There’s a line of reasoning to argue that Marc Gasol has been one of the ten best players in the NBA this season, and that could also be true of like 15 other guys, but still, he has been terrific. He’s back to anchoring the league’s top defense again, looking different from last season even when he was healthy, and at the same time he’s been the Grizzlies’ most important player on offense. It’s hard to overlook the magnitude of that: Gasol is truly, really doing it all. Light work at the tender age of 31.
Rebounding, where he’s down to a career worst 6.0 boards per game, could be the area to nitpick, but it hasn’t affected Memphis’ defense much — they still rank fourth in defensive rebounding percentage. I don’t care about that so much right now. What blows my mind, though, is Gasol’s work on offense, and he’s fresh off 20+ point games in four of his last five, so let’s talk about that.
Count the career-highs: Gasol’s posting personal bests in points (19.7 per game), assists (4.3) and, of course, three-pointers made (1.4 on a sweet 41.1 percentage, and with only three attempts from the corners). Again: the guy is 31, turning 32 at the end of the month. It would’ve been absurd to expect this.
We should thank David Fizdale for the threes, and probably also for Gasol’s career high in a different stat: field goals attempted, at 15.9 per game. An established fact of history is that Gasol should’ve taken more shots, because he’s so good at making so many different kinds of them (case in point, the threes). Now, at the same time as his range expands, he’s also being more assertive about taking the open shot — so suddenly, he’s quick-firing on transition threes.
It’s kind of funny timing too, since Fizdale said straight from the start that his offense would be less about emphasizing the bigs. It used to be that Mike Conley was the initiator or the bail-out guy, with Gasol and the high-low game eating up the juicy middle part of the shot clock. That relationship has sort of inverted now — Gasol usually gets the ball early in the clock, but the Grizzlies have more options for Conley and their cutters instead of running straight post-ups.
(Take a break now to read the homie Andrew Ford break down one sweet instance of the Grizzlies’ funky new flex stuff.)
The takeaway is that the Grizzlies don’t rely on Gasol as their go-to nearly as much as they used to. And that depends on a couple of things, like match-ups or who’s in the lineup on a given night or if he’s just feeling it, but I think you can quite clearly tell that Fizdale means to move to a more egalitarian style where Gasol and Chandler Parsons take on some of the point guard’s facilitating duties to activate Conley off the ball. Even when Gasol’s playing with Andrew Harrison and Broken Parsons, it mostly holds true.
So the fact that he’s taking more shots and his stats are up across the board really is the complete package, coming organically within the flow of the offense instead of being the kind of situation where it’s like, we know you can take 16 shots per game so here’s the ball. I’m sure the injuries are also a factor and Conley starts biting into his shot attempts eventually, but not just that. Gasol is still the guy who wants to dish, but now he’s more willing to just shoot the open shot himself. Over the last little while, say the last two or three weeks, I feel like this has been more clear.
That general area near the top of the key is where a big man can really orchestrate and make passes to any area of the court, and Gasol owns that space now more than ever. If he’s open, he’s letting that thing go. Gasol is actually one of the league leaders in catch-and-shoot field goals attempted, tied with Serge Ibaka for third at 6.5 per game. Even beyond the threes, his game has migrated outwards, and that really opens up his passing for the rest of the team.
The old reliable post-up touches have mostly been moved to the end of the shot clock, and it stands out to me that Gasol’s converting 50 percent of his two-pointers with fewer than seven seconds left on the shot clock. That’s huge! When the shot clock is expiring is also when your offense has mostly played out its options and finding a quality shot becomes harder, so for Marc to be so effective as the bail-out guy really saves those lost possessions.
We’re not talking about a huge sample or a particularly reliable one, probably like 100 shots or something and most of them very hard, but Gasol has been valuable so far. If he keeps bringing anything near the stuff he’s come with so far, the Grizzlies will do fine.
Around the league, everybody’s coming with the good stuff and I have a really hard time picking out the best players this season (eight 50-point games already is wild), but Gasol is right up there. And it’s cool, since last season was this huge bummer on every level and the Grizzlies were already kind of old and there was this nagging concern that everything they put together for this season would just collapse.
That’s happening soon, one day. This is mostly a topic for another time, but it’s also why I think that if Gasol and Conley believe the team should just shoot its shot and trade their young talent (say Zach Randolph and two or three of Wade Baldwin, JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis and first round picks) for Paul Millsap, then you do that, even if Millsap becomes a rental or you’re stuck with some bad contracts three years down the road.
Millsap or no, the Grizzlies probably aren’t winning the championship, but that’s not the point. The point is, things are going great for Marc and I’m grateful. This really feels like as good as Gasol possibly could’ve been this season, and it’s a great feeling. I guess we’ll figure the rest out one way or another, but it’s been fun so far.