Bruce Arthur: Marc Gasol will give until it hurts, and when it hurts the Raptors ... well, then he’ll shoot
|Toronto Star 14 Jan 2020 at 22:28|
Marc Gasol thinks a lot about other people. The Toronto Raptors centre wore a shirt to work the other day that read BECAUSE THERE IS NO PLANET B, made by a Spanish company called Ecoalf. Gasol says they buy old fishing nets and drag plastic out of the oceans and turn the plastic into fibres as part of making recycled clothing. Gasol has thought a lot more about climate change since having kids. He appreciates Toronto’s recycling system. He believes corporate polluters need to be held to account, and also in personal responsibility.
“We gotta leave a better planet for our kids,” says Gasol, the day before he was to return from injury in Oklahoma City after missing 12 games with a hamstring injury. “And I would say we gotta leave better kids for our planet as well. We gotta educate the kids. You’ve got to do your job as a citizen, but the same time, you have to also give the tools to the society to learn and create their habits so it’s a seamless transition to become a better society.”
That’s a lesson in how Gasol approaches basketball, too. Before the hamstring injury, Gasol had played some of the strangest basketball of his career, or at least, the most deliberate. He still found cutters with next-level passes, still rebounded, still defended with his enormous body and bigger basketball brain. He is such a unique, valuable player.
But he didn’t shoot. Gasol attempted 8.2 field goals per 36 minutes in his first 27 games, the lowest number of his career, and a little more than half the rate in his final two seasons in Memphis. His free-throw rate is a career low, too. His usage number, which combines field-goal and free-throw attempts plus turnovers, was the lowest of his 13-year career, too.
Gasol was missing a lot too — shooting .376 on two-pointers, a career low, and .364 overall — which just might be because he played 103 NBA games last season on the way to a championship. And then celebrated as if he had won five, as he put it. And then spent the summer playing centre for the Spanish national team, in China. At age 34.
Gasol has always had to be encouraged to shoot, because he is a born helper. He won’t say that this year’s style came because he was tired, because as he puts it, his brain isn’t wired to even consider excuses so much as it is to solve the problem.
“It’s just my nature,” says Gasol, who is averaging 6.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 28.2 minutes per game, with the second-best raw plus-minus on the team behind Pascal Siakam. “That’s how I was taught my whole life. Like when you get a bad wheel, you got a sprained ankle, whatever you have, go find a way. Give your maximum or your highest percentage possible, for the best of the team. So that’s the way I was always raised as far as basketball goes. And everything in life, but for sure basketball.”
That’s a trick. He’s a good shooter, but he’s a better passer. His basketball brain is exceptional — Gasol may be a ponderous seven-footer, but as Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin puts it, “You heard knowledge is power, but knowledge is also quickness.” And this year, with heavy legs and teammates who needed the ball — Siakam’s boom, Kyle Lowry’s offensive re-engagement, Fred VanVleet’s expansion — sometimes it was like Gasol forgot there was a basket.
“Somebody has to give up the ball,” Gasol says. “Somebody has to let the ball go through their hands to get to an action. So that was my thought process. I think now, looking back, I’ve got to get as many shots up as I can, because that also helps the team. Sometimes being unselfish, you might create other issues.
“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse, in a way. Because you see the floor so well and understand what they’re doing, and you try to take them apart. So you see their scheme and their tendencies as defenders, and you understand, OK, they’re doing this, then they do this, open pass.
“And sometimes you’ll forget to look at the orange thing up there. You try to get somebody else open by screening, by passing, by cutting. And you forget: the basket, too. Now my first thing’s gonna be the basket. Obviously that’s what the team needs, and we’ll go from there.”
The near-monthlong break was spent addressing not just the hamstring but some other wear and tear — “besides the obvious, age” he says — and Gasol should presumably be fresher. He shot .442 from three-point range last season with Toronto without making a shorter corner three; he knows that other teams ignoring him on a team that can struggle to create enough offence doesn’t work.
So he will adjust. He has been dying to get back out there, and he will help. Among his strengths, Gasol knows very precisely what he can’t do.
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“I don’t have that,” Gasol says. “I cannot do a lot (that) these guys can do. But I know, very well, obviously, that not many can do what I do. I’m very comfortable with that.”