Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies’ struggles and reports of Marc Gasol clashing with well-liked head coach David Fizdale seemed to have a profound impact on how general NBA fans viewed and enjoyed Marc Gasol’s play. Unlike in previous seasons, Gasol didn’t receive highlight videos and clips on Twitter of his talented and dynamic passing, increased shooting from beyond the arc, or his plethora of post moves.
In some way, this was justified. There were numerous times throughout the season that Gasol didn’t truly seem engaged or inspired (and who could blame him with the teammates he played alongside for the majority of the season due to injuries and a full on tank towards the end of the year?) Gasol still put up respectable numbers (17.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game), but saw his efficiency take quite a hit as a result of being the primary option night in and night out.
However, things are different heading into the upcoming campaign. Mike Conley will be back at point guard, and the Grizzlies have added several pieces to their rotation, most notably Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Garrett Temple. Each of those players can bring their own touch and impact to the offense, but it’s important that all of them are able and willing to play off-the-ball alongside Gasol, a brilliant big man passer.
When it comes to big men that can pass, most of the attention is on Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, and rightly so. The Serbian big man can and will make any pass, whether they are touch passes in the pick-and-roll, over-the-head passes, alley-oop lobs, you name it. However, let’s not forget that before Jokic rose to stardom, it was Marc Gasol who received the most admiration for his passing at his position.
Gasol has averaged over 3.6 assists per game every season since the 2011-12 campaign, and he has used this passing ability to create quality opportunities for teammates and put his stamp on the offense without scoring. Gasol can make a lot of the passes that Jokic does, including full-court length passes, finding teammates on cuts, and more. Below are some examples of Gasol’s passing from this past season, using a variety of passes to help teammates get easy baskets:
Additionally, Gasol isn’t afraid to let it fly - with a full court length pass that is:
For Gasol’s passing to truly be unlocked and valuable, his teammates need to know how and when to cut to the rim and be found for layups and dunks. Dillon Brooks showed the capability to do so, and both Anderson and Temple should have no trouble fitting in in this regard, as both have excelled as cutters in recent seasons.
As a result of his limited shooting, Anderson understands the value in cutting when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. In the clips below, Anderson displays his keen awareness to cut to the rim when opposing defenders are focused on his teammates, most notably LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol (see, Anderson already has experience cutting to the rim for a pass from a Gasol!).
Anderson, who will serve as a secondary and tertiary playmaker, will have no problem contributing off-the-ball, cutting to the rim when playing alongside Marc Gasol, another reason why his fit in the offense shouldn’t as much of an issue as some have brought up.
When it comes to Jackson Jr.’s ability to play off-ball alongside Gasol, that is where the fit will take a bit more work. When Gasol has the ball and is operating in the low block, it will be important that Jackson Jr. is hitting his 3-pointers in order to be respected by defenses beyond the arc.
If Jackson Jr. is hitting his 3-pointers at a league average rate (or better), Gasol will be able to find him when defenses collapse in to take away Gasol’s post moves. Additionally, it wouldn’t be surprising to see big-big pick-and-rolls/pops between Gasol and his understudy, as both project to be capable shooters from beyond the arc.
If Jackson Jr. struggles from beyond the arc, his lack of additional offensive skills will allow defenses to sag off of him and contain Gasol and Conley. Jackson would benefit from sharpening his shooting and working with Anderson, Temple, Brooks, etc. on when and where to cut when Gasol has the ball in his hands.
Other rotation players (Conley, Brooks, Green, etc.) have experience playing alongside Gasol and feeding off his passing. It’s very likely that Temple, Anderson and Jackson Jr. will fit in alongside them and be able to receive quality open looks from Gasol, further bolstering the Grizzlies’ offense.
Passing from the big man positions used to be a niche component of a team’s offense. As a result of players such as Gasol and Jokic, it has become a primary option for teams, and teammates that buy-in to playing in such a system benefit with quality looks on a regular basis. While Jokic may have made passing big men cool in recent seasons, Gasol was the one making impressive and timely passes out of the post or at the top of the key before Jokic’s ascension.
With a healthy and improved set of teammates around him this season, look for Gasol’s passing to make a return in the box score and in highlight packages as he looks to lead the Grizzlies revamped offense. The Grizzlies shouldn’t look to take the ball out of Gasol’s hands more as a result of the offseason additions. Rather, an increase in cutting and playmaking out of the post can make the team’s offense more dynamic.
It all starts with Marc Gasol.