011.
An awful lot of career lows for the man who just signed a nice, fat, life-changing max contract. The contract isn't his fault, but is it a coincidence that his early issues coincided with a slow start for Memphis? Absolutely not.
That isn't to say that Gasol loosened the reigns too much and isn't trying; on the contrary, he appears to be trying too hard to get other players in the right spots. Communication issues are prevalent throughout the Grizzlies' defensive rotations in particular, right now, and that is leading to wide open attempts for shooters, especially from range.
Marc is still tremendously important to Memphis' defense- according to NBA.com/stats, the Grizzlies' defensive rating is +1.3 better when "Big Spain" is on the floor. But compare that to, say, when other Grizzlies are on/off- Mario Chalmers' impact is larger, at a defensive improvement of seven points, whereas Courtney Lee's improvement of 4.4 also towers over Gasol's. Marc is asked to do far more than these two players are, but the fact remains that Gasol is not consistently having the impact necessary so far this season, especially defensively where scheme is so dependent on his game-changing timing and understanding of rotations and help defense...
Then, the recent switch in the starting lineup. Marc Gasol has improved his game since the move to a smaller starting unit. His net rating is at +7.7 during that stretch, second on the team behind Mike Conley among players who have played in all ten games (amazing how those two playing better can lead to better Grizzlies' basketball, isn't it?) He has shown more aggression at times, he has shown more emotion, and most importantly, that elite defensive awareness may well be back, as this series of screen shots shows-
Marc needs to know that he is needed to meet Dragic at the paint, but in the past he may have helped too soon before Dragic commits, or perhaps he played a passing or driving lane too aggressively. He diagnoses it well this time.
The angle that Marc takes here is so key. He is in a spot to clog a passing lane out to the three-point potential attempt of Deng, while still being able to defend Dragic off of the pick. Jeff Green is not in as good of position...no one is surprised.
Marc's defensive prowess has never been about tremendous leaping ability or elite athleticism. It has been about smarts, about recognizing offensive sets and responding accordingly. When Gasol is on his game defensively, the rest of the team follows and feeds off of his knowledge and ability to place and position the pieces around him. When the defensive side of things is clicking for Memphis, it often carries over to the offensive side of the court. They feed off of each other, and Gasol is an integral part of that getting started.
Want the Grizzlies to perform better more consistently? Stop pointing the fingers at the Jeff Greens and Dave Joergers of the world. The franchise, the cornerstone, the $110 million man, is Marc Gasol, and as he goes, the Grizzlies go. The Miami Heat game just drove that point home one more time, and hopefully hes performance will launch "Big Spain" into a dominant run of success not just for himself, but for his teammates who so desperately need him to help them reach their potential.