Resume: 17.4 points (career best), 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 blocks, 33.2 minutes, 49% FG, 80% FT … Team Record in Games Played: 55-26 (0-1 without) … Playoffs: 19.7 points (career best), 10.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists (career best), 1.7 blocks, 37.8 minutes, 39% FG, 85% FT (career best), 6-5 record … 9th in MVP Voting, 1st Team All-NBA, All-Star
In doing this list for four years now, I’ve learned a few things about the process. First, figuring out the back end of the list is always more difficult than the top. That’s to be expected though; nobody debates if guys are one of the top 50 players in the league. You just debate if guys are in the top five, ten or twenty generally. Seriously, and be honest, how many times have you and a buddy got into a real heated debate about the status of Eric Bledsoe in the NBA?
Another thing I’ve learned about this process is that some players, or “types” of players, are naturally going to be tougher to rank than others. Players who are on losing teams cause problems because the thought naturally creeps into your mind “how good are they really if their team can’t even make the Playoffs?” Players who I don’t necessarily like (and I won’t name names) always end up being moved up from where they were on the initial list because I come to my senses about them. The trickiest type of player to rank is the guy who doesn’t put up big numbers, only you know they’re great because you’ve watched them enough to know it.
Marc Gasol has been this type of player for all four seasons that I’ve done this countdown. His numbers are hardly gaudy and he doesn’t play for a team that is “fun to watch.” He’s not outspoken like DeMarcus Cousins, polarizing like Dwight Howard or easily persuaded like DeAndre Jordan. Gasol is Spanish, and he’s a steady professional who is just as under-appreciated as he is talented.
For the first time in these last four years, Gasol actually made a noticeable statistical jump basically across the board last season. In the 2013-14 season, Gasol’s scoring, rebounding and blocked shot per game totals ranked 69th, 42nd and 26th in the league respectively. Per Basketball-Reference, those numbers this year were bumped up to 24th, 28th and 17th in the league.
Heading into the 2014-15 campaign there were rumblings in Memphis that the Grizzlies were expecting Gasol to take on a heavier workload offensively and it turned out to be true. Big Spain posted career best scoring numbers, got his first 1st Team All-NBA nod, and once again helped the Grizzlies make the Playoffs and advance past the 1st Round.
Not many Centers bring as much to the table as Marc Gasol does. He’s a brilliant passer all the time and a great scorer when he’s dialed in. He’s got a silky mid-range jumper and he’s one of the only players in the league who utilizes are running, sweeping hook shot. The former Defensive Player of the Year lacks the big totals for rebounds and blocks that most candidates typically do, but there probably isn’t a player in the league who is more tuned-in when it comes to off the ball defensive rotations, and that’s incredibly valuable to have at the back end of your defense.
Over the summer Gasol quickly signed a five year, $110 million deal. There’s little doubt that he will be a Grizzly for life, but the question now becomes where does Gasol go from here? He recently turned thirty years old, the age where most big men have either already hit their peak or do hit their peak. Does peak Gasol have it in him to dial up the scoring a little bit more? Or does peak Gasol remain the offensive hub and defensive savant who can only get a grasp on that somewhat selfish mentality every so often?
It’s not a matter of selfishness really; it has more to do with assertiveness. The Grizzlies need Gasol to assert himself more this year than ever before. Mike Conley is in a contract year, Zach Randolph isn’t getting any younger and neither are many of the complimentary pieces who are expected to get big minutes for the Grizzlies this year. Memphis has made the postseason the last five years, and that probably won’t change this year … but soon it will. The window, if still open at all, is coming close to closing for Memphis, and it’s up to Gasol to keep it open just a little bit longer. Some would probably argue that he’s not the kind of player that could lead a team to the title. I’d disagree, and urge you not to pay attention to the numbers he’s put up. Remember, looks can be deceiving; even though this once pudgy mountain man may not boast the numbers or look like the typical superstar, Gasol is right now arguably the best big man in the game.