Marc Gasol reminded Memphis Grizzlies fans why he'll be the most valuable part of the Grizzlies' playoff run as he helped close out the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Gasol recovered from missing two free throws late by blocking two shots in the last minute.
First, he muzzled a layup by DeMarcus Cousins. Then, he sent back a last-second, three-point attempt by Marcus Thornton for his fifth blocked shot of the game.
The moment wasn't lost on CBS Sports' writer Matt Moore, as he reminded people via Twitter about the clutch nature of Gasol's mitten.
That's Gasol's third game-winning block this year.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 8, 2013
Gasol has garnered chatter as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate—and for good reason. He's tied for third in defensive win shares with 4.8. He allows 99.1 points per 100 possessions, which places him 10th in the league. The Grizz allow 6.8 fewer points per 100 with "Big Spain" on the floor.
Dan McCarney of the San Antonio News-Express said, "He isn't the shot-blocker [Tim] Duncan is, but in terms of positioning his body in the right place at the right time, he has almost no peers."
The Grizzlies missed Gasol dearly when he missed two games in late March due to an aggravated abdominal tear. They allowed 106 points against the Boston Celtics and 107 against the Washington Wizards during that time. John Wall took advantage of Gasol's absence by scoring a career-high 47 points.
Which Grizzlies player will be most crucial to their playoff run?
Zach Randolph is having the best defensive year of his career simply by playing off Gasol. He's allowing a career-best 100.1 points per 100 possessions.
The 11-year pro fares defensively well when paired with another big man. According to NBA.com, lineups with Randolph and Gasol allow 95.9 points per 100. Those with Randolph and Darrell Arthur allow 104.9. Lineups with Randolph and Ed Davis allow 104.
The beauty of Gasol's offense is difficult to notice.
First, his fine shooting ability isn't as easy to notice since he doesn't stick to attempts at the rim like most centers, resulting in his 49.8 percent field-goal percentage.
His jump shots are extraordinary. According to NBA.com, he knocks down 45.2 percent from eight to 16 feet and 51.2 percent from between 16 and 24 feet. According to Vorped.com, the seven-footer is among the best from the left baseline outside the key and from the right elbow.
By popping out for jumpers, Gasol will punish frontcourt defenders like Duncan who are used to patrolling the paint.
Gasol will also befuddle teams with his remarkable passing ability. He's second among centers in assists per game with four, 0.1 behind Joakim Noah. However, Gasol's 18.8 percent assist rate is 1.4 better than that of the Chicago Bulls front man.
The fifth-year pro has seen greater results on his passes since Rudy Gay was traded. Each of the past three months have seen him post higher assist rates than the first three months, per NBA.com.
In February, I had placed Randolph as the Grizzlies' most valuable player. However, Gasol's value has increased as his numbers have jumped since the Gay trade, whereas Randolph's have stagnated.
Gasol is averaging 15.2 points per 36 minutes on 51 percent shooting since the trade, compared with 15 per 36 on 49.1 percent beforehand. Meanwhile, Randolph is putting up 15.6 per 36 on 43.3 percent from the field in that time, as opposed to 16.4 per 36 on 47 percent before then.
The Grizzlies' postseason dreams lean largely on the play of their big men. With a strong showing from a center whose game extends beyond the inside, Memphis could go deep.