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Raptors Republic Chat: let’s ramble about Marc Gasol

In this chat, we discuss Marc Gasol, both what he could be and what he was against the Knicks. We also discuss Jonas Valanciunas as a player and person. I should mention that the idea comes from 538, whose politics chats are awesome. The transcript below has been lightly (read: heavily) edited.

Louis Zatzman

Morning guys! Welcome to the emergency Marc Gasol group chat. We have a lot to hash out, so let’s dig into it. Let’s start at the beginning: what were everyone’s initial reactions?

Matt Shantz
I’ve largely reached the point where I simply trust what Masai and Bobby do, but this one was hard at first. While I wasn’t always a card carrying member of the JV Hive in regards to him as a player (until the last year), the person was always someone I loved. Felt the same way about Delon and CJ. All three were incredible people by all accounts and emotionally that was hard to give up.

Anthony Doyle 
I was upset initially. This was a half-measure was where I was. It wasn’t the big splash I wanted for the Raptors to go all-in, and it wasn’t necessarily a big game changer for the team.

Josh Howe
I, too, didn’t like the trade. I think, in a lot of ways, Valanciunas has been a better individual player than Gasol this season. They are two different types of players, of course, and each comes with their pros and cons, but for what the Raptors need I didn’t understand why they would switch that up. Gasol is a big name, and he’s savvy and has playoff experience, but he’s also 34 and really needs to be a hub on offence to be effective. The Raptors, as a primarily pick-and-roll team, aren’t used to/necessarily suited for that type of change. Also, there’s only about 25 games or so left in the season to hash this all out. My point: It’s a bigger risk than a lot of people think.

Louis
I was also upset initially, but it was more because of the guys going out. I get so darn attached to the players.

Matt
Took some effort to get past the heart and approach it with a little bit of perspective.

Anthony
Yeah, personal attachment definitely played a role for me as well. Jonas was a guy who was easy to love as a Raptor, Delon was fun to watch develop, and CJ was a great locker room guy. Hard guys to lose.

Samson Folk 
The conversation around JV had gotten to the point that his role with the team was growing like an urban legend. I know Anthony wrote a big piece on how Valanciunas could provide a fix for a lot of what the Raptors were failing at – Lowry’s shooting, rebounding, screen-setting, reliable scoring. So when he was traded, it felt like we were robbed of a redemption arc or something of that ilk. After I removed myself of the investment into JV’s comeback, I was all in on the passing Gasol would bring. I still have dreams about Bebe on the short roll, and Gasol can emulate some of that.

Anthony
What Samson said, as well. We never really got to see if Jonas could come back and make an impact, which I was really looking forward to. For it to happen on the morning of the day Jonas was supposed to return just made it hurt that much more.

Louis
I think that’s a really great point, Samson. I was also pretty certain that JV was going to fix Lowry’s slump. Gasol sets some bone-crushing screens of his own, though.

Matt
Also, trading a guy two hours after announcing he would be returning from injury…ouch.

Louis
Ok, so. As far as I can tell, we have two for and two against, with myself and Nick yet undeclared?
That’s good! Disagreement, finally!

Nick Tutssel
Mornin gents! I think the initial reaction for me has to be a little bit of sadness. JVs been on this ride with us for so long, was a huge part of what the raps have built and it almost seems a bit unfair that he won’t be here to reap the benefits of his work in Toronto it this team can build on past playoff performances and make it to the finals. But it’s a business and given Masais track record I almost expected a home run swing like this move.

Josh
There’s a lot on Nurse’s shoulders right now. That’s tough for any coach, let alone a rookie.
From a personal standpoint, I’m gonna miss the outgoing guys, too. JV was always a light in a dark room, I related to Delon because of his introversion, and Miles was just always such a great quote and so smiley.

