Memphis Grizzlies: The Perils Of Judging Marc Gasol On Past Performance

Mar 3, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) drives against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) drives against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

Marc Gasol has been the best player and the driving force for the Memphis Grizzlies the past two years. Also, Gasol’s a player who popped out offensively in the middle of his career and isn’t easily characterized by aggregated statistics.

The 30-year-old center scored a career-high 17.4 points per game last season, 2.8 more than his previous best. He commanded a larger portion of the offense than ever with a 24.6 percent usage rate. He didn’t score as much after posting 20 per game in the first 33 games, and that allowed commentators to lean toward a more conservative side.

While FiveThirtyEight’s projection system pegged Gasol for a steady decline starting this season, Carl Bialik boiled it down to increased usage rate, true shooting percentage and assist rate before posing the question, “Is he on track for more improvements, like Larry Nance, or a Brad Miller-like rapid decline?”

Granted, the projection system found him statistically similar to these two former big men at this juncture. However, Larry Nance had just joined a Cleveland Cavaliers team that whose time hadn’t come in 1990-91 and Brad Miller was a complementary player who was only above average in an ephemeral sense.

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Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal stated in his analysis ranking Gasol second in his center rankings after the 2014-15 season, “Even with the heavier volume, the Spanish 7-footer didn’t create an inordinate number of his own looks and failed to make half of his shots from the field, all without a three-point stroke to boost his efficiency.”

For Fromal, it isn’t simply about deference, but a reliance on the flow of the Grizzlies’ offense. Granted, teammates and coaches have nagged him about being aggressive, as’s Rob Mahoney noted.

Plateauing Higher Than His Previous Best

Even when Gasol receded after a hot scoring start in 2014-15, the rest of the season was better in that department than any of his previous six. In his last 48 games, he averaged 15.7 points per game. Overall, he took 18.6 field goal and free throw attempts per game for the year. During that last section, he still had 17 per game, 0.7 more than his previous high.

Hence, even when Gasol was deferring to Jeff Green and Zach Randolph in the second half, he was more aggressive than any time before.

Perhaps the greatest indicator from the latter part of last year was how he took back scoring leadership in the playoffs, dropping 19.7 points per game.

That includes 20.4 per game in the first round against the Portland Trail Blazers, with a 26-point, 14-rebound Game 5 to finish the series. The question left by Gasol’s 37.7 percent shooting against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals is whether he can overcome an elite defensive opponent to carry the Grizzlies deep in the playoffs.

An Evolving Player

Still, the light goes on in Gasol’s head more often than ever. He took 15 or more shots 27 times last year, 15 more than any previous year.

The Commercial Appeal’s Chris Herrington explained Gasol’s progressive mindset, saying, “If Gasol’s career-best performance had come out of nowhere, I might suspect it was a typical age-driven peak in a normal career arc set for a slight downturn. But, instead, it was the foreseeable — even anticipated by this time last season — result of a palpable physical transformation backed by an acknowledged shift toward a more alpha-dog mentality.”

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Ex-Grizzlies guard opens up on desired landing spots for 2023-24 season
Ex-Grizzlies guard opens up on desired landing spots for 2023-24 season /

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  • Partly, that new mindset results from a cleaner diet. After his 2013 knee injury, he adopted a “semi-vegetarian” diet, cutting back on processed foods, refined sugars, red meats and carbohydrates, per The New York Times’ Billy Witz.

    Gasol had changed the way he thought about his body. Slimming down would improve his stamina, quickness and ability to prevent injury.

    “I don’t think he had a good taste in his mouth of A) being hurt and B) playing like he wasn’t 100 percent. And I think he really wanted to do every single thing he could control so maybe it didn’t happen again,” Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger told The Commercial Appeal’s Michael Cohen.

    In his aforementioned piece, Herrington said Gasol is in the same physical condition.

    By returning with the same chiseled physique, Gasol isn’t just a sturdy big man who can shoot over people, but an unstoppable force who can rush past defenders to the basket quicker than ever. Also, treating his body better could give him two more prime years.


    To buy low on Gasol is to buy low on the Grizzlies as a scoring team. His second-half regression coincided with Jeff Green’s arrival and Mike Conley‘s injuries, which also dragged on their offense.

    With an offseason and training camp to settle Green into a role that doesn’t suck as many shots away from core players, Gasol can assert himself as necessary.

    Observers must bear in mind that Gasol returns this season with the same mindset and physical condition that enabled him to elevate his game.

    Thus, his future on offense is one of a punishing scorer who attacks the basket more than before while periodically creating opportunities for teammates. As Gasol continues with this offensive attitude, he heads for another MVP-caliber season.

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