Marc Gasol's Newfound 3-Point Shooting Gives Memphis Grizzlies Hope

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 28, 2016

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 26:  Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball against the Miami Heat on November 26, 2016 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Oscar Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Oscar Baldizon/Getty Images

MIAMI — Tony Allen isn't having it.

Never mind what the numbers say about Marc Gasol's miraculous emergence as a three-point threat. The Memphis Grizzlies' defensive dynamo won't let this intimate group of reporters discuss the improbable nature of Gasol's newfound perimeter prowess without setting the record straight.

"He always shot them in practice like that," Allen said, "so it's no surprise."

With all due respect to the Grindfather, it is surprising to everyone who didn't see those practice sniping sessions. Staggering, even.

Gasol entered his ninth NBA season as an elite inside-the-arc presence. The 7'1" center's resume featured a pair of All-Star selections, the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year award and all of 12 triples over 569 career outings. His skill set wasn't broken and in no obvious need of fixing, but first-year Grizzlies skipper David Fizdale brought along a vision formed during his championship days as a Miami Heat assistant.

"After what we saw here with Chris Bosh and his development," Fizdale told Bleacher Report, "and what I saw that did for LeBron [James] and Dwyane [Wade] in those championship years, I saw an opportunity to let Mike Conley open up his game some by letting Marc step out behind the three."

That was all Gasol needed to hear.

"He came to me over the summer once he got the job and told me about it," Gasol said. "I'm like, 'OK, I'm going to start working on it.'"

What's transpired since could be classified as making something out of nothing. In a single offseason, Gasol transformed from a non-shooter outside to an active, efficient marksman.

The numbers are incredible.

Gasol's 23 threes almost double his total through eight seasons. Long-range looks had never accounted for more than 1.6 percent of his total shots in a season, but they make up 22.8 percent of his 2016-17 field-goal activity. He's twice drilled four threes in the same game after never hitting more than three in the same season.

Oh, and if the campaign closed today, he'd have a top-30 three-point percentage among qualified shooters (41.1 percent, tied for 29th).

"Obviously, I always had a shot," Gasol said. "It was just more of a 17- to 19-foot shot. Now, it's just taking it a couple of steps back, getting a rhythm and getting comfortable with the shots."

New recliners need longer to get comfortable.

During his third game in Fizdale's offense, Gasol had a 4-of-6 showing from distance. Seven outings later, he went 4-of-5, including a crunch-time trey that preserved a Grizzlies victory and launched him into viral stardom for his interpretation of UFC superstar Conor McGregor's infamous swag walk.

"He's our big gun, and we rely on him for a lot," Fizdale said. "Offensively, he's one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA."

The Grizzlies have never asked Gasol for more. His 26.7 usage percentage is a personal high, as are his per-36-minute marks in points (19.5), assists (4.3) and field-goal attempts (16.7). The fact that Memphis holds an 11-6 record—tied for fourth-best in the Western Conference—despite getting next to nothing from hobbled $94 million free-agency addition Chandler Parsons highlights the significance of Gasol's contributions.

As for the impact of his new spacing, we see that in how the offense operates with and without him. Essentially, everything is better when he's on the floor, while a raging dumpster fire ignites when he's not.

"[My shooting] opens so many lanes for Mike, for the guards—not just for driving, but for cuts and different stuff like that," Gasol said. "As long as my teammates like it, I'm ready."

Gasol is quick to note he's no three-point specialist and has zero interest in becoming one. This is just another layer to what was already a multifaceted arsenal.

The burly big man still likes pulverizing in the post, a task made easier by Zach Randolph, JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin all expanding their own ranges. Gasol remains a crafty creator—he boasts the third-most assists among centers—and deft screen-setter.

The only part of his game he's started leaving behind is the one that facilitated this transition—his butter-soft mid-range jumper. Shots from 10 feet to the three-point line accounted for between 45.2 and 50.3 percent of his attempts over the past four seasons. This year, that number is down to 39.2.

"It's just a different offense, a different style, a different philosophy," Vince Carter said. "[Coach Fizdale] has demanded adjustments, and we've responded. He's tried to put us outside of the box a little bit and make us a little uncomfortable, just do something different."

Gasol's complete embrace of his new assignment helps strengthen the messages from Fizdale—a first-time NBA head coach. Gasol didn't need to change, and on top of that, the adjustment wasn't designed to benefit him.

His field-goal percentage has suffered in the process (career-low 43.1), but it's made him a more dangerous scorer and had the same effect on Conley. When the pair share the floor, Memphis scores like a top-10 offense (106.3 offensive. would be ninth), defends at an elite level (96.9 defensive rating, would be first) and bears the appearance of a potential shadow contender.

"We play off each other," Gasol said. "We know how to play together. I know where he likes to get the ball. He knows where I like to get the ball. We have patience, we're unselfish, we're going to make the (right) basketball play every time."

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 23: Marc Gasol #33 and Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrate against the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime at Wells Fargo Center on November 23, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the P
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Grizzlies needed some modern enhancements to their offense, not a total reboot, since the core of this team could easily win 60 percent of its games if healthy.

Fizdale's hiring and Parsons' signing both pursued that goal. Ditto Randolph's move to the second unit.

Gasol's three-point renaissance travels the same wavelength. It doesn't get more contemporary than a three-point-shooting, playmaking center. Between forcing opposing bigs away from the basket and having the ability to play five-out offense, it's a dream setup for spacing.

The Grizzlies aren't running and gunning, but this isn't the same in-the-mud, grit-and-grind crew from yesteryear. Gasol's shooting is a transformative adjustment, and these changes could be the key to giving this aging core new life.

"[Fizdale] has brought out this side in these guys that have been here awhile that just hadn't been turned on," Carter said. "It's really worked for us, because we've all bought in and we're willing to try it. All of our guys have really put in the work to be in the position to do the things Coach has tried to add to our game."


All quotes obtained firsthand. Statistics accurate as of Nov. 27 and used courtesy of Basketball Reference.com and NBA.com.

Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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