Anthony
One game didn’t completely sway my initial opinion about the trade, because the optimism that I have come around to is mostly based on the idea that Nurse will use Gasol better than the Raptors were using Jonas, and that he would have more opportunities to play high impact minutes alongside the starters. But what we saw last night was Gasol in Jonas’ exact role. If that’s going to be the role of Marc going forward, then it isn’t an upgrade and I don’t like the trade. If this was just a temporary thing while Marc adjusted, I’m more optimistic.

Louis
Let’s indulge that for a second, though, Anthony, because that’s a fair and insightful point.

Samson
I’m sure that I saw Anthony had a take about how Gasol’s presence would necessitate Nurse to play a style closer to what we saw with JV, but that it would be handled under the guise of: “It’s Gasol, he’s a top center, we have to play this way” and that if the Raptors weren’t going to take advantage of Valanciunas, it might as well come in a similar (albeit, wildly different form).

Josh
Gasol has to give more than JV; that was the whole point of the trade! For him to be able to do what Valanciunas did, and more. But he’s gotta be put in a position to be able to do that. It makes me nervous.

Louis
I would argue that even if Gasol is used exactly how JV was, he will be much better. JV was a finisher playing alongside guards who can’t hit the roller. Not perfect. Gasol does so much more. He can be the hub of the wheel, which JV wasn’t able to do. Even though the bench didn’t score well last night, they created amazing shots. Let’s just say Nurse plays Gasol in that role (gross, eww, I agree, not perfect), wouldn’t it still be a big upgrade?

Anthony
Not really. Because the upgrade the Raptors really need is a roll man for Kawhi and Lowry, and Ibaka doesn’t play that role. That’s where Gasol can make his biggest impact, because those guys are at their best operating in the pick and roll.

Louis
Gasol had a lot of respect last night as a roller! It may have just been the Knicks Knicksing out, but he twice sucked in the weakside helper last night and created wide-open 3s in the corner just by being on the court. He rolled hard and did the job perfectly, even if he didn’t catch and finish.

Samson
I loved Gasol’s game against the Knicks. He was creating 10 little advantages every time down the floor. Operated out of the post, ran DHO’s, made several impressive passes, and set a stupid amount of screens. The bench didn’t know what to do with all the extra spacing and shot creation his presence allowed for.

Josh
Yeah, I wouldn’t take a lot from the Knicks defence.

Anthony
Don’t get me wrong Louis, Gasol did some really nice things last night. His passing, and his touch on the ball was fantastic, and he has great attention to detail on the defensive end. I also appreciate that he seeks out bodies on the boards and was actively boxing out when the shot went up. There were a lot of positives. But the impact of the minutes in which he’s doing those things is important too, and him playing with the bench means that those opportunities he’s creating are lower impact, because the shots are inherently not as good.

Nick
I really wonder how Gasol reacts to playing as few minutes as he did last night. You’d think the plan is to get him up to 25-30, but who knows what Nurse is planning.

Josh
I think Nurse will wind up doing the same thing as he did with JV in the lineup, Nick, and keep the centre spot fluid based on matchups. Which concerns me a tad.

Anthony
Have to get the minutes up. Even if Marc isn’t the every night starter, which he definitely should be, he has to get up closer to 30 MPG.

Nick
How can you trade for a guy that has the talent to win you a playoff game (or series) and bring him off the bench for 20 min/night? Ibaka is having a strong year but Nurse needs to give Marc a shot to see what he can do with starter minutes.

Matt
I know the whole point of this discussion is to overreact to one game, but I think we have to have some perspective on this. The trade wasn’t even finalized and official until a few hours before tip-off, and while he was used in a similar capacity to Jonas, the results were very different considering it was his first game.

Louis
DON’T BE CRAZY MATT WE HAVE TO OVERREACT, IT’S CONTENT CREATION SEASON HOW DARE YOU

Josh
Indeed, Matt, one game doesn’t tell us much. It was about what I expected, especially with him being assigned to the bench in his first appearance with the team. Some rust, obviously just starting to figure the club out, etc. The passing IQ was the highlight for me, though, if I were to suss one out. Dude is so good at finding guys, and he was doing this purely on instinct. He found the bench guys repeatedly for nice looks.

