When Marc Gasol first came to the United States from Barcelona, Spain a little over a decade ago, there were a number of things he had to get used to.
The English language, for one. Two, having an older brother play for the top basketball league in the world, the NBA. And three, figuring out how to avoid bumping his head into the frustratingly low doorways at his Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis for the next couple of years.
Looking back now, it’s safe to say Gasol adjusted to those challenges just fine.
He communicates with relentless NBA reporters on the daily, for one. Two, both he and the big bro emerged as two of the League’s top players. And three, Lausanne retired his jersey—No. 33—the same number Marc continues to sport as a pro.
But the successful completion of high school didn’t guarantee Gasol a challenge-free life the rest of his journey ahead. That’s a privilege few, if any, people receive. Let’s skip the early years of his pro career and jump right into the 2013-14 NBA season.
Heading into last year, things were looking mighty fine for Marc. SLAM ranked him No. 18 prior to the season, after all. Fresh off of a Defensive Player of the Year award and a playoff run that took the Memphis Grizz all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2013, Gasol was ready.
But you already know what came next—the worst part of sports—an injury. Gasol’s left knee sidelined him for 23 games early in the season. In the extremely competitive Western Conference, the Grizz sorely missed their star center.
Even in his shortened season, Gasol managed to average 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, along with 3.6 assists. When the incredible first-round series with the Oklahoma City Thunder rolled around with all of its overtime and four-point-play glory, Marc upped his numbers to 17.3 points, 7.7 boards, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game. The 3-2 advantage and Game 6 in Memphis just wasn’t enough to seal the series though, and Gasol and his Grizz lost the last two games, sending the Thunder and MVP Kevin Durant to the second round.
OK, so with last season’s struggles and the summertime sadness of France eliminating Gasol and the Spanish National Team in the quarter-finals of the Basketball World Cup in their home country, why is Marc No. 23 on this year’s #SLAMTop50?
Read the not-so-fine print on the bottom of these posts, folks! “Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.
Cool, so then let’s br-br-break it down.
The player’s team, the Memphis Grizzlies. Last season, after Gasol suffered a knee injury on November 22 against the Spurs, the Grizz went 10-13. They were average—and unlike in the East (sorry, East)—average doesn’t cut it in the West. Then with Gasol’s return on January 14 against the Thunder, the Grizz began tightening up their D. In all games after, they allowed opponents only 91.2 points versus the 98.3 they gave up without their defensive leader. Memphis went 33-13 after Gasol returned. Clearly, with Gasol healthy coming into the new season, we can expect he’ll again be vital to his team’s success.
The NBA. The younger Gasol is no longer a youngin’ and neither is the core group of guys on Grizzlies. The team has had time to develop its chemistry and gain valuable experience by consistently reaching the postseason. In 2014-15, Gasol and the Grizz hopefully won’t need to play catch up, and instead, can serve as a force to be reckoned with in the West—keeping competition healthy and alive across the L.
And the game. Defense sure is a thing, and Gasol is a dude who doesn’t take it for granted. To see smart defensive plays by a humble 7-1 big man who also dishes assists on the regular—how’s that not good for the game? Plus, he has a global reach—continuing to make the sport popular overseas while maintaining fans’ support in Memphis.
Suited up in his Grizzlies uni on Media Day last week, Gasol told those relentless reporters, “I don’t think the journey’s over, I think the best is to come.”
Same here, Marc.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.