by Spencer Suk
The 2015 NBA Free Agency class is loaded with talent, but some of the biggest catches of the summer have essentially already taken themselves off the market. LeBron James and Kevin Love are opting out of their deals after the season, but will most likely re-up in Cleveland. LaMarcus Aldridge has expressed his desire to stay in Portland. And Duncan and Ginobili are Spurs for life.
That still leaves some nice options, both restricted (Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Brandon Knight, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris) and unrestricted (Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, Goran Dragic (Player Option), Greg Monroe, Roy Hibbert (Player Option), Monta Ellis (Player Option)).
However, Marc Gasol will be the one creating the most buzz during the offseason. He has put himself in the discussion for best center in the league and terrorizes teams on both sides of the ball, but more importantly, there is a real chance he leaves Memphis.
Gasol is about as well-rounded as they come and is amongst a handful of players in the NBA who have no holes in their game.
It goes without saying that Marc is one of the best defenders in the league. Though he isn’t very athletic, Gasol always puts himself in the right spot and uses his enormous 7’1” frame to alter shots, box out, and gobble up rebounds. The Grizzlies have finished in the top five in points allowed per game in each of the last three seasons, and it all starts with Gasol’s play in the middle. The 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year is consistently a league leader in defensive win shares, and if not for an MCL sprain last season, he most likely would have finished somewhere in the top ten again.
Offensively, Gasol can do it all. Much like his brother Pau, Marc is a gifted scorer. In the post, he uses a variety of moves and countermoves to keep his defender guessing while finishing well with both hands. Marc also forces defenders to guard him on the perimeter, as he is also one of the best jump-shooting centers in the league with a career average of 42% from 10 feet extended to the three-point line. And we haven’t even talked about his most underappreciated skill: passing. Gasol is adept at finding cutters and shooters from the high post, finishing 1st and 2nd in assists amongst centers the last two seasons, rivaled only by Joakim Noah.
Surprisingly, Gasol has made huge strides thus far in the 2014-15 Season as a 29-year old. After shedding weight this past offseason, Gasol was ready to take on a heavier workload on the offensive end for the Grizzlies. His usage rate is up to 25.9% this year, passing his previous high of 21.7% (career average of 18.8%), and he hasn’t disappointed at all with the extra touches.
Marc is averaging 19.9 points per game right now, also a personal best. Having never averaged more than 14.6 points, Gasol is getting more scoring opportunities with career highs in field goal attempts (14.3) and free throw attempts (6.7). Unlike most players, however, Marc has been able to stay extremely efficient despited the upped usage. He’s turning the ball over a little more, but has still been able to shoot 50% from the field and 83% from the line.
The Grizzlies have gotten Gasol more involved in the offense by constantly feeding him the ball on the elbow. In fact, he leads the league in touches from this part of the court, and for good reason. He can do so much from there: find an open three-pointer, hand it off to Mike Conley, dump it down into Zach Randolph, or simply shoot it if his defender is sagging off.
Gasol is 21st in the league in offensive win shares as a result of the extra touches. When you combine this with the fact that Marc is 3rd in defensive win shares and 8th in total win shares, it’s easy to see why almost every team will be calling his agent, Arn Tellem, the second free agency opens.
But of all the teams chasing the coveted Spaniard, there seem to be five that have put themselves ahead of the pack in the Gasol Sweepstakes:
Los Angeles and New York are always going to be in the running thanks to their large markets and storied franchises. The Lakers basically have everybody coming off their books next summer and can offer to build around Marc and Kobe in Byron Scott’s Princeton offense, a system that emphasizes a strong post presence like Gasol. Likewise, the Knicks will finally shed the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani. With Derek Fisher and his Triangle offense set in place, there’s no doubt Phil Jackson, who won two rings with older brother Pau, will pursue Marc.
The San Antonio Spurs are also likely to get in the mix. Tim Duncan’s contract ends after this year, and it’s only a matter of time before he finally calls it a career (though he’s still playing amazing basketball at the age of 38). Gregg Popovich is undoubtedly looking for his replacement and Marc seems like the perfect candidate.
The team that no one is really thinking about is the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors quietly have one of the better cores in the league going into next year centered around Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas. Toronto also offers one of the best fan bases, as well as a diverse, multicultural city where Marc would fit right in. With cap space on the way, Masai Ujiri, one of the league’s most brilliant GMs, will undoubtedly try to bring the Spaniard to Canada and build a true championship contender.
But ultimately, my money is on Gasol staying in Memphis. Marc has found a home with the Grizzlies; he fits right in with their team culture (Grit ‘n’ Grind) and is a fan favorite. It also helps that he grew up in the city, having played high school basketball there. More importantly, the Grizzlies have found playoff success with Gasol and can offer him around $25 million more than any other team (players can sign for more with their current team).
Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace has made it known that he has every intention of keeping their prized center. Whether it is worth it to sign a soon-to-be 30-year old center to a max contract is another question. However, skilled big men like Gasol tend to age very well (just look at Pau). Regardless, I’d be surprised if someone is able to pry Gasol from Memphis.