Matt
Jonas was underrated when it came to defence, but I don’t ever recall him being as vocal as we saw Gasol last night. Gasol also made 4-5 passes in his limited minutes that can indicate what we could see when a little chemistry/familiarity is developed within the roster.

Louis
So aside from him playing too few minutes, and not enough with the starters, we were all pretty positive on him last night?

Samson
I’m #GasolHive for the record.

Nick
Isn’t that copyright infringement??

Josh
Oh gods, we’re doing this already? Has #JVHive converted to #GasolHive? It’s been *checks watch* less than a day!

Louis
Alright, I actually had a few qualms aside from the minutes thing.
Gasol had some really strong defensive possessions, particularly one defending the PnR with Lowry. He had a few weak moments, where speedy guards just went around him. I think we may have overestimated his defensive mobility. He has almost no lift, and very little athleticism with which to help from the weak-side. On offence, he’s not nearly the finisher JV was. That could be a problem as well.
Did you guys see any of that, or am I being crazy?
If it’s there, is it a problem?

Josh
YES
LOUIS
This was the main thing I was concerned about when the trade went down.

Anthony
Marc definitely does have some limited mobility, but, I also think that’s a function partially of who he was on the floor with, again. With a slower center, you want to surround him with elite perimeter defenders, and that’s what the Raptors have in their starting lineup. When you have weaker defenders around that guy, he has to do more to try to make up for the other holes in the defense, and can’t maintain solid positioning as well.

Josh
It wasn’t just an effort thing in Memphis. Part of his defensive limitations now, undeniably, are due to his age and the wear and tear on his body. Anyone calling him a “mobile” defender or quicker than JV in that regard are simply incorrect.

Anthony
Marc is a very cerebral defender, so if the Raptors let him play within his game at the defensive end, his positioning will make up for a lot of what his footspeed doesn’t.

Josh
His defensive IQ makes up for some of those limitations, indeed.

Louis
Wow, sports journalism school got you fancy now, Josh, using indeed, eh?

Josh
Nah, Louis, I was always this pretentious.

Louis
As far as defensive limitations go, even if Gasol is with the bench, Pascal should be his big pairing 100 percent of the time.
(Or Kawhi at 4 if they downsize).

Samson
I think playing next to OG often left Gasol in a position to help (OG was getting pounded) and that moved him a couple feet away from where he needed to be. At 34, he needs every inch he can get – like you said, not a super fast guy – and we’ll likely see a marked improvement next to Pascal or Serge.

Nick
Yep I think the Raps’ communal attack on D and their ability to switch 1 through 4 will compensate for Big Spain’s athletic shortcomings. He’s a very smart defender as Anthony said and that’s more important to speed and vertical to me, especially in a center.

Josh
I agree that Gasol needs to be paired with Siakam almost always. Which is another reason he should be starting most of the time if not always.

Louis
Let’s zoom out for a minute, because I feel like we, like Gasol last night, are just spinning our wheels and not going anywhere new. (I forced that joke, and I immediately regret it.)

Samson
(wow, segway master)
(your wit knows no bounds)

Josh
(Shakespearean, Louis.)

Matt
(I force a lot of jokes and even I’m disappointed in you Louis)

Samson
(A true thespian)

Louis, undauntedjust blowing past the mockery
Rotation questions aside, do you think the Gasol we saw last night raises our ceiling?

Matt
Yes he does, assuming his minutes expand and chemistry develops.

Louis
Enough to win the east? The championship? That’s the real question there.

Anthony
Not really. Because I think the Raptors’ ceiling is still mostly dictated by Kyle and Kawhi finding their chemistry and learning to play off each other to attack playoff defenses. Marc can probably facilitate that somewhat, but the lion’s share of it is still on those two.

