I love Marc Gasol’s game. It’s incredibly nuanced. To call it heady is to undermine its sophistication. We’ve known that for while when it comes to what he does on the offensive end. Like his big brother Pau, he works well in the post, has great vision, he’s unselfish, has a keen idea of what’s going on – he’s legit. This season, however, there’s been a growingly loud chorus to recognize Gasol as this defensive savant.
His Memphis Grizzlies allowed less than 90 ppg and Gasol was the quarterback. For this, he was awarded Defensive Player of the Year. It was a highly debated choice, partly because Gasol plays with shutdown perimeter defender Tony Allen (whose defense on Chris Paul was the reason for Grizz’s Game 3 win); but mostly because LeBron James plays basketball in the NBA.
The Palm Beach Post reported that ‘Bron was disappointed:
“I don’t know,” James said. “It definitely sucks, though. Finishing second? Who wants to finish second?”
Was this his best defensive season?
“Probably,” James said. “I mean, I guard everybody on the floor. I don’t know if there’s one player in NBA history who’s guarded one through five (positions). It’s over with now, but that’s cool.”
LeBron (just 18 first-place votes to Gasol’s 30) wreaks havoc on all 4,700 square feet of the hardwood. Here’s a very realistic, but hypothetical, defensive possession, if LeBron was playing Gasol’s Grizzlies: Press Mike Conley after the inbound pass; switch off to Jerrod Bayless’s hot hand; get caught on a pick-n-roll switch, stare down Zach Randolph and make him jack a contested, 12-foot jump-hook; then somehow grab the defensive board over Gasol.
LeBron is entering that Scottie Pippern and early-‘90s Rodman strata, except, if you can imagine, he might be even more versatile and destructive.
Then again, Pippen never won a DPOY, either. So, there’s that.