Marc Gasol, Weather Maker – RealGM Analysis
It’s only fair to start with a storm. The outer sky suddenly turned dark, the air shock still, then suddenly a flat downpour. The rain is so strong that it tears the petals of the flowers and the streets, for a few roaring minutes, flood. Then suddenly it passes, the birds flicker back as the petrichor lifts up.
Fits, because that’s the kind of basketball Marc Gasol plays.
Rolling and slow, creating a pressure like a barometric drop, Gasol’s game is elementary. Like a sinister wave of dark clouds, he will be at an impossible distance until, seconds later, his body is there and towering – dividing the defense, destroying the picnic. Whether it’s because of the aesthetics of the lineup or Frank Vogel and the franchise’s perpetual application of a golden and starry flash on fit-to-needs, the Lakers have been reluctant, or downright unwilling, to set off this storm.
When Gasol signed with the Lakers, it was for the assurance of a two-year deal that the Raptors, who still stood for Giannis Antetokounmpo, would not give him. In that promise of time there was a wait of minutes, not an improbable wait given that every cross on the championship team from the previous season had then been cut or traded. As private and sometimes guarded as Gasol may be, his career choices and his off-court actions have shown him that he is as perceptive in life as he is in defense. So while he understands full well that he’s 36 in a game that rejuvenates every season and that the Lakers were always looking to add another big one before or during a potential rehearsal season, his status as a frontcourt scholar has him. still lent any leverage he would need to secure a place in the starting lineup.
And he started. For 35 games, he collected the same silent, if not invisible stats that have made him a perpetual difference maker over 14 seasons. Reliable boards and passing are what the numbers show, but elite passing, laconic disruption in the lane, cool physicality, and wide-angle perception of the game unfolding in front of him are what make Gasol priceless, and which makes it so auspicious. get for a Lakers team that despite all its flash and intimidation lacked conscience, held nothing close to the chest.
Then the thing made recklessly inevitable by the league, through its urgent revenue push, hit. Gasol was away with COVID-19 for most of March, his minutes crumbling in his first handful of games towards the end of the month, but recording his best score of the entire season. What should have been the trail to Gasol’s comeback collided with the trade deadline, and the Lakers’ never-ending process of extracting Andre Drummond from Cleveland ended both Drummond’s time in l east and minutes of departure from Gasol.
There was no Drummond phasing, it was a difficult exchange between the two great men with Show Harrell in the middle. For his utilitarian talent for rebounding, Drummond has a greater propensity for turnovers. He tends to clutter up the painting, choosing to use his size as the part itself and reacting rather than prejudging. The slide the Lakers were on that began when Gasol was sidelined in March started to get steeper, and by mid-April the team slipped down the standings. Gasol watched from the bench.
Rather than flexing, or at least comfortable outside of Drummond’s minutes until he could better acclimatize to the flashy, dominant bully-ball style the Lakers prefer, Vogel seemed determined to force a crisis. Drummond was positioned as a star on the rise, not by the gameplay or a sudden change in his own abilities on the ground, but by the closeness of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It was a lens tailored to the desired team aesthetic – bigger, stronger, faster – versus what was needed or what could improve the team as it is. And while there’s no doubt that Drummond is adjusting, feeling more comfortable playing a more physical game, it’s a transformation that shouldn’t need to be sold, or see Vogel peel off. forces the layers of the Drummond chrysalis.
At the end of April, with Davis injured and three straight losses preceded by scattered wins, Gasol’s teammates began to wonder aloud where he was. Being outclassed and knocked out by a Toronto team that lacked something close to the size of the Lakers, Kyle Kuzmathat he “didn’t know what to do”. He went on to suggest that more minutes with Gasol “would be pretty good for us, of course”. It wasn’t for him to understand, but he was right.
Vogel deployed Gasol as a repairman, playing him in games where the Lakers lagged in scoring, defensive efficiency, or both. That was the case in some of the team’s biggest end-of-season clashes with the likelihood of play-in looming. In their last regular season meeting with Phoenix, Gasol had a clear over / under +7 in almost 18 minutes, compared to Drummond’s -7 in just over 19 minutes on the ground. In a May 3 game against Denver, Gasol was +30 in 17 minutes compared to Drummond’s -26 in 21.5 minutes, but in particular, Gasol disturbed Nikola Jokic.
