Marc Gasol must play big in order to defend his spot as the NBA's top center. After sneaking into the void last season as Dwight Howard was plagued by injuries and complacency, the Memphis Grizzlies big man must fend off a healthy Howard and others.
Gasol raised his game in a few key areas.
He increased his scoring after the Rudy Gay trade, became the best big man at spotting passing opportunities, improved as a free-throw shooter and became a shutdown interior defender.
That gained him deserved plaudits. The 28-year-old was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
Even with those gains in the aforementioned aspects, Gasol's game is in want of finish.
Here's a look at a few areas of need.
Expand the inside game
Gasol's inside performance wasn't what one would expect from a high-end center. Inside eight feet he made 54.1 percent and hit 63.9 percent at the rim.
Indeed, the Grizzlies didn't design many plays last year that featured Gasol finishing inside.
Under a new coach that may change. Dave Joerger said that he would like to give Gasol more looks inside, according to the Three Shades of Blue blog.
Part of a solid interior game is strong positioning. Gasol isn't very good at establishing position in the post. As SI.com's Rob Mahoney pointed out, Gasol was slow in establishing position in the post against Tim Duncan in the Western Conference finals.
Joerger's new offensive designs and plans to quicken the Grizzlies' pace should be an opportunity for improvement. Gasol could move with the offensive pace, settling into his initial position as Mike Conley starts to set up the play.
This would lead Gasol to having stronger leverage against his opponent and better attempts inside.
Assert his rebounding strength
With Zach Randolph injured in 2011-12, Gasol stepped up on the defensive boards. The center placed ninth in defensive rebounds and had a career-high 23.1 percent defensive rebounding percentage.
Because of his prowess on that end, he hovered around 10 rebounds per game for most of the year.
Last season, Gasol slipped on the defensive boards and improved on the offensive glass. He had 5.5 defensive rebounds per game (1.6 fewer per game), and 2.3 offensive boards per game (one half fewer per game).
His offensive rebounding percentage was 7.6 percent, which is 1.8 percent better, and his defensive rate was 18.9 percent, 4.2 lower.
The uptick in offensive rebounding isn't surprising. He had corralled misses at rates between 9.5 and 10 percent in his first two years, despite playing with Randolph in his second campaign.
With that said, he could easily do better than his most recent mark.
Even with Randolph grabbing more than 13 percent of available offensive boards. Gasol will have a better chance at the Grizzlies' misses while playing close to the basket more often.
The Grizz defense gives Gasol no reason not to be great at grasping other teams' misses. While he defers to Randolph, he has the ability to do better since Z-Bo was only 15th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Randolph's human defensive rebounding relative to his world-beating offensive rebounding allows Gasol an avenue to come closer to the top rebounding centers.
The gap between Gasol and the eighth-best center in defensive rebounding percentage should be much smaller than 5.1 percent.
Making up ground is essential to remaining the NBA's best center.
Solidify free-throw shooting
Gasol took a huge leap at the charity stripe. He knocked down 84.8 percent, beating his previous career-best mark by 10 percent. The Spaniard finished 19th in the category.
Even though he improved his aim, Gasol struggled to stay consistent at the line. After nailing 89.7 percent in October and November and maintaining high percentages in the following three months, he hit only 79.3 percent in both of the last two months.
While the final months represented respectable performances for the average player, an elite offensive performer like Gasol shouldn't drop below 80 percent. Being able to beat opponents on that end means hitting free throws consistently as well as shooting well inside and out.
Besides cementing his place as a premiere foul shooter, Gasol must draw more fouls in order to make better use of this new strength. He took four free throws per game, the second lowest rate of his career.
Also, his free-throw shooting was infrequent for a team's top-two option. He took 36.4 percent as many free-throw attempts as field-goal attempts, a career low.
By comparison, Dwight Howard took 88.7 percent as many shots at the line as he did from the field. He scored 1.3 more points per game at the line while shooting only 49.2 percent on foul shots, simply because he drew contact much more often.
That's largely because Howard plays a more physical game than Gasol, who splits his field-goal attempts between the inside and the perimeter, while Howard shoots almost exclusively at the rim.
Conclusion: Gasol must play bigger
The common link between these three points is that he lacks some degree of physicality.
If he bangs harder inside, draws more fouls and fights aggressively for rebounds and inside scoring, Gasol would show a more physical presence.
As mentioned in the rebounding section, this doesn't mean over pursuing. He can play off Randolph as he did in prior seasons while grabbing more rebounds.
His overall shooting is reasonable for a center who takes shots from various points inside the arc, but an improved performance inside would render Gasol unstoppable.
Imposing himself physically offensively as he does defensively would lend him the game to match his frame.