In many ways, Marc Gasol was the final piece of the final piece of the Lakers’ offseason puzzle. In November, the team traded their starting center, JaVale McGee, to the Cleveland Cavaliers to create enough room under the hard cap to sign both Gasol and Markieff Morris to veteran’s minimum contracts. While Morris was the one that played a crucial role for the Lakers in the NBA Finals last season, it’s Gasol that’s had to deal with the weight of expectations this season.
In his 13th season, Gasol, a three-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year, has had to prove that he can still be a starting center on a championship-caliber team like he was just two years ago with the Toronto Raptors, and he’s had to do it while playing his way, which is drastically different than the way McGee and Dwight Howard played last season. So far, he’s been relatively successful.
Through 27 games, Gasol has managed to be a positive for the Lakers by making smart passes that we didn’t see from anyone at the center position last season and being disruptive on the defensive end with his sheer size. His +6.9 net rating is the sixth-highest net rating of anyone on the team that has averaged more than five minutes per game this season.
And yet, there’s this lingering feeling that he could be doing more, particularly on offense. This season, Gasol is averaging 4.2 points per game on 40% shooting from the field, both of which are career-lows for him. That hasn’t been a problem for the Lakers because of how many offensive weapons they have outside of him, but given his own talents, the team would benefit from getting him more involved on offense, and he showed that against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.
With Anthony Davis sidelined, Gasol played a season-high 29:43 against the Timberwolves and scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting from the field, including 3-4 shooting from behind the 3-point line. Tuesday marked just the second time Gasol cracked double figures this season. Ironically, his only other game with 10 or more points also came against Minnesota.
Those numbers may not be awe-inspiring, but those few extra points were crucial in a game that the Lakers only won 112-104. It also showed what Gasol can do with a few extra touches, something Frank Vogel has struggled to get him to start the season.
“He’s with a new team in a unique situation, playing with two big-time stars in Bron and AD and the early part of the season, he’s really just, to his credit, he’s just trying to fit in in the minutes he’s getting,” Vogel said on Tuesday. “You know, we slid AD over to the 5 a lot late, which leaves him out of the game, so I think it has been difficult for him at certain times to catch a rhythm, but I think you’re going to see that during this stretch of games that he and Trezz going to man the 5 position at a very, very high level and I think they got off to a great start tonight.”
Gasol confirmed Vogel’s suspicion — that it’s been hard for him to get into a good rhythm while averaging career-lows in minutes per game (20) and usage percentage (11.3%), but he hasn’t let it get him down.
“There’s games where I’m going to play more and games where I’m going to play less, but if you dwell it on it or feel sorry for yourself or feel some type of way, you go in the next day and get some work in,” Gasol said. “That’s how we fix things in basketball. You go through the next day, the next challenge, and take it on the next team or the next practice. It’s as simple as that. It’s not really scientific.
“The older you get, the more perspective you have: you don’t dwell as much on things, you have different perspectives. So, you give your all to this job, but at the end of the day, life is bigger than what we do.”
Davis is expected to be out through the All-Star break, which means Gasol will be asked to do more on both ends of the floor for at least eight more games. While he isn’t mad about the touches he’ll get in meantime, he also doesn’t mind the role he has when Davis is healthy.
“To me, it was key to help those two guys on the team be better,” Gasol said. “They don’t have to help me be better. It’s, for me, how to help the team and make their job easier, because if I make their job easier, then we win more games. They don’t have to make my job easier by any means.”