One hundred ninety four minutes. This is the totality of Marc Gasol’s tenure on the court with the Toronto Raptors so far. This number is merely a morsel in comparison to the feast of a regular season schedule that spans over six months.
Yet, in this brief amount of time there has been plenty to talk about. Since Gasol joined the team, Toronto’s assists bumped from 24.9 to 28.6 per game. Gasol’s added playmaking has provided easy opportunities for others – the Raptors are currently shooting 58.1 per cent from the field off of his passes. The uniqueness of his playing style offers excitement and uncertainty as to how this team will ultimately look like come April.
Gasol’s time with the Raptors has been something of a speed dating event, each player getting a fleeting moment to form a bond with the big man. As is the case in the world of love, some of these relationships have blossomed more successfully than others.
So what are the relationships that Gasol has built with individual Raptors looking like?
Kyle Lowry – the rekindled flame.
A lot can change in ten years.
Sheesh. I’m not sure what was being served at lunchtime in the Memphis Grizzlies’ facility. ‘18/19 Lowry is a serious glow-up from ‘08/09 Lowry, albeit equally as feisty. At the time, Gasol was a better fit with a quieter, deferential floor operator in Mike Conley and Lowry was shipped off to the Houston Rockets (Conley still has zero technical fouls in his career, compared to Lowry’s 72).
Now in his latter years, Gasol is relishing his re-established partnership with the hyper-aggressive Lowry. The contrasting styles of how Conley and Lowry function in the two-man game with Gasol is a fun comparison.
Conley is inclined to saunter his way into the lane and wait for the opportune moment to release his righty floater, whereas Lowry bulldozes to his spot. The assertiveness of Lowry’s move even catches Gasol off-guard! Prior to the Gasol trade, Lowry was reluctant to shoot the ball to the point where it was becoming detrimental to the team. However, in the three games with Gasol in as a starter, Lowry’s scoring output has increased from 14.8 to 24.3 points per game and his field goal attempts have risen from 11.6 to 16.6 per game.
Gasol and Lowry have reconnected at the perfect time of their careers. The pairing is primed to alleviate Lowry’s playmaking burden and unlock his scoring ability – Lowry now carries the lightest load in recent memory entering the playoffs. Although much has been made about Gasol’s impact on Lowry, the point guard will also bring the best out of him. Young, passive players that miss defensive rotations or fail to move off-ball quickly draw the ire of the big center. Lowry’s crown as the charge-taking king and overall doggedness personifies the ‘grit-n-grind’ mentality that Gasol is accustomed to.
Pat McCaw – the one-night stand.
Now, I’m not really into one-night stands. I feel as if it is something that cool people do. Nevertheless, I’m guessing that one of these brief, passionate flings would look something like Gasol and Patrick McCaw’s connection on a Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets. When Gasol sauntered onto the court during his home debut, he was looking for a dance partner. McCaw duly obliged, and the two began to tango (I believe this is the dance move singles currently use).
Although the evening belonged to Gasol, McCaw finished with his highest scoring output in Raptors colours. The duo’s interplay brought life to a crowd that was being pummelled by a barrage of Joe Harris three pointers. Unfortunately, this may be the last we see of their fireworks as McCaw will inevitably slide deeper down the bench as the playoffs approach.
Norman Powell – the old married couple
It is in my family’s DNA to always be the most forgetful people in the room. The McQueen tradition is to lose the house keys, leave articles of clothing at a party, and on special occasions, forget our significant other’s birthday (sorry for exposing you dad!). Thankfully, our partners have harnessed a telekinetic ability to proactively account for our stupidness. They understand where we are going and what we are doing before we even do.
Within a handful of games, Gasol and Norman Powell are already developing that unspoken bond. Gasol’s presence has steadied Powell in the pick-and-roll, offering a safe roll option and gifting him slightly more space with sturdy screens. Powell also loves to hover near Gasol in off-ball scenarios, either curling around the big man to separate from his defender or making nifty cuts towards the rim in the hopes for a quick dish.
Only Kyle Lowry has been involved in more passes with Gasol, which is to be expected from the team’s lead ball handler. Gasol is also currently averaging an assist per game to Powell. Ancillary pieces like Powell are being increasingly looked at as having to be rigid, floor-spacing ‘3 and D’ players, yet his instinctual reads off of the creative playmaker are resulting in a handful of easy buckets. Powell has acknowledged the importance of understanding Gasol’s tendencies.
“It’s all about change. It is all about learning what he likes to do on the court and playing off him,” Powell said after a win against the Boston Celtics. “Marc’s a great post big man offensively and defensively. He’s able to do a lot of things – space the floor and find the tough, difficult passes.”
Serge Ibaka – strictly platonic
I went on a blind date once. It was horrific. Within ten minutes of talking to each other, both of us knew that this was most likely a waste of our time. Still, we carried on with the charade, went mini-putting (I shot terribly), left to go our separate ways, and then proceeded to exchange in gratingly awkward small talk whenever we bumped into one another from then onwards.
It also only took ten minutes of the ‘Twin Tower’ lineup of Gasol and Serge Ibaka for Nick Nurse to know that it was a bad idea. Don’t expect to see it much more. Gone are the days of an Andrew Bynum/Pau Gasol frontcourt dominating the NBA Finals. Therefore, Ibaka and Gasol have an understanding of their separate roles.
Gasol and Ibaka are consummate professionals. They have a combined 21 years of NBA experience and are more concerned with a championship ring than individual stats. It is also really, really hard not to like either one of them, even when Ibaka decides to launch his ill-advised knuckleball three pointers! This is what makes the frontcourt debate so polarizing. Still, there is only one position available between the big men amongst the starting unit. Don’t count on Gasol and Ibaka operating a hi-lo action, or mini-putting together, anytime soon.
Kawhi Leonard – still playing hard to get
Here is how I wish Kawhi Leonard scored all of his baskets:
Here is how Leonard usually scores all of his baskets:
Either way, most of the time the ball goes in the hoop. As has been widely covered, Leonard’s offense lives in a world of its own. Currently, 67.1 per cent of his field goals have come unassisted, the largest number for a starting forward. Raptors fans get chills when they hear the words iso-ball and playoffs uttered in the same sentence, yet Leonard is an entirely new entity that destroys defenders in one-on-one matchups.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice if he at least acted as if he occasionally needed his teammates? Leonard is the girl that is so far out of everyone’s league that no one ever dares approach her. I still hold out hope that Gasol can develop a two-man game with Leonard, but the Spaniard is intelligent enough to know that giving an MVP-caliber player space to do his thing is usually for the best.
Pascal Siakam – swipe right
Pascal Siakam is perfect in every single way and if you can’t see that… well then you are clearly blind or a delusional Boston Celtics fan that still believes they have legitimate championship aspirations.
In actuality, Siakam and Gasol are yet to have truly gelled as the latter slowly integrates himself into the starting unit. However, it is not hard to be intrigued by their combination of speed and savvy. Despite his plodding speed, Gasol is an incredible outlet passer that will find the whizzing Siakam in transition to instigate the fast break. Expect more plays to be updated into the Siakam Spice Index courtesy of Gasol’s facilitating wizardry.