Yesterday, our own Grady O’Brien dissected some action the Blazers like to run to free LaMarcus Aldridge up to create from his favorite area: the left block. As Grady showed, however, even when Portland’s action was crisp in their 91-85 loss to Memphis, good looks were hard to come by. It was hard not to notice one bearded seven-foot reason why that was the case.
The havoc Marc Gasol wreaked on Wednesday is the kind of thing that hoops nerds live for and is the exact reason analytics gurus are up nights attempting to quantify defensive impact.
On the offensive end, Gasol put together an efficient night, finishing with 23 points on 10-of-17 from the field. This was made all the more impressive considering the Grizzlies were playing without Zach Randolph, causing Gasol to set up on the low block far more often than his favored location at the elbow. While Gasol finished with only 3 assists, he routinely found cutters and spot up shooters with passes that many other centres can not make.
On the defensive end, Gasol blew up pick and rolls, forced bigs off the block, and generally made life miserable for every Blazer on the court.
LaMarcus Aldridge had a terrible shooting night, finishing with 10 points on 2-of-13 from the field, for his third lowest scoring output of the season. While Aldridge certainly missed some shots that he routinely makes, Gasol forced him to set up further and further from the hoop, and—on this night at least—Aldridge seemed willing to give up that territory.
Aldridge did finish the game with 6 assists, and as Grady’s post demonstrated, he did a great job of setting up on the left side and finding teammates. However, notice how far from the hoop LaMarus is in those situations.
Let’s take a look at two possessions from the fourth quarter that illustrate how differently the two big men operate on the block.
First, here is Aldridge fighting for position after an offensive rebound. Notice how he starts at the elbow and by the time he accepts the entry pass he is closer to the three-point line. Aldridge does a good job of regaining this position as he backs down, but Gasol crowds him and makes it impossible to get a shot off. Aldridge, to his credit, out hustles Gasol for the offensive rebound and is rewarded with free throws.
This is the kind of defence Aldridge had to deal with the entire game, and it clearly forced him out of his comfort zone. At the same time Gasol was able to move around the court and establish deep post position on many occasions.
In the following clip, Gasol starts on the weak side and walks JJ Hickson into the post for an easy look. At this point Hickson is at least battling, on a subsequent possession JJ gave up deep position to Gasol on the left block and it resulted in free throws—simply inexcusable.
Gasol accomplishes all of this by knowing where he is on the court at all times and using his body—rather than his athleticism—to create opportunities on both ends.
While Gasol plays physically, he doesn’t chase rebounds without first boxing his man out, he defends the pick and roll masterfully and rarely gambles for steals or blocks.
The Blazers’ bigs should all steal a page from Marc Gasol’s playbook, the team would be better off for it.