by Yaron Weitzman / @YaronWeitzman
Certain guys just make it easier to build a winning team.
To me, Joakim Noah is one of these guys. Kawhi Leonard, too. They do the little things, is how people like to describe players like these. This bothers me because I’m not entirely sure why every aspect of a basketball game aside from scoring is considered something little, or how such a definition even came to be.
After all, while I don’t have some complex formula or any numbers to back it up, I think it’s safe to say that, in an NBA game, each team will spend about half of the time playing defense, meaning that a defensive stud—which is the type of player who usually gets labeled as someone who does the little things—is contributing much more to his team’s cause than he often gets credit for. Especially if you’re of the belief—which has been statistically proven—that defense contributes to a Championship slightly more than offense.
Same goes for guys who make an offense better without actually scoring. When someone creates a lay-up for someone else, that is not a little thing. When a player with a deadly three-point shot forces his defender to stick to him instead of drop down to stop a driving player, that is not a little thing. Same goes for setting a back-breaking screen for a curling guard under the basket and numerous other skills that help create efficient offense.
Which is all really just a convoluted way of saying the following: Marc Gasol is one of the more valuable players in the League. In fact, you could probably make a pretty good case that Gasol should be better than No. 18 on the SLAM Top 50.
Defensively, Gasol is as good as anyone. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year can shut down post players on the block, blow up a pick-and-roll, act as conductor from the back line. With him on the floor, Memphis’ already stingy defense—which, per NBA.com, held opponents to 97.4 points against per 100 possessions last season—allowed a microscopic 95.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would have been tops in the League. Gasol, who “only” averaged 1.7 blocks per game last season, is everything you want the so-called anchor of a defense to be. He’s also the antidote to the misguided belief in the equation that tons-of-blocks-equals-great-defense.
On offense, Gasol is able to control a game’s outcome without being a prolific scorer (14.1 ppg, 49 FG%). He’s a brilliant passer (especially from the elbow, where he makes both Chris Webber and Vlade Divac proud), a knock-down mid-ranger shooter (he shot 47 percent from 16-23 feet last season), and a solid post player, too. Whereas most of the League’s 7-foot defensive studs manage to contribute on offense by figuring out how to correctly fit in (Noah) or by developing a singular skill (Tyson Chandler: rolling to the hoop), Gasol has learned how to actually control a game’s outcome on the offensive end, as opposed to just playing off of someone else.
The main reason for that is because in Memphis’ anemic offense Gasol is that “someone else.” Gasol may not be the Grizzlies’ leading scorer, but he’s, without question, their best and most important offensive player. Aside from LeBron James and Dwight Howard, how many other defensive stars can boast this title? How many other players on this list contribute as much as Gasol does on both ends of the floor?
Marc Gasol is a guy who could play on any team, within any system, with any player, and instantaneously make everyone and everything around him better. This may sound like something simple, but plenty of the League’s greatest stars (hello, Carmelo) have proven otherwise. Gasol doesn’t do the little things on the court; he does everything. And he does them better than most.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.