Jokic, a master at sliding defenders up close and under the basket, twists and swivels to work from all angles, he faked footsteps and faux-pumps in repeated efforts to shake off Gasol’s impending frame, almost draped over him. In a desperate moment halfway through 4th after failing to free Gasol, Jokic raises his right arm to lift the ball as fast and hard as possible. It falls distinctly short of the edge, like the sway of a spinning child before hitting a piñata, and the look on Jokic’s face as he finally breaks free in transition is a beleaguered relief. Gasol’s reaction is the same as it ever was, the same as it was after he went 3 for 4 from deep play, or after he threw an out pass. all over the court to Wesley Matthews on the psychic kind of quick hit Gasol has a sixth sense ahead – a shrug.
Because with Gasol there are never any secrets, it’s basketball. When you’re so good, sure, and smart about something, it becomes a function, just the way it’s supposed to work. That’s why, in a hurry in April and May about his reduced minutes, or asking who he thought was the stronger option: him, Drummond or Harrell, Gasol stressed that what was important was whether the team was playing “on a rope” or not, everyone was tied together. It wasn’t a loophole, just a feature assessment, and in terms of functionality, the Lakers improve dramatically in some of the most fundamental ways when Gasol is on the floor.
While his defense is elite, ranked 7th in the NBA for defensive winning share of all time, Gasol’s biggest offensive attribute is his timing and the space he affords shooters around him. Gasol uses size as a suggestion, pulling defenders towards the wings or throwing them off balance by tilting his body so they can’t get around him to give chase to a released shooter. He does this with the Lakers, understanding where over-helping is going to hurt, knowing that it’s best to hang out in space and pull bodies towards him, turning the space around the key to a vacant lot for them. shooters – Gasol limits overall field goals attempted to 79.5. , compared to Drummond 87.7.
It is this necessary slowdown that will come in handy for the Lakers as their streak with the Suns, and any extended postseason, continues. The Lakers are a much less versatile team than they had the potential to be when the playoffs rolled around, given Vogel’s preference for scrambling Drummond in the roster at the expense of Gasol and Harrell. Vogel said he wished his team had more time to acclimatize after Drummond was added to the deadline, but he‘s had Gasol, James and Davis all season. Now there is a rare opportunity to make up for lost time and team intrigue by taking advantage of three of the brightest and greatest basketball brains available and their collective source of IQ.
Since his absence in Game 1 of the series, Gasol has seen the ground on suspended minutes for several quarters, and used that time to create much-needed space for Los Angeles, albeit a small sample size, with Gasol on the floor in the playoffs James sees a rise in points per possession from 27.5 to 33.3, compared to 25 to 30 with Drummond, and Davis sees a staggering increase from 29.6 to 50.8, compared to 41 to 28 with Drummond. For Davis, Gasol gives him clear lanes in the paint to threaten and quick, clean entry passes while keeping defenders away. Even with James, who prefers to wait for a tall man he can pitch under the rim, Gasol lightens some of the load of game-making without monopolizing possessions. It’s a caring relationship as either star might hope, and it will only become more important as the team moves forward.
In a Lakers team as dense as this, a fixed cross only hinders the potential for intelligent and explosive basketball. The answer is not so much one on the other as the search for a fluid and necessary balance. Drummond gives an energetic, assertive physicality in close-outs and contentious minutes and Gasol, while he may not provide the Lakers with extra speed or the same eruptive verticality of a player like Davis, does provide a much-needed balance. A cool counterweight to the sometimes overwhelming aesthetic of Laker’s grandiosity.
Vogel seems to grasp, to a certain extent, what he has in Gasol. He called it “one hell of a weapon” while doing the equivalent of putting it back on the shelf. In the playoffs, where every game in a series is its own little war, wins are often drawn from the sidelines. Gasol, with his sneaky disruption of easy buckets, pragmatic intelligence, and elementary backcourt integration, makes these marginal intangibles add up while exhausting opponents in the process. In the whirlwind of the playoffs, you don’t stop a storm, you create your own weather.