Before the start of the season, Basketball Insiders did an article about potential playoff sleepers.
A handful of teams made that list, but no team is living up to the hype quite like the Memphis Grizzlies. This wasn’t a crystal ball decision. People knew that this team had potential. But many likely forgot that Marc Gasol is an incredibly talented basketball player.
Let this be clear: most NBA fans know that Gasol can play. But last year – in a less than ideal situation playing for a hobbled team – an un-motivated Gasol started to look a little washed. Many questioned whether he would return to prominence and few likely wrote him off, assuming he’d join the ranks of his brother Pau Gasol as a consistent, quiet big riding out into the sunset.
If we’ve learned one thing up to this point of the season it’s this: a motivated Marc Gasol is a dangerous man. He is so talented on both ends of the floor, anchoring one of the top defensive teams in the league and scoring at an efficient clip.
There are quite a few factors in play as to why the Grizzlies are returning to NBA not ability. Point to the return of fringe All-Star point guard Mike Conley, the drafting of Jaren Jackson Jr., and even the free-agent acquisitions of Kyle Anderson, Omri Caspi, and Shelvin Mack. But the reason as to why the Grizzlies are playing at such a high-level and beating teams they likely shouldn’t be beating is pretty clear: Gasol is back, and this time, he’s determined to win.
Let’s take a look at some personal numbers that stick out with Gasol’s season up to this point. He’s second on the team in scoring at 18.5 points a night. He’s doing so on 47.4 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from beyond-the-arc, and 73.3 percent from the charity stripe. He’s leading the team in rebounds at 9.4 per game and he’s second in assists at four per night. Defensively he leads the team in steals at 1.7 per game and is second in blocks at 1.3.
Gasol is the only player in the league currently averaging that combination of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game. Take away blocks and only Russel Westbrook appears. Taking away steals adds Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Blake Griffin. That’s some elite company.
Diving into more advanced statistics, he’s leading the Grizzlies in plus-minus at plus-4.4. He’s anchoring a Memphis defense that allows the least amount of opponent points per game and has the fifth best defensive rating in the league at 104.9. Gasol, personally, has a defensive rating of 101.5. He’s second on the team in net rating at plus-6.8, trailing Casspi who only logs 11.7 minutes per game to Gasol’s team-high 35 minutes.
While the Memphis reserves have played significantly better than expected up to this point, the team is just so much better when Gasol is on the court. Like previously mentioned, the Grizzlies boast a plus-6.8 net rating with Gasol on the floor. When on the bench, the Grizzlies boast a team-low minus-9.3 rating. That is the result of a 96.2 offensive rating and a 105.5 defensive rating.
Gasol is a member of the top seven most-used lineups for the Grizzlies, and all but one of them boasts a positive net rating. Including the negative mark, the average net rating of their most used lineups is a plus-8.3. Needless to say, Gasol has been an integral part of the success of the 12-8 Grizzlies up to this point in the season.
While Gasol is posting career bests in rebounds per game and three-point percentage, and near bests in points per game, he’s been murdering your favorite center on defense as well. Looking at the Player Points Difference statistic on the NBA’s website, it’s almost alarming how dominant Gasol has been. This statistic takes an offensive player’s points per 100 possessions in a specific matchup and compares it to his season average points per 100 possessions.
-LaMarcus Aldridge: -7.2 points
-Joel Embiid: -17.3 points (!)
-Rudy Gobert: -10.4 points
-Karl-Anthony Towns: -11.4 points
-Brook Lopez: -11.7 points
-Nikola Jokic: -25.2 points (!)
-Jonas Valuncias: -13.0 points
The Gasol-for-DPOY noise is starting to grow a lot louder and these numbers are a big reason why. He’s playing arguably the best basketball of his career at age 34.
The Memphis Grizzlies might not have the talent on their roster to win a championship, but they are probably the best team in the league at forcing their opponent into their game. The grit-and-grind attitude might actually help them earn a birth in the playoffs. The season is still young, but we are a quarter into the regular season, which is a large enough sample size to see that Memphis isn’t messing around this year.
Gasol is central to everything that Memphis does. Up to this point, it is hard to argue that anyone else in the league deserves Defensive Player of the Year more than him.
Memphis may have been in the lottery last year, but with a new coach and a healthy roster, it appears Gasol is leading this team straight to the postseason.
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