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The Marc Gasol Gamble

Will Marc Gasol ever reach his full potential, and should the Grizzlies wait for him to?

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

After making the All-Star team for the third time in his career and averaging a career-high in points per game, you’d think that fans would be satisfied with Marc Gasol’s performance this past year. But that definitely isn’t the case. Rather, it’s left the fans wanting more as Gasol under-performed in the postseason.

His numbers overall weren’t shabby. In fact, they were quite impressive. For the year, Gasol averaged 19.5 points, 3.2 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game. In addition, he shot a career-high 104 three pointers on the season. He made the All-Star team, and he came back from his previous injury fully healthy at the tip of this past season.

What more could you ask for, right...?

Well, here’s the problem. Marc Gasol is considered a franchise player. Mike Conley has been climbing the ladder over the years, and he also had a career year this past season in many aspects. But Marc Gasol has been the main face of the franchise for a while. He’s Memphis’ center, and he definitely is the center of success for this team. As Marc goes, the Grizzlies go.

That can be a good thing...and a bad thing.

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

As the season progressed, Marc’s stats declined. After the All-Star break, Gasol dealt with some minor injuries that kept him sidelined a handful of games, and the aggressive Marc Gasol we saw at the beginning of the season started to fade as Mike Conley took the lead. In the playoffs, this was especially apparent if you watched the games, but it wasn’t obvious by the stats. Marc scored 32 points in the first game (a loss) against the Spurs. He averaged 19.3 PPG in the 6 games of the series.

However, it was interesting to watch Marc’s body language and aggressiveness in those games. Aside from Game 1, in Memphis’ losses in the series, Gasol was at least in part to blame. He was 15-39 (38.4%) combined from the field in Games 2, 5, and 6 (all losses). In addition, he was a combined 1-5 from three in those games. In Memphis’ wins in the series, Gasol was a total of 13-26 from the field, and 3-4 from three point range.

Yet again, it was proven that the Grizzlies succeed when Marc Gasol takes a dominant role on both ends of the floor. But when Gasol retreats into the shell of his former self, Memphis struggles. Although Mike Conley carried the Grizzlies for the second half of last season and the playoffs, it just wasn’t enough. For the Grizzlies to go to the next level, they’ll need Gasol to help take them there.

The Grizzlies took a gamble on Gasol when they switched his brother for him years ago, and now they’re at another crossroads with the franchise.

The Grizzlies could try to use him as a trading piece, as our McCarty Maxwell discusses here.

On the other hand, Memphis could continue to roll with Marc Gasol at the helm and continue to put pieces around him and Mike Conley. After all, having him help lead this team has resulted in the Grizzlies making the playoffs for seven straight years. Having Marc Gasol, a consistent center who now can shoot threes as well, is an extremely valuable asset. Would the Grizzlies even get the appropriate return for him in a trade? Or would they just get pieces for the future, thus putting Mike Conley in a tough position?

This Gasol situation is very similar to a gambit in chess:

Gambit - (in chess) an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.

By keeping Gasol at the helm with Conley, the Grizzlies are taking a huge risk that may or may not pay off in the future. This term “gambit” doesn’t just apply in chess, as the word implies something that is a calculated risk for a hope of a future advantage in business and politics.

Well, in the business of basketball for the Memphis Grizzlies, Marc Gasol’s future with the team is a risk in some ways. Mike Conley has secured his place as a top point guard in the league, and Gasol has surely solidified his position as one of the best centers in the league. But can the duo of Gasol and Conley take the Grizzlies farther than ever before, or has this group hit their ceiling?

A lot of this depends on Gasol’s willingness to push more than he ever has before, both physically and mentally. Gasol has to become better at taking his aggressive mentality beyond just one stretch of the season and extend it into the playoffs.

We’ve seen Mike Conley break out, and we’ve seen Marc Gasol play dominantly. Now, it’s time for Gasol to do that consistently with Mike Conley performing at a high level by his side.

The Grizzlies have a lot of questions in this offseason. Should they keep the Core Four together? Will Chandler Parsons be fully healthy come the tip of the new season? Should Memphis reconstruct this team, or roll with what they got?

There have been some complaints about Marc’s attitude throughout the season. Gasol is a competitive guy, everyone knows that, and he’s hard on himself and his team. I have zero problem with Gasol voicing concerns and even complaints, as long as he takes responsibility for what he can control himself.

With some grumbling about possibly trading Marc Gasol, let me ask you this: what will you realistically get for Gasol? That is, if you want success now?

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies are in a poor drafting situation over the next handful of years, but they’ve taken previous risks and are currently choosing to play their gambit, which is Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies need to continue voicing their support of Gasol’s leadership, unless they want to trade him for young pieces and start over...which doesn’t seem like the best option at this point, given the other pieces the Grizzlies have on the board.

In the end, Marc controls the Grizzlies’ ceiling. It’s do or die for Memphis right now, and their players aren’t getting any younger. Big Spain has the capability of taking the Grizzlies far alongside Mike Conley, but his injuries and disappointing performances in the playoffs have hindered Memphis. At this point, it isn’t really about adding another shooter. If Parsons is healthy, they already have that. In the end, the ball is in Gasol’s court.

If the Grizzlies continue to roll with Gasol, he’s got to take his game to the next level. And it doesn’t involve him changing his game to something different. Rather, it involves him showcasing his current skills on a more consistent basis. Also, it involves him taking the advice of others by being more aggressive night in and night out, rather than just when Mike Conley is having an off night or is on the sidelines. Gasol has to prove that in the crunch time of the season and postseason that he’s the player Memphis should rely on, otherwise Memphis might have to go back to the drawing board.

The Grizzlies have taken some other gambles with players in the past, but the epitome of this has been Marc Gasol. He’s proven critics wrong, and he’s shown he can be elite. But all the talk of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol leading Memphis to the finish line is getting old, and the two of them definitely aren’t getting any younger. So it’s time for Marc Gasol to take responsibility of this team’s future and for the gamble to pay off.