Cover Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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Not gonna lie I almost cried today because I’m so happy for my Kam turning the big 5. Even though I’m not there I’m still there and I love you!!! You’re amazing,funny,and the smile you have will light up ANY room. Always be you my son I love you!! Happy 5th Birthday #KAMKINGLOWRY #yeshegotmorehopsthanme
For Gasol, the COVID-19 shutdown gave him a chance to catch his breath following a massively successful, yet incredibly taxing year. Gasol won two championships — the Larry O’Brien trophy for the Raptors, and the FIBA World Cup for his native Spain — and it noticeably affected his conditioning. The 35-year-old had been going non-stop since being traded from Memphis to Toronto last winter and it caught up to him.
“You go from a late run in June, a great run in June, and putting everything on the line for the team. In July we started with the national team and try to accomplish something very special with them too, which we obviously did, so those are two very taxing efforts,” Gasol explained.
“At the end of the day, you have to put in the time, you have to put in the work if you’re going to use that much energy. If you only take money in the bank and never put money in the bank, you’ll go broke.“
Run It Back: How the Raptors stack up in the East
The past four months have given Gasol a chance to recover, and his teammates can’t stop raving about his transformation. Gasol wouldn’t put a number on his weight loss, but it’s clear that his fitness is miles ahead of where it was in October. As soon as he completed his quarantine in Toronto, Gasol organized a meeting with his trainers and got to work on a regiment in Spain.
“I just thought about maximizing the situation. Not only for professional reasons, but also for personal reasons too. Spending time with the family, understanding what’s important and what’s not, and kinda reflected a little bit on everything,“ Gasol said.
The Raptors will need the absolute best from Gasol as they look to defend their title in Orlando. Toronto has the defensive personnel to match up with anybody in the East, but where it’s lacking is offence. Gasol’s scoring has never been consistent since coming to Toronto, as he mostly looks to create chances for others. But when defensive schemes tighten in the playoffs, when opponents key in on clogging the paint for Pascal Siakam while running Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Kyle Lowry off the 3-point line, it will come down to Gasol to provide balance in their attack.
It is uncertain what this means for any potential change to Gasol’s role. Nick Nurse has repeatedly spoken about getting the centre more involved in the offence, and did so again this past weekend, but it’s unclear if that will ever actually materialize. The Raptors’ halfcourt offence has been a problem, at least as far as the Raptors’ first-world problems (can we call these Gran Destino problems?) go, and injecting some more of Gasol’s intelligence into their attack could yield some benefits.
You would expect Gasol’s body transformation to help in the area where he already contributes the most. That is, on defence. At the time of the league stoppage, Gasol ranked eighth in the league in defensive-player impact plus-minus, and third among centres. ESPN’s defensive-real plus-minus metric rankled him ninth among centres. Gasol is a genius on that end of the floor, maybe the most impactful Raptor per minute, which is saying quite a lot.
If he has a weakness from that perspective, it is his footspeed. Gasol doesn’t lumber around like Jonas Valanciunas, and his PhD in defensive positioning has always allowed him to minimize any liabilities. However, if he got stuck on an island against a quicker player, it was problematic. He is not going to be OG Anunoby all of a sudden, but any personal improvement amounts to team improvement. As you would guess, for Gasol, that’s the whole point.
“Frustrating season. It was a frustrating season for me personally because I could never get a rhythm and help the team the way that I should be helping the team,” Gasol said when asked about the motivation for the changes to his body. “As soon as … we got informed the facility was closing down, I got together with my team on a phone call and got going on a plan to resolve these ongoing issues.
“You go from a late run in June, a great late run in June, and putting everything on the line for the (Raptors). In mid-July, we started with the national team and tried to complete something special with them, too, which we obviously did. Those are two very taxing efforts, right? At the end of the day, you have to put in the time, you have to put in the work if you’re going to use that much energy. If you only take money out of the bank and never put money in the bank, you’re gonna go broke.”
The Raptors bear some responsibility for Gasol’s physical breakdown. Nurse spoke during training camp about using “load management,” before the term was unofficially banned by the league, on Gasol given his busy year. Gasol sat out some of the training camp and played in just two of the Raptors’ four preseason games, but he was back at his regular load from last year following the trade once the regular season started. He averaged more than 30 minutes per game in the 10 early-season games Serge Ibaka missed with a sprained ankle, compared to the nearly 25 he averaged last season after he arrived from Memphis.
