A folklore hero for some time in Spain, and now for the rest of his life in Toronto, Marc Gasol is coming back for a second season with the Raptors. Not only did Gasol win it all with the Raptors last year, but he added on another piece of hardware with the Spanish national team. In both performances we saw how ‘Beer Papi’ contributes to a winning team. Although we’ve seen plenty of Gasol in a Raptors jersey, the departure of Kawhi Leonard and the re-tooling of the Raptors offense could necessitate a version of Gasol that we didn’t often see last year with the Raptors, but a return to Grizzlies/Spanish form.
Gone are the days of Gasol operating strictly as a 5-out center with the Raptors. Before his arrival in Toronto, Gasol had more ‘elbow’ touches than any other player in the NBA over the past 5 years. Look to Nick Nurse to diversify the types of offense that are run through Gasol and the post. The Raptors lost some creation at the wing position and there’s an assortment of ‘DHO’ and split-action sets that Gasol can be the fulcrum of.
Not only is there connective tissue in the fact that, Gasol was capable of this more voluminous playstyle as recently as this summer, but Sergio Scariolo the Spanish teams coach, happens to be an assistant for the Raptors. There’s no question that Nurse and Scariolo are working to find NBA applications for these sets with Gasol.
“It’s like ketchup. You try to open it, it seems that it stays closed and when the ketchup comes out it goes everywhere. He has uncovered the basket, has made important shots but above all he has threatened and complicated the defensive life of others. Because having a colossus in defense that is forced to leave so much left spaces for others.” – Sergio Scariolo on Gasol’s World Cup (translated from Spanish)
Like Ricky Rubio, Kyle Lowry will be a more than willing passer in the pick n’ pop/pick n’ roll; he also loves to ‘Nash’ the pick n’ roll, so Gasol can bury a mismatched guard under the basket for easy buckets. We’ve seen this happen with the Raptors, only these instances are farther apart because of Leonard’s presence on the floor. The point is that there is a roadmap to recreating Gasol’s success (at least in part) at the World Cup.
As Lowry noted, Pascal Siakam figures to be the ‘go-to guy’ for the Raptors this year. Siakam hasn’t broken out a stand-out isolation game as of yet, and despite his above average creation for his position he still relies on his teammates for the bulk of his shots. Luckily for the future of the Gasol-Siakam pairing, ‘Spicy P’ is fantastic working off of the ball. When Gasol is surveying with the ball in his hands, defenses key-in on him and leave soft spots, Siakam can find those and Gasol can find him.
The opposite is true as well, of course. Siakam is no slouch when creating shots for his teammates, and Gasol stands to benefit from the attention that will be paid to him. When Siakam starts to bend his back and lower his head, gearing up for a dive to the rim with the ball in hand, defenses will bend and shrink in response. As the defenses shrink tighter, Gasol will float out to the perimeter for open looks.
Of the players who are still on the roster from last year to this year, none of them have shot less than 40-percent from downtown on passes from Gasol. On the other end of things, when the the Raptors main creators (Lowry, VanVleet) passed to Gasol out of the pick n’ pop he shot over 50-percent from downtown. Whether or not Nurse will opt to have Gasol come off the bench on occasion is still up in the air, but there’s no question he has the tools to succeed next to bench players or starters.
Last year’s over abundance of shot-creators on the Raptors dictated that Gasol fall back a bit in the offense (USG% dropped from 22.3 to 16.3 from Grizzlies to Raptors). The Raptors are in flux this year, though, as far as it relates to shot-creation. This vacuum leaves room for obvious candidates like Powell, Siakam and Anunoby, but Gasol will no doubt absorb some of those responsibilities.
There’s a chance that Serge Ibaka could take over the starting role this year, with the Raptors looking to depend on his outstanding work from the mid-range and the excellent Lowry-Ibaka pick n’ roll. If that’s the case Gasol’s job will be to lift up sagging bench units. If Gasol keeps his starting position expect a dynamic two-man game from him and Siakam to develop. Regardless, Gasol will be a massive factor for the coming season.
Have a blessed day.