Nick
In a word, no. But the guy just got off a flight and was maybe not going to play when he woke up. Give him more minutes and some time to gel with his teammates and I think the difference in potential for this team will be night and day. But he needs to start (or play starters minutes off the bench) for that to happen.

Samson
I think Gasol definitively raises the ceiling. A clever passing big raises the ceiling of everyone he plays with. Juancho Hernangomez, Monte Morris, and Maliik Beasley are all far better off running around Jokic like mad-men. Gasol can lift the play of VanVleet, Norm and Kyle. I don’t even know what an optimized version of the high-low feed to Siakam looks like, but I’m sure it’ll be great. Doest this mean they win the ‘chip? I doubt it, GState is incredible, and as far as the Bucks, that series will be on Kawhi’s shoulders. There’s a specific matchup there that he’s going to have to dominate.

Josh
It all depends on how he’s used, Louis. Like I tweeted last night, if he’s relegated to doing just the same things as JV, then TOR is wasting him and forcing him to do things he’s less good at than the guy who was dealt. He raises the ceiling if he’s put in a proper position to succeed (running things at the high post, protecting the rim with great defenders around him, etc.) and his teammates learn how to best play off of and with him, but I’m concerned that will be a challenge for Nurse and the coaching staff.

Louis
Disagreement! I love it! We seem to have praised his play, if noticed the negatives, so why Anthony and Nick do you think it’s still not a ceiling changer?

Matt
Because they are The Hive.

Nick
Well, you asked about the Gasol we saw last night. I think that’s a very different, marginalized version of the guy we’re going to be seeing in April. Long term he raises this teams ceiling a hell of a lot higher, but based on last night he didn’t impress to the point of drastically improving the team.

Anthony
A lot of it comes down to how Nurse will use Gasol. Nurse’s reluctance to play Jonas into matchups where he can create an advantage but might give one up makes me extremely hesitant, because I worry that he’ll do the same with Gasol. Against the Celtics, for instance, Gasol vs. Horford is a tough matchup that the Celtics will surely attack, but playing Gasol also allows the Raptors to use his high post passing to negate a lot of Horford’s defensive impact and create new angles of attack against Boston’s defense, if Nurse goes to that option. I’m not sure I trust that the Raptors will do that though.

Louis
Yeah, the Celtics suck, Anthony. Not even worth mentioning.

Matt
Plus they all hate each other.

Anthony
There’s almost two conversations here. There’s one about how the Raptors could use Marc to create advantages, and there’s one about how we feel the Raptors will use Marc. They’re both relevant, but they definitely aren’t the same conversation.

Josh
Exactly, Anthony. And, if I were a betting man (thank goodness I’m not), I’d pick the latter as more likely to occur. Sadly.

Louis
Ok, fair point. You naysayers are focussed on the evidence at hand. Which is important, but still.
Dream big for a minute. Say we get Big Spain playing with the starters, running the high PnR with Lowry.
Screening for everyone and everything in sight.
Dishing, diming.
Whatever.
So we get all that.
Does that win the East? Win the championship?

Josh
The East? Probably. The title? I don’t know how anyone seriously picks against the Warriors.

Matt
I’ll give a dollar to anyone who lets Louis publish them saying with certainty the Raptors will win the title.

Nick
I think we are favourites to win the East. There’s always a chance when you make it to the finals, but Golden State is starting to figure things out and it’s a mildly terrifying thing to watch unfold.

Josh
A dollar?!

Anthony
I really have never wavered from my opinion to start the season that the East is a two-team race between the Raptors and the Celtics. Saw the Raptors as having at least an extremely good shot prior to the trade. I’m not sure this moves that needle. It maybe helps against the Warriors, but how could you favor anyone against them?

