Marc Gasol had a shot blocked by J.R. Smith this week.
The moment was just one of many low points in the Grizzlies’ matchup with the Cavaliers that turned what might have been, in a long shot and homer fan wishful thinking kind of way, a preview of the NBA Finals into an all-out 111-89 drubbing of the grit and grind boys.
Gasol contributed 18 points and just three rebounds in the game.
He’s too big for that. Just like he’s too big to be ranked 29th overall in the NBA in rebounds per game.
And he’s way too big to be getting his shot blocked by J.R. Smith.
It’s ironic really. Smith is just one of many pieces that the Knicks traded away this season in what one can only assume is part of the team’s strategy to start rebuilding for the future. The moves certainly didn’t make the current team any better. They’re saving their improvement efforts for this summer and hoping Gasol will figure prominently into their plans.
Gasol’s most recent comments about his impending free agency stopped just shy of being contradictory.
So I guess he has thought about it a little bit, right? Just long enough not to rule out a possible move from one of the NBA’s smallest markets to one of its biggest.
When the time comes to decide whether to leave or stay, he’ll have the benefit of some informed counsel from his big brother, who’s finishing up his first season in his second NBA locale since he left Memphis in the same trade that brought Marc to town.
Pau Gasol actually passed up a chance to play for the Knicks last summer because he felt that the Bulls “were a more balanced team with better weapons overall.” Operating at an even more significant deficit now, the Knicks will have decidedly less balance and fewer weapons when and if the younger Gasol chooses to take a bite out of the big apple.
For the Knicks’ sake, I hope it’s not more than he can chew.
Marc doesn’t do much dirty work for a guy who is considered one of the best centers in the game. Despite being ranked 13th in the league in blocked shots, there’s the story that those rebounds and his 28th-ranked efficiency rating tells.
At 7’1″ he spends less time mixing it up around the basket than you might immediately notice. More specifically, he has the benefit of playing alongside some guys that get deep into the trenches, which sometimes makes it less necessary for him to do so. There is always the threat of Marc in the middle though, and that’s something.
Speaking of his benefactors, Zach Randolph handles much of the bodying and mean-mugging nastiness down low while Tony Allen takes care of the perimeter. They set the tone for a team of executioners whose nightly goal is to hijack opponents’ hearts and souls. I’m not saying Gasol isn’t a dedicated contributor to the cause. I’m just saying it might be hard to know how tough he can really be without the advantage of that venomous safety net.
Hopefully, the answer isn’t in the genes.
No one can deny the elder Gasol’s talent, but he’s certainly fared better when he’s played good cop opposite a bad cop in his teams’ front courts. His greatest successes came next to Andrew Bynum in the Lakers’ back-to-back championship run in 2009-2010. Even now with the Bulls, Pau’s reemergence and statistical artistry likely owe some of their existence to Joakim Noah’s brilliant monstrousness.
Before any of that happened though, he was a disappointment in Memphis. Not because he wasn’t a very good basketball player. Because he wasn’t enough — mean enough, vocal enough, enough of a presence, enough of a star.
It would be a shame for Marc to leave Memphis only to learn the same.