How Marc Gasol impacts the game beyond the box score

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Despite poor numbers to start the year, Marc Gasol is still helping the Toronto Raptors in ways that don’t show up in the box score.

Marc Gasol is shooting 34.4-percent from the field. Let’s rephrase that: The Toronto Raptors 6-foot-11 center, Marc Gasol is shooting 34.4-percent from the field. Included in that, he’s shooting a paltry 31.7-percent on 2-pointers. Almost diametrically opposed, he shoots 36.6-percent on 3-pointers! By all shooting accounts, his scoring within the arc has been putrid, dismal, dire, and basically any other abhorrent adjective you can conceive.

And, somehow, he’s still starting. So, what gives?

Obviously, he’s doing things that are helping the team win. Besides, the team is 15-6 overall, so he can’t be a zero all around. But, seriously, what are those things?

What initially sticks out is his overall net plus-minus through 21 games. His offensive rating is 110.2 versus his defensive rating of 99.8, which equates to a net rating of +10.4. However, those ratings are team statistics, which are incredibly dependent on the other players on the court. With Gasol currently averaging 6.4 points per game, the scoring is evidently coming from elsewhere. Indeed, Gasol is also averaging 3.5 assists, yet even that ranks eighth among his 12-year career.

While the net rating of +10.4 is a telltale sign of someone positively influencing the game, there are a few other factors that also help explain Gasol’s impact.

Assist Percentage and Defensive Box Plus/Minus

Two more advanced stats that show Gasol’s value: assist percentage and defensive box plus/minus. According to Cleaningtheglass, Gasol ranks in the top 88 percentile in AST%. His assist to usage ratio ranks in the top 99 percentile at his position! That means he’s comfortable dishing to teammates without needing to generate his own looks. That type of unselfishness is what leads to an offense that is productive, even when he’s not.

Then, of course, there’s defensive box plus/minus. Currently, Gasol has a plus-3.5 in this category, which would rank tied for third among Gasol’s career. — an excellent defensive career which includes a Defensive Player of the Year Award — For all players in the 2019-20 season, Gasol ranks in the top-20 signaling some of his value. A few notable names he ranks ahead of: Myles Turner, Joel Embiid, and Al Horford. Those are some impressive names to outshine.

Defensive box plus/minus might be the most telling statistic of Gasol’s overall value.  His defense, specifically his team defense is something that separates him from other players even in his elder years. It was on full display when he challenged Embiid and held the big guy