Prior to the return of sports this summer, we found ourselves desperate for entertainment in any form we could find it. In March, music super-producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz decided to have a friendly competition on Instagram Live to entertain fans by giving fans hours of nostalgic moments from the hit records played and the stories about how these songs came together. This has since grown over the course of the pandemic, as musicians celebrate their contributions to the music business while engaging in friendly competition.
Sadly, there is no perfect medium to do this for sports. As we prepare for potentially the longest offseason in the NBA’s history, I wanted to dive into Grizzlies history to give the Memphis Grizzlies their own form of Verzuz celebrating past and present members of the team for their contributions to the franchise. For the first “battle,” I couldn’t think of a better pairing than two former franchise cornerstones and fan favorites: Pau and Marc Gasol.
Marc is the more appreciated of the two, but both of the Gasol brothers are Memphis Grizzlies royalty. Their Grizzlies careers are parallel to one another in a variety of ways. Both Gasols arrived to the Grizzlies after stints with FC Barcelona in their home country of Spain. The Grizzlies acquired both via trades. Pau arrived on draft night in 2001 in a trade that sent Shareef Abdur-Rahim to Atlanta for his rights as the third overall pick. Marc arrived in 2008 via the mega trade that sent his older brother Pau to the Lakers for his rights, along with a number of short-term Grizzlies including Kwame Brown.
While Marc did not have the immediate pressure that was placed upon his older brother Pau, they both arrived to Memphis at the beginning of new eras in the franchise’s history. Pau became the face of the newly-christened Memphis Grizzlies in their first year removed from Vancouver, while Marc arrived in Memphis as the team eas trying to find its next star in the post-Pau Gasol era. Both Gasol’s arrived to a Memphis franchise in flux that found itself at home at the bottom of the West, but ultimately left the franchise better than when they arrived. The duo broke records, giving fans memories that will last forever along the way.
The question is - who had the better career as a Memphis Grizzly?
Tale of the Tape
Pau Gasol (7 seasons): 18.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.8 BPG 51 FG%, 21.6 PER (reg. season); (3 postseasons): 20 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.5 BPG 49 FG%
Marc Gasol (11 Seasons): 15.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.5 APG 48.4 FG% 34 % 3PT, 18.5 PER ; (6 postseasons) 17.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.7 BPG, 45% FG. 39% 3PT
The Sidney Lowe era in Memphis was something...to put it nicely. The coach won 46 games in his 2 years, as the Grizzlies coach with a number of questionable decisions made along the way. His first mistake upon the Grizzlies arrival in Memphis was in the first-ever home game was to have new franchise player Pau Gasol come off the bench in his NBA debut. In Pau’s NBA debut he came off the bench behind Stromile Swift, playing 17 minutes — scoring 4 points, grabbing 4 rebounds to go along with an assist and a block in an uneventful debut in a November 2001 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni did not make the same mistake as Lowe, as Marc Gasol made his NBA debut October 2008 against Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets as a starter alongside future “Core Four” member Mike Conley. The Grizzlies would lose his debut, but he was more impactful on the game’s outcome than his older brother. He garnered a double-double scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to go with 2 blocks in 36 minutes, showing Grizzlies fans a glimpse of what was to come for the next decade.
Best Game: (Per John Hollinger’s Win Score metric):
Pau and Marc Gasol are two of the most prolific scorers, rebounders and playmakers in Grizzlies franchise history. Pau spent more time as the number one option, as Marc had much better teams around himm but both had the ability to completely takeover games in a variety of ways. Their work speaks for itself as both Gasol’s are found in the top-5 in franchise history in virtually every statistical category. The question is who had the best game between the two in their tenures in Memphis?
Pau Gasol had a number of great games as a Memphis Grizzly, but his “best” game came in a January 2008 loss vs. the Golden State Warriors, one of his final games as a Grizzly. Pau scored 43 points, while grabbing 11 rebounds and shooting 17 of 25 from the field in almost 45 minutes of action. Sadly all highlights have been wiped from the internet, but this was Pau Gasol at his best attacking the basket, getting the opposition in foul trouble, making his free throws and pouring in shots from the midrange going 4-7 from that area of the floor. This performance still stands as the second-highest individual scoring game in franchise, only surpassed by a 45-point appearance by Mike Miller — and the second best game in his career only surpassed by a 46-point performance in 2015 with the Bulls. The game score stat maxes out at 40…Pau Gasol got a 36 for this showing, which is extremely impressive given the era of basketball that was just beginning to usher in the stretch big. And it also makes it extremely difficult for Marc to top.
Marc Gasol’s best regular season performance came in December 2015, as the “Core Four” plus Jeff Green were in New Orleans to face the Pelicans. In this game, Marc Gasol put on a performance that would make even James Harden envious, going a perfect SIXTEEN for sixteen from the free throw line on the way to a 38-point, 13-rebound, 6-assist, and 4-block nightm leading the Grizzlies to a 9-point victory over the Pelicans. Gasol took advantage of a matchup against Pelicans starting center Alexis Ajinca, getting whatever he wanted in the paint and a number of open looks in the midrange. This was a great game and one of the best of Marc’s career but still not enough to outdo his older brother with a 34.5 game score.
The Gasol’s are the most accomplished players in franchise history, garnering a number of different accolades over their combined eighteen years with the franchise. With context given, let’s attempt to look who has the edge when it comes to accolades.
