To put it simply, Marc Gasol was an absolute beast last season. But it wasn’t just the fact that he galvanized the Grizzlies to their perennial status as a top-three defense, or helped them to a top-three winning percentage in the bloodbath of a Western Conference (okay, they were the five seed due to the antiquated conference standings rules). By taking on the primary scoring role, while continuing to be an integral facilitator in the offense, the younger Gasol brother elevated his game to new heights during the 2014-2015 to earn himself a spot on the All-NBA First team, nd perhaps more prestigious, a rating as a top-10 player from the BBallbreakdown gang.
When you think of Marc Gasol, individual and team defense may come to mind first. And while much harder to quantify, the defensive aspect of his game should not go without praise. But perhaps the most significant development in his game last year was his heightened interest in scoring the ball himself. Being the dominant scorer often comes at a cost—most players have to choose where they want to place their effort—because being the defensive ace and offensive first-option is close to impossible. However, Gasol was able to remain an elite interior presence and on-ball defender while tweaking and refining his offense to achieve full on seek-and-destroy mode on both ends of the floor.[newsbox style=”nb1″ display=”tag” tag=”Top50″ title=”More from our Top 50″ number_of_posts=”2″ show_more=”no” nb_excerpt=”0″]
The Grizzlies do emphasize an inside-out presence, but Gasol hardly qualifies as a “traditional big”. He doesn’t quite have the long-range shooting threat or unparalleled athleticism or quickness that comes to mind with the increased use of small-ball lineups or jump-shooting big men, but the myriad scoring tools Gasol owns make him one of the most versatile bigs in the league. His low-post scoring touch is the most prevalent, but the added threat of his catch and shoot game expands his opportunity to put the ball on the floor and attack the cup, where he can get to the line and actually convert 79.5 percent of his free-throw attempts, stationing him high above the majority of centers.
Without being the most efficient out of the pick and roll (scoring 1.02 points per possession on only 20.4 percent frequency per NBA.com SportsVU), Gasol had to be much more inspired His scoring improvement is immediately apparent when contrasting his shooting chart against what he did during the previous season, with a higher shot volume and increased efficiency from so many places within the arc.
The offense clearly flowed through Gasol more this year, as shown through his usage rate, which increased to 24.6 percent, up from 21.7 percent the previous season. Normally, such a bump in usage equates to a decrease his efficiency, but not for Gasol, whose true-shooting increased to 55.8 percent, while his effective-field-goal percentage, 49.6, rose to its highest point since 2010-2011.
Gasol can certainly score down low, but he’s not limited to pounding the ball inside for close buckets. His increased knack for scoring didn’t come at the expense of his playmaking, which is what sets him aside from any other center in the league. Considering the perceived lack of offensive ingenuity associated with the Grizzlies, think of what they would be without being able to foster so much of their offense through their center.
To reiterate, it’s not inefficient volume scoring that kicked up Gasol’s usage rate. Gasol does account for a solid chunk of the team’s points, but that never came at the expense of his passing. His assists per game didn’t stray far from his career averages, but his assist rate reached an impressive all-time high of 19.7. And according to NBA.com’s SportsVU, he was creating 8.7 points off of assists per game on 7.4 assist opportunities per game.
All the while, his turnover percentage increased by only two-tenths of a percent. For a center, efficient and effective secondary playmaking is not only representative of his elite skillset; it’s also an invaluable asset to any offense. But who needs court vision on no-look passes like this?!
While stats can never fully explain plays like this, it’s fairly apparent Gasol’s creative passing ability transcends typicality, even for great passers.
It may not be a surprise that he was top two in assists per game among players at his position, it is entirely impressive that he was second on his team in assists, trailing Mike Conley only by 1.6 per game. With his usage rate as high as it was, and his scoring only coming on this season, Gasol was integral to moving the ball and providing scoring chances for his team. And his on/off numbers show how much the team suffered without that secondary playmaking capability on the court.
Clearly, all of the major statistical categories were enhanced by Gasol, which makes a difference when he is playing 81 games in a season. One worthwhile note is the Grizzlies increased three-point rate when Gasol was off the floor.
Considering their poor three-point shooting (33.9 percent, 23rd in the league), and the decreased rate of assisted shots with Gasol off the floor, the uptick in this attempted scoring method doesn’t bode so well for the team.
Gasol may have been the team’s leading scorer, but his newfound scoring prowess only added to his superior playmaking, opening new passing lanes and scoring opportunities for Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and the rest of the Griz.
The pass-first mentality needed to go, but the benefits of his former toolbox were neither lost nor forgotten. The story with Marc Gasol this year was not his ability to create offense for his team because that wasn’t new. It wasn’t his additional 2.8 points per game either. It was the shift in a slightly passive mindset to a recognition that he was able to dominate opponents in whatever way presented itself; wherever the opponent was weakest.
His uniquely multifaceted offensive repertoire puts pressure on defenders to address him as a scoring option, which only opened up more for his team. In conjunction with leading the hound and hunt, grit and grind defense, Marc Gasol is a top-10 NBA player because he does what is necessary to keep his team relevant in the ardently competitive, post-apocalyptic world of the Western Conference.