Samson
Kawhi Leonard has long been an elite catch-and-shoot option from behind the arc. I think that Gasol’s presence will manufacture a few easier baskets for Leonard than he’s been getting, and that difference will allow them to take the East. To quote Matt Shantz: “The Raptors will win the title.” Not saying I agree with Matt, just saying he said it.

Editor’s note: Does Matt now owe Samson a dollar?

Louis
Everyone seems to agree again, that the Raps should win the East with an optimized Gasol, but not the championship. So let’s return to the original question: is the trade worth it, then?

Anthony
“Is the trade worth it?”, to me, comes down to what does it mean for the Raptors long-term? Does this trade help them keep Kawhi past this season, does it facilitate the rebuild afterwords? I have no way to answer the first question, and the second question I feel like it definitely doesn’t help with.

Samson
Yes, the trade is worth it. If the whole thing goes bust, the contracts still line-up and the rebuild will be expedited through bad contracts and attached draft picks. You have to go for it in this league, and Masai doubled down on his double-down. It’s better than trading for Blake Griffin.

Josh
I’m not sure the trade was worth it, Louis, because I’m not sure it really moves the needle all that much. And even if it does, it won’t for long with Gasol’s age and figuring out his next contract.

Matt
It will be worth it when we see Gasol do his strut. That’s what I’m waiting for.

Nick
I think this trade was 110% worth it. JV was a back up big man who rarely cracked 20 min/night, Delon Wright would have barley crack our playoff rotation, Gasol is a guy with valuable playoff experience and a skill set that (with the right amount of minutes) can swing a playoff series. The guys we traded away couldn’t do that IMO.
I think we’re reading too much into JVs efficiency vs bench players.

Samson
(strong take, Nick. Hope you’re ready to fight for your life.)

Louis
I honestly think I’m with Nick. We might just be overthinking this.

Samson
(strong take, Louis. Hope you’re ready to fight for your life.)

Matt
Jonas was underrated, but there are certain areas that Gasol brings incremental improvements. Similar screen setting (sorely missed since Jonas went down), and roll gravity. Not as good of a finisher inside, but a better shooter overall (or at least more willing). Equal man defender but more vocal in organizing the team in front of him. And a much better passer, which I think is the big key. He created plenty of wide open looks last night and I expect that will only make more of a difference when he sees the floor with Kyle and Kawhi.

Josh
Valanciunas basically won the Wizards series last post-season!

Nick
But that was the Wizards. And this is an entirely different team than the one we fielded last year. JVs role is not as large as it was in that team so I don’t think that performance is necessarily transferable to this year.

Anthony
I really hope I am underrating the value of Gasol here. I hope he’s better than I expect. But that really comes back to him needing to be used better than he was last night, which is a hard thing for me to take on faith.

Matt
Besides, Marc-y Marc and the Funky Bench (Gasol, Siakam, OG, Norm, and Fred) have a Net Rating of +175 in their 2 minutes together.

Samson
I think the main divide here, is that Gasol is being compared to Monroe, which was always going to go in his favour. But he’s also being compared to an idealized version of Valanciunas.

Louis
Samson, I think you’re spot on.
I think the point is that we can’t know yet, because obviously 20 minutes aren’t enough either way.
And so we’re judging in comparisons to what we already know. Because we don’t really know Gasol himself yet. But we will. And I’m excited to learn!

Josh
SMALL SAMPLE SIZE THEATRE. EVERYONE TAKE A SEAT. WOOOOOOO!

Samson
I don’t even care about anything until Gasol lobs to Siakam.

Josh
Correct me if I’m wrong, Louis, but aren’t you usually the pessimist in these talks? Seeing you on the optimistic side is throwing me off.

Louis
I’m just trying to stir the pot.
I don’t have opinions.

Josh
Right. Opinions are for nerds.

Louis
Can’t figure out how to end this now, btw. So if anyone has a doozy, drop it now.

Samson
Yeah Louis, good luck stitching together this badboy.

Matt
Louis cares not for the truth, only the content.

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