To extend the analogy, Gasol was determined to use the nearly four-month break from competition – almost unprecedented for him given he’s been in the playoffs seven times in the past nine NBA seasons and has played internationally in the summers 11 of his 14 years as a professional – to pay off his credit cards and build up his savings again.
Based on the head-turning physical transformation he was able to accomplish while in Spain and largely under lockdown, Gasol could be ready to splash some money around when competition heats up — beginning with the Raptors’ first of eight seeding games, on Aug. 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
‘Skinny Marc Gasol’ became a social media talking point the minute photographs of a leaner, more muscular version of the 35-year-old seven footer began circulating online in late May and early June.
Once he joined his teammates in Florida and they could see the transformation was not due to some clever filter usage, the reactions were even more evocative.
“I was shocked seeing him,” Raptors wing Patrick McCaw said Wednesday. “It was like, ‘Sheesh,’ …I think he thinks he’s my age again now but he looks great, moving well, moving fast, handling the ball, just the change that he made is super … it’s good and I’m excited to see him play”
Gasol’s no stranger to physical transformations. The most significant he ever made came when he shed, by his estimate, 100 pounds from the end of his days as a Big Mac-bingeing high school star in 2002 and 2003 in Memphis — where lived while his older brother, Pau, starred for the Grizzlies — to when he earned Spanish League MVP honours in 2008 prior to coming to the NBA for the 2008-09 season.
In the NBA, he’s generally been listed at 255 pounds and his commitment to managing his weight and fitness was described as “fanatical” by Spanish national team head coach and Raptors assistant Sergio Scariolo when Toronto acquired Gasol at the trade deadline in 2019.
But what’s often missing in a busy NBA life that other elite athletes point to as essential in making the small gains and adjustments that matter at the highest levels is time, routine and consistency.
With a schedule suddenly devoid of flights, late nights and intense competition almost every other day, Gasol went to work.
The one topic that Gasol isn’t especially interested in talking about is: Gasol. Don’t expect the veteran centre to pat himself on the back. After 12 seasons in the NBA, the former Defensive Player of the Year has become quite good at politely swatting away questions that are designed to elicit self-praise.
Ask him about his historic dominance over Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid or Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and he’ll credit his team’s collective defensive effort. Ask him if he’s thought about his chances of making the Hall of Fame when his illustrious NBA and international careers come to an end and he’ll tell you it hasn’t crossed his mind.
So, when he finally spoke to the media for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to see him quickly shift the conversation away from his recent physical transformation. But, hey, we had to give it a shot.
The legend of ‘Skinny Marc’ started to grow when a photo of the slimmed-down Gasol began to circulate online in June. How did he use the time off to get himself in such great shape?
“It goes with training regimen, goals, sleeping habits, everything,” Gasol told reporters on a Zoom call from the Disney bubble, following the Toronto Raptors’ Wednesday morning practice session. “Obviously, when you’re at home, everything is a lot easier than when you’re on the road and travelling and trying to make everything work and [to] win games.”
Did he lose weight?
“Not really sure. I don’t think that’s really relevant. What’s important. like I said, what we’ll all be measured by is winning games and getting another ring. That’s what we’re all here for. We’re all trying to be in the best situation [individually] to do that.”
Gasol, always a team player, is reluctant to talk about himself, preferring to discuss the group as a whole, so it wasn’t that surprising when he played down his own changes.
He admits he has lost weight, but stops short of saying exactly how much. He smiles awkwardly when the muscle he has added is mentioned.
“I don’t think that’s really relevant,” he said. “What’s important, like I said, what we’ll all be measured by, is winning games and getting another ring.”
Gasol, who headed back to Spain when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NBA in March, had played just one game of the previous 16 for the Raptors because of a hamstring issue and had missed another dozen earlier with the same problem.
That, more than anything, pushed him to make the best use of his pandemic time and, for Gasol, that meant transforming his body.
“It was a frustrating season for me personally because I could never get a rhythm and help the team the way that I should be helping the team,” he said. “As soon as we got informed the facility was closing down, I got together with my team on a phone call and got going on a plan to resolve these ongoing issues.”
The reasons for those issues are apparent to everyone with an even remote interest in the game. Immediately following the Raptors’ championship run, Gasol was back in Spain getting ready for his home country’s run at a world title, which basically meant he had almost zero down time this past off-season.
