The NBA Dribbled Out

They are a study in contrasts: one white, large, deceptively quick and seemingly grounded both on the hardwood, and in basketball basics; the other is black, bearded, highly efficient while also being a maestro with the ball in his hands and capable of forays to the rim that have the most cynical of NBA twitterers stunned in delight. But Marc Gasol and James Harden are also a bit similar, even if it’s not apparent on the surface. External differences mask what they’ve been, and what they should be going forward: stars.

Both are incredibly efficient at their respective positions: center and guard.

Both have been component parts of excellent playoff teams that have gone to at least the second round: ‘11 Grizz; ‘11 & ‘12 Thunder.

Both possess the talent to be more than just cogs for their teams. 

Harden finally got his chance when Sam Presti decided he wasn’t worth max money with subsequent luxury taxes and dealt him to a highly relieved Daryl Morey, who promptly locked him up for the long term—finally achieving a Houston team with a bona fide star (albeit—one for the tight jean crowd). Harden rewarded Morey’s move by dropping 37 points with 12 assists while continuing his usual efficient shooting (14/25 from the floor) in his first game for the Rockets. 

But it’s Marc Gasol who is, perhaps permanently, stuck as an offensive also-ran. Maybe it’s by his own design, and Gasol believes he’ll never be able to withstand the pressure, not to mention the pounding, that comes with being the “man” on an NBA team; maybe he’s more comfortable deferring to Z-Bo like Harden did in OKC with Russ/Durant; maybe the Grizzlies other starters like Z-Bo, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley Jr. are all more skilled offensive options; maybe there’s something about Gasol’s attitude I don’t know (he seems to play hard and really give a shit from where I’m sitting). What I do know is he’s an extremely skilled big man, perhaps the most skilled big man in the league, capable of hitting the elbow shot, posting up, facing his man, defending, rebounding and passing out of double teams or to a cutting teammate. But the Grizzlies offense doesn’t utilize him nearly enough. Sort of like what we’re going to find out when Harden starts in the the all-star game this year for Houston and crushes it for whomever is lucky enough to draft him for their fantasy team.  

If you look at Centers and Center/Forwards since the 2008-09 season (when Gasol was a rookie) ranked by usage percentage (an estimated percentage of team plays run by the player when on the court), and position/height (Center, Forward-Center; minimum of 6’9”), Gasol’s 19.1% from last year is 27th on the list. Ranked ahead of him on that list are offensive forces of gargantuan efficiency like Brook Lopez, JaVale McGee, Nazr Mohammad, Spencer Hawes and Eddy Curry (Curry’s numbers are from his lone game this year). Yeah, those superstars. For a comparison on his own team, Zach Randolph has never been under a usage percentage of 20 in his entire 9-year career. Eddy Curry, through all his weight struggles, has only been under a 20% usage once in his career (in ‘08-‘09 when he played 12 minutes over 3 games and still had a higher usage percentage than Gasol’s career high. That’s absurd.

The only reasoning is the Grizzlies are blessed with superior offensive players, or players that are more effective with the ball in their hands. Except, when you look at the PER, eFG% tFG%, ORtg (offensive rating), OWS (offensive win share) on last year’s team, Gasol is the highest in all cases for guys that play significant minutes. Yet his usage rate of 19.1, a career-high, was just the 8th-best on the team last year, behind starters Randolph & Rudy Gay, plus bench guys like Marreese Speights & Jeremy Pargo (Speights replaced Randolph when he went down with the knee injury). 

In Houston, Harden’s getting his chance to show what we all knew before the Thunder traded him: he can score at a superstar’s level with magical drives and finishes at the bucket, a preternatural ability to draw fouls, and efficient long-range shooting. 

I just wonder when I’ll get to see that in Memphis with Marc Gasol, the best center on the planet that can’t get a measly 1 in 5 plays called for him. Maybe instead of just feeding Gasol early in the 1st half, Memphis makes him the focal point of their offense? Maybe  they won’t finish 20th in points scored and 21st in offensive efficiency like they did last year

Maybe I’m crazy, but why isn’t Marc Gasol touching the ball every single time Memphis comes down on offense? Do I have to wait unti he’s with another team like Harden?

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