After a season in which we saw big names like Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez step up for Eastern Conference contenders, one player has flown under the radar.
That man is Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, whose stellar play was a big reason why the Grizzlies were able to rip off 56 wins and capture the fifth seed in a highly competitive Western Conference.
At first glance, Gasol's numbers don't appear to be anything spectacular. Why should a guy averaging 14.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game be celebrated? The answer lies in his diversity, as Gasol dished out a career-high four assists and added 1.7 blocks per night to aid the Memphis cause.
A proficient jump shooter, Gasol was positively dynamite from mid-range this season. As you can see from his shot chart (via NBA.com's stats database), Gasol shot above the league average from all but two mid-range spots.
Of important value here is Gasol's free-throw line jumper, which was true 45 percent of the time. If Gasol can continue to knock down that shot with similar consistency in the postseason, Memphis will have a nice backbone to stabilize its offense.
In terms of league-wide context, Gasol's numbers appear even more impressive. According to Basketball-Reference, Gasol is one of nine players to average more than 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one block per game this season.
Among those nine players, Gasol posted the second-highest total win shares (11.8), second only to Kevin Durant.
The fluidity of Gasol's movement on the court is a special sight to see, whether he's throwing pretty no-look passes or locking up defenders with his flawless footwork.
Versatility is the name of the game for Gasol, who, as you can see above, runs the floor like a gazelle and can pass out of the high or low post with ease.
Value to Memphis
When examining the statistics further, it's evident that the Grizzlies struggled without Gasol on the court this season. According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies were plus-434 with Gasol on the court and minus-94 with him off the floor.
In addition, the Grizzlies shot nearly three percentage points worse from the field (42.7 percent) when Gasol was sitting compared to when he was playing (45.1 percent).
Another major point of emphasis is how the Grizzlies defense played with Gasol off the court. According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies allowed just 95.4 points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the floor and 102.2 points per 100 possessions when he was off the court.
Anchoring the league's premier defense (89.3 points per game allowed), Gasol has a strong case for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Considering the Grizzlies ranked in the bottom half of the NBA in points per 100 possessions during the regular season (104.9), per Basketball-Reference, a steady dose of Gasol on the offensive end will be imperative to Memphis' championship hopes.
As we saw in Game 1 on Saturday night, Gasol is the fulcrum of the Grizzlies offense. Lionel Hollins loves to tailor sets around Gasol, specifically trying to get him the ball at free-throw line depth.
Once Gasol's in possession of the rock, the Grizzlies are able to run action that directs players toward the basket. An example of Gasol's brilliant court vision can be seen below.
Here, DeAndre Jordan stays with Mike Conley off the high screen, leaving Gasol as a free roller in the middle of the floor.
With Jordan late to recover, Caron Butler is forced to help, and Gasol calmly delivers a behind-the-back dime to Ed Davis for an easy finish at the rim.
It's plays like those that show just how unique a player Gasol truly is.
On Saturday, Gasol finished the night with 16 points on 33.3 percent shooting (4-of-12). However, he was able to get involved in other ways, doling out a team-high seven assists.
On the surface, his game doesn't scream superstar. But after reviewing the facts, there's no denying that Gasol is one of the game's true gems.
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