“You go from a late run in June and putting everything on the line for the team,” he said. “In mid-July, we started with the national team and tried to complete something special with them, too, which we obviously did. Those are two very taxing efforts, right? At the end of the day, you have to put in the time, you have to put in the work, if you’re going to use that much energy. If you only take money out of the bank and never put money in the bank, you’re gonna go broke.”
Noticeably thinner — he won’t say how many kilograms he might have shed — and more muscular (and with a different hairdo, to boot), Gasol arrived at the NBA’s Orlando restart campus ready to play at his usual high level again. The hamstring issues that hobbled him all season are gone, his head is clearer, his body better.
You could say he’s the young Gasol except that the young Gasol was always a bit puffy. He’s the new Gasol.
“I was shocked seeing him,” Toronto teammate Patrick McCaw said. “It was like, ‘sheesh,’ I couldn’t really recognize him because he had a new haircut.
“I think he thinks he’s my age again now but he looks great, moving well, moving fast, handling the ball, just the change that he made is super … it’s good and I’m excited to see him play, it’s gonna be fun.”
Gasol’s professionalism has never been questioned and his commitment to team goals is unwavering. But this change is so stark it has elevated his dedication in teammates’ eyes.
“Not saying that he’s old but the age that he is (35) and how he still wants to continue to get better and make improvements is huge,” McCaw said. “It’s going to be huge for us, he’s healthy, he’s in great shape, he looks amazing. It just adds another dynamic to our team and I’m excited to get out there and play with him.”
It’s not hard to figure out why the season went a bit awry for the Spaniard. Gasol had played a heavy role in Toronto’s NBA championship run that ended last June, and he only had a couple of weeks off before joining his national team for an extended run to the World Cup gold medal in September. It’s some heavy lifting.
Host William Lou is joined by Alex Wong to break down the Raptors’ chances in defending their title.
- What do the Raptors need from Marc Gasol?
- How much of an issue is the offense, if at all?
- What are the expectations for OG Anunoby and Terence Davis?
- Which opponent presents the toughest matchup
- Breakout candidates
Toronto Raptors: Lack of Superstar Power
Despite the loss of Kawhi Leonard in the offseason and a seemingly season-long wave of injuries, the defending champion Raptors have the same record (46-18) through 64 games as they did last season.
Still, under the bright lights and heightened intensity of the playoffs, having the best player in a series can go a long way toward winning it. And with Kawhi, Toronto always had an argument on that front.
This is still one of the deepest and best-coached teams in the NBA, but one-on-one battles against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler or other Eastern Conference stars could prove difficult.
.538: Marc Gasol’s 3-point attempt rate
Meaning, 53.8 percent of Gasol’s field goal attempts this season have come from the 3-point line.
That’s the highest mark of his career … by a mile.
According to Basketball Reference, Gasol’s previous career high was 31.4 percent, which he set last season. So he’s gone from almost a third of his field goal attempts being 3-pointers to over half since last season.
It’s quite the turnaround considering Gasol is only four seasons removed from not shooting 3s. Like, at all. (In 2015-16, he took a grand total of three 3-pointers, two of which were at the end of a shot clock). He’s been incredibly effective as well, knocking down 40.2 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. Of all centres who have attempted at least 10 3-pointers – a low bar that spits out 53 names – only five have made them at a higher rate than Gasol.
Marc Gasol’s 3-point shooting
Season 3P-3PA 3PT%
2015-16 0.0-0.1 .667
2016-17 1.4-3.6 .338
2017-18 1.5-4.4 .341
2018-19 1.3-3.5 .363
2019-20 1.4-3.5 .402
Of course, Gasol taking the amount of 3s that he does comes at a cost. He’s never been a big-time scorer, but he used to create a decent amount of his own offence, mostly in the post. Now, he spends most of his time on offence either camping out on the 3-point line or rolling to the basket for floaters and ground-bound layups.
Unless “Prime Marc” actually becomes a thing, the days of being able to dump the ball down to him as a reliable source of offence are long gone.
On the flip side, having a centre capable of making 40.2 percent of his 3-point attempts provides valuable spacing for the four players sharing the court with him. It’s probably prolonged Gasol’s career, as he’s still a positive presence on offence. As I recently wrote, he might not be in line for a big payday as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but there are several teams that would benefit greatly from having him on their team because of the spacing he provides on offence, not to mention his passing and defence.