When it comes to accolades and Pau Gasol, the word “first” comes to mind. In his rookie year, Pau Gasol took his 17.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG statline all the way to a First Team All-Rookie Team appearance and the franchise’s first NBA Rookie of the Year award in 2002. Pau would represent the Memphis Grizzlies as the team’s first All-Star in 2006 amidst a loaded Western Conference front court that also featured Hall of Famers — Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming & Dirk Nowitzki.
It would be because of these Hall of Famers that the Grizzlies were often sent home in the first round of the playoffs and why Gasol did not receive more national recognition for the work he was doing in Memphis. He would not make an All-NBA team until his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, although he was certainly that caliber player as the top guy in Memphis. Pau was the original gold standard for the Memphis Grizzlies, setting a multitude of records in his 7 seasons. While some records have fallen to players who had longer tenures in Memphis, Pau continues to hold records for career blocks per game and stands as the most efficient player in franchise history with a 21.6 Player Efficiency Rating.
Marc Gasol, much like his brother, had a stellar rookie season and was rewarded with an appearance on the NBA All-Rookie second team in 2009. While Marc would not accumulate anymore awards for three seasons, he was constantly improving along with the team around him that would slowly become superior to any team that Pau would ever play on in Memphis. With the ascension of Mike Conley, the arrival of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, and the hiring of Lionel Hollins, long gone were the Grizzlies teams that found themselves at the bottom of the league in defense, and in was a new, defensive-focused “Grit and Grind” style of play.
It improved the Grizzlies’ success on the floor and increased how much they were in the national spotlight, as they went on several playoff runs during that era. Gasol was the most decorated member of the Core Four, winning NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, spearheading the league’s second best defense that season, making three All-Star teams, and making the All-NBA First Team in 2015 and the Second Team in 2013. Those are impressive accolades to go along with the fact that he is the franchise leader in rebounds, blocks, minutes played, triple doubles and more.
Marc Gasol’s resume on the surface is more impressive than that of his brother, but when I take a step back and look at Pau’s career with context, it is impressive what he was able to accomplish with an inferior supporting cast. Marc was able to stick to his strengths with a good supporting cast, but Pau was in a position he had to shoulder the load on both ends of the floor. There weren’t three guys for Pau to depend on night in and night out. Yes, there was Mike Miller and even Shane Battier, but they were no Core Four. Pau did damage with those early Grizzlies teams that remain relevant today as records fall, and as new players enter into Grizzlies’ lore, it is Pau that they have to look to.
Marc’s resume that is four years longer than his brothers is to be respected, but Pau’s is also to be commended.
Advantage: Marc (but not by much)
Pau and Marc Gasol are two of the most accomplished players in franchise history. Off the court, they were valued members of the Memphis community. On the court they brought us buzzer beaters, a lot of buckets, playoff appearances and even a McGregor walk tin memories that Grizzlies fans will remember forever. Whether it be Don Poier’s “Only in the movies and Memphis,” or Pete Pranica’s “Hammer Nail Coffin,” the Gasol’s were responsible for a lot of fond memories that brought the franchise to where it is now, and their contributions should be celebrated. They may have had to leave the franchise to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning an NBA Championship, but Grizzlies fans will always be able to say they were able to witness the Gasol’s emergence to stardom first hand in the Pyramid and the FedEx Forum.
The Pau Gasol era is one that has always been bittersweet due to how it ended but in hindsight Pau’s frustration, trade request, and departure made sense given that he was giving his all to a franchise seemingly stuck in neutral. In his 7 seasons in Memphis, Pau Gasol played for 6 different head coaches and 3 different General Managers. That amount of turnover was not conducive to success. Now compare this to Marc who played for 5 coaches in his 11 seasons in Memphis with two of those changes happening in first and next to last season. Pau’s accomplishments with that level of uncertainty entering every season as the backdrop is an impressive feat in itself.
The Pau Gasol era was fun, but as mentioned earlier, there was never the supporting cast that Marc had during the Grit and Grind run. During Pau Gasol’s 7 seasons, the highest scoring player — not named Mike Milller — was James Posey’s 13.7 PPG in 2004. This was not a formula for success in the short-term or the long-term, as the Grizzlies front office struggled to surround Pau with enough talent to take the next step and failed to develop the younger players that they acquired via the draft and free agency. All of these issues withstanding, Pau Gasol showed up as a great post player and a better defender than he was often given credit for here in Memphis, and his number 16 should join the Core Four in the rafters upon his retirement.
Marc Gasol was a crucial element to the most successful period in franchise history to date as the most decorated member of the Core Four. But, in my opinion, his career benefited to a degree in the manner in which his brother’s suffered, as he had a superior supporting cast in Memphis. I would personally attribute more of the Grizzlies’ success during the Grit & Grind era to Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, although every member played a role in what made those teams great. Until the final seasons, Marc Gasol rarely had to be the full-time alpha and takeover for long stretches like Pau did, due to the support of Randolph, Conley and Allen, as he was afforded the ability to “get in where he fit in” that was never afforded to his brother.
It is for these reasons, with all due respect to the GNG era and Marc Gasol’s resume, I rule the Grizzlies’ first alpha Pau Gasol the winner of the first Grizz Verzuz.
Winner: Pau Gasol
Who do you think had the better Grizzlies career? What are your favorite Gasol memories? Who do you want in the next Verzuz matchup?