It’s been over a month since Andre Drummond replaced Marc Gasol in the starting lineup, and the conversation surrounding the two Lakers centers hasn’t cooled down since then — in fact, it may have reached its boiling point on Monday night.
In the Lakers’ 93-89 win over the No. 3 seed in the West, the Denver Nuggets, Marc Gasol was unequivocally the second-best center on the floor behind Nikola Jokic. He didn’t record a double-double, something Drummond has done eight times in the last month, nor did he have a monster scoring night; he just did little things to maximize the talent around him, particularly on offense.
With Gasol on the floor on Monday, the Lakers scored at a rate that would equal 129.4 points per 100 possessions, which gave him the highest offensive rating on the team. With Gasol on the bench, that number plummeted to 80.3 points, which is obviously bad, but it’s still better than the 77.3 points per 100 possessions that the Lakers scored with Drummond on the court last night.
Defensively, Gasol made Nikola Jokic work for his baskets, holding him to 2-6 shooting from the field in the three minutes they were matched up against each other, according to NBA.com. Jokic shot 50% from the field (6-12) when Drummond was his primary defender.
For Gasol and the fans that have advocated for him to have a bigger role, Monday night couldn’t have gone much better, but the 12-year veteran didn’t take a victory lap after the game. Instead, he asked that people stop pitting him and his teammates against each other.
“I think we have to start thinking more as a team instead of mentioning guys’ (roles),” Gasol said. “It’s more who we are as a team and who we’re going to be. Everyone tied to one another, because whether you play zero minutes or 20 minutes, the team’s success is everyone’s success.
“When you go out there, you try to do as well as possible to help the team, because if you help the team, more times than not you’re going to win a lot of games,” Gasol continued. “I think we have to kind of forget about the players and situations, and individual guys, and think more as a whole about who we’re going to be as a team moving forward.”
Gasol’s comments on Monday were stark in contrast from the comments he made when he was first benched for Drummond in March, despite the fact that his situation hasn’t changed much at all. In the 10 games leading up to Monday’s game, Gasol was a healthy scratch seven times.
The real change was in Gasol’s mindset. He’s always been a team-first player but now he’s had to time accept the situation that he’s in. It may not be his preferred situation, but it’s one he knows that almost all of his teammates will go through at some point in their championship run.
“I think it’s about the team and how we all try to help the team be a better team,” Gasol said. “That’s all. One night it’s going to be some guys (playing), and other nights it will be other guys, and to me it’s about that. So when the team does well, we all do well, whether you’re playing zero minutes or 35 minutes, you’re doing your job every night.
“So I’m not going to sit here and tell you the things that I can do that other guys can’t. There’s some things that they do that it’s impossible for me to do, it’s just physically impossible. I can try every day to catch lobs and be above the rim all night long, that’s just never been that way. And there’s things I do that are a little bit different. But it’s about the team, and how we all put the priority and goal on winning. That’s it.”
Gasol has actually taken a liking to his new role as a specialist. He even compared himself to Mr. Wolfe, a character from Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” that makes problems disappear with a single phone call.
“I just come in whenever things don’t go great and help everyone,” Gasol said. “So I’ve accepted it, I’ll try to do as best as possible at that role.”
Gasol’s acceptance of his role as the team’s official cleaner earned him praised from Frank Vogel after the game.
“Marc Gasol is a winner,” Vogel said. “He understands what it takes to win at a high level, and that type of commitment and sacrifice and whatever the team needs attitude is what’s necessary for us to win a championship, and that’s what we’re asking of him, and all of our guys really, and for him to be in that headspace and having that attitude is something that is really going to benefit us.”
Vogel has used Gasol as a third-string center since Drummond’s arrival, but he said the plan for Monday was to rotate between Drummond and Gasol whenever Jokic was on the floor. That plan was thrown off a bit when Drummond got into early foul trouble, but he thought it worked out in the end.
“We like the duo of Drummond and Marc matching up on Joker,” Vogel said. “We saw Marc a little bit throughout the year in the first two matchups. I wanted to see a heavy dose of Drum on him. I thought both guys did a good job.
“We gave up 32 points and 5 assists, but that’s pretty good relative with what he’s doing to the rest of the league. That started with Drum, and Marc really came in and did a spectacular job defensively on Joker, but also facilitating offensively.”
It’s unclear if Gasol’s performance on Monday earned him more playing time, but there’s no doubt in Vogel’s mind that he’s capable.
“He’s a hell of a weapon,” Vogel said of Gasol. “And so is Drummond, and so is Trezz (laughs). Those are what you call good problems for a coach, and Drum is the guy that is newest here, so I think it’s important for him to get as many minutes as he can during this stretch to get comfortable with everything that we’re trying to do, to look at matchups and for us to figure out the best ways to utilize his skill set. Because we’re going to need all three of those guys.”
And whether they need Gasol or not on any given night, he’s all right with that. He just wants to help the team win, from the floor or the bench.