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Rosen: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies Disappoint in Humiliating Loss to Thunder

Nikki Boertman/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

The Memphis Grizzlies suffered a humiliating 125-88 loss at home to the OKC Thunder that was mostly an extended garbage-time spectacle. But since our predetermined focus was on the Grizz’s center, Marc Gasol, there was much significant information to be gleaned from the game.

OFFENSE = 4-9 FGM-A, 3-3 FTM-A, 1 AST, 3 TO, 11 PTS

Gasol had several pluses and minuses at this end of the game.

His screens were extremely effective — 10 pile drivers against only a single miss. Several of his screens caused the Thunder to make defensive switches that created advantageous matchups for Memphis.

  • Twice Gasol wound up being guarded in the low post by Russell Westbrook (6’3”, 187), but the Grizzlies never made a determined effort to get the ball into their 7’1”, 280-pound center.
  • Another screen-and-switch resulted in Kevin Durant defending Gasol, but as the big man started his drive toward the basket, he blasted KD with his left forearm and was correctly whistled for an offensive foul.
  • Three screen-and-fades led to Gasol shooting a trio of open eight-footers, making two of them.

Memphis also got the ball to Gasol by running him off cross-baseline screens that set him up in the pivot but failed to induce a defensive switch.

  • Guarded by Enes Kanter, Gasol received the ball on the right box, faked left, then turned to sink a right-handed bank shot.
  • Again taking advantage of Kanter’s poor defense, Gasol drove baseline from the left box but missed a minimally-contested layup.
  • Interesting that Gasol was given so few post-up opportunities.

He did, however, get the ball in three isolation situations a step below either elbow (where the foul-lane marker meets the foul line) — all of these when opposed by Kanter.

  • Gasol’s favorite iso-moves are to take one or two hard dribbles left, fake a spin right, spin back to fake a shot left, then either duck under for the shot, or take the hit when/if his defender is faked off his feet and then find a shot.
  • Using these dance-and-shoot moves, Gasol drew an in-the-act foul from Kanter, then scored a banker-and-one — all in the first quarter.
  • In the second quarter, Gasol missed a flip shot after going through the same maneuver.
  • That’s three isos resulting in five points.

Gasol also missed a makeable reverse layup after receiving a nifty drop pass from Mike Conley. The big man’s final errant shot was a wide open straightaway 18-footer that bounced off the back rim.

Because of the blowout and after suffering a tweaked ankle, Gasol only played a total of 23 minutes. Even so, getting so few touches in his attack zone minimized his scoring potential — especially since so many of his teammates were shooting blanks

In addition to his points and his screens, Gasol’s passwork was excellent. He made numerous crisp reversal passes from the high post, but the Grizzlies’ off-ball player movement was virtually non-existent. Two of Gasol’s passes found undefended shooters, but both resulting shots missed. He tallied his lone assist when he manned the high post against a zone defense and whipped the ball to Jeff Green, who buried a 20-foot jumper.

Besides the offensive foul, Gasol’s other turnovers came on a foot-shuffling travel violation as he tried to drive against Serge Ibaka. Plus a bobbled pass, where he looked to drive before he had possession.

Overall, Gasol had a moderately satisfactory offensive effort. But given that the home team’s other big man, Zach Randolph, was 3-10 from the field, Gasol simply didn’t get enough scoring chances.

DEFENSE = 1 offensive rebound, 3 defensive rebounds, 1 blocked shot.

There was nothing satisfactory about the Grizzlies’ defense. Conley couldn’t keep Westbrook (16 assists!) out of the paint, heads were routinely turned and OKC shot a collective 56 percent (which at least partially accounts for Gasol’s three meager defensive ‘bounds). Nor was Gasol’s defense particularly good.

Part of Gasol’s troubles could be traced to Westbrook’s abuse of Conley — which caused Gasol to release contact with his own man to try to impede Westbrook’s approach to the rim. But time and again, the talented Thunder point guard simply passed behind Gasol to either Steven Adams or Ibaka for dunks and/or layups. These passes accounted for the 11 total points that Adams and Ibaka scored under Gasol’s watch.

Where were the baseline rotations that should’ve compensated for Gasol’s own slow and floor-bound but necessary rotations?  

On his own, Gasol had trouble trying to seal Adams off OKC’s offensive glass. That’s because Adams revived the old Paul Silas maneuver — watching the play unfold from a seemingly harmless position on the weak side, then as a shooting situation developed, stepping out of bounds and running toward the rim along the baseline. When Adams approached the basket, a forceful move back on to the court resulted in gaining inside position as the shot was released. This enabled Adams to box out Gasol instead of being boxee. That’s why Adams was able to grab four offensive rebounds in his 14 minutes of daylight.

Of course, Gasol did battle to get past Adams, but the latter had immovable position. However, when Kanter tried a similar maneuver, Gasol unleashed an elbow to the head that gained good rebounding position for him — but the shot was good and no rebound was up for grabs.

What else did Gasol do on defense?

Intimidated Durant into missing a layup. Didn’t buy a fake by Kanter and blocked the resulting shot. Successfully kept up with Adams and Ibaka as they sprinted downcourt on the crest of OKC fast breaks. Had injury added to insult when he fouled a driving Andre Robertson, then hurt his ankle when he landed on somebody’s foot.

VERDICT – Gasol is playing for the wrong team. He and his frontcourt mate Randolph are simply too slow on both ends of the court. Unless they can both take the fullest advantage of their respective sizes and bulk, quick teams like the Thunder can run Memphis ragged. As slow-footed as he might be, Gasol is still quicker than Randolph.

What’s the solution? Trade Gasol to a fleet-footed team that can maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses? Trade Randolph for an Ibaka-like big?

As it is, Gasol’s power, passwork, screen-setting, interior moves with the ball and advanced basketball IQ are mostly being wasted in Memphis.

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