At the end of the 2016-2017 season, the Grizzlies found themselves in an unusual situation. Yes, they had just been eliminated from the playoffs after giving a good fight in the first round. That was a familiar theme. However, they had reached the postseason via a faster paced, offensively focused style of play.
The Core Four were still there. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley had the best offensive campaigns of their careers. The summer then brought the inevitable truth Grizz Nation had dreaded for a while. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen were gone. It was Conley and Gasol, and hopefully none of the others would touch the ball.
Despite all the change and new faces, the 2017-2018 season started unexpectedly well. A 5-1 record, with a win versus Golden State and two against Houston. It seemed after all the ups and downs, the transition to a new era in the franchise could still be successful. Unfortunately, no one who had survived this wild ride saw the cliff ahead.
2017-2018 In Review
Fast forward exactly a month from being 5-1, and its the day after they had fell to 7-12. In the midst of an 11 game losing streak, few knew Conley would only play two more games the rest of the season. Out of nowhere, the Grizzlies announced David Fizdale had been fired. Even more surprising, it was rumored that tension between Fizdale and Marc Gasol had lead to the coach’s dismissal. What had long been considered one of the league’s best locker rooms was now a circus.
The drama off the court certainly impacted the play on it. The Grizzlies went through stretches of losing that had not been seen in over a decade. One of the few bright spots was the play of the last cornerstone left standing. Last season, Gasol became the only seven footer in NBA History to average 17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 three and 1 block per game. On the surface, it could be argued this was the best season in Gasol’s career. However, a deeper dive shows it likely was one of the most frustrating.
Gasol’s production resulted from quantity rather than quality. This is not meant to downgrade Gasol’s performance, but to show the mess the Grizzlies were last year. Gasol registered the second highest usage rate of his career. The lack of talent around Gasol led to many offensive possessions ending with unfavorable shots. For instance, nearly 45% percent of Gasol’s shots were from 16 feet or more away from the basket.
The ineffective execution led to the lowest offensive rate and and lowest offensive win shares in Gasol’s career. Beyond that, the increased usage led to Gasol wearing out during games, This impacted his defense, resulting in the lowest defensive rating of his career. He simply was relied on to do too much, and the overall quality of his play suffered.
Best Case Scenario
As shown above, Gasol was very productive yet uncharacteristically ineffective last year. The Grizzlies made an attempt to correct this problem by significantly upgrading the overall quality of the roster. While this will result in less touches for Gasol, it should allow for better quality play. This approach appears beneficial for the Grizzlies in multiple ways.
For one, less usage will keep Gasol fresh. Less minutes and required effort should reduce the risk of injury for Gasol. Less touches frees up his ability to improve execution away from the ball. Rebounding seems to be one of bigger areas of concerns for the Grizzlies. Allowing Gasol to play near the rim should help minimize this issue. Along with rebounds, Gasol will have the energy to set effective screens, facilitate passes, and anchor the defense. It should also help him take smarter shots, thus improving his overall percentages.
Overall, utilizing Gasol’s skillset in an effective team concept maximizes his value. This gives the Grizzlies a better chance to have a good season. However, if the season were to unfortunately take a negative turn, it also could make Gasol attractive in trade talks. While very much a long shot, good play from Gasol could lead to a contender coming after him. This would give Gasol another chance at a title, and free up space for the Grizzlies to add more assets in the future.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst outcome for Gasol is simply a repeat of a story we have all heard before. An injury could cause Gasol to miss an extended period of time. This would severely hamper the Grizzlies chances at winning this year. It also likely guarantees they will owe 25 million to a 35 year old center coming off a significant injury.
The other scenario is similar to what played out last year. Injuries and ineffective play to others could result in higher usage for Gasol. Over the past 18 months, there have been multiple occasions where Gasol has made interesting comments. Basically, he has suggested he is open to the idea of winning elsewhere if it does not seem its likely here.
If the Grizzlies were too quickly fall out of contention, Gasol could decide its time for a change. This would put the front office in a awkward situation, one in which it will be hard to find a positive outcome. A losing season with an unhappy Gasol can only be defined as a nightmare.
Like he did for his country over the summer, I feel Marc Gasol will make Grizzlies’ fans very proud this year. While his best days are likely behind him, his ability to still significantly impact the game is clearly present . The good thing about Gasol is that bigs with his skill set typically age better than most post players. Even as his body becomes less reliable, Gasol still plays excellent team ball.
A good season from Gasol could lead down multiple avenues. It could lead to Gasol deciding to opt out of his contract and seek an opportunity with a contender next year. It could lead to a trade if the Grizzlies get a slam dunk offer. It could lead to an extension. The one thing that is more likely than any is that a good season for Gasol leads to positive results for both him and the Grizzles.
For a player and team that have been through so much together, that seems to be the best, and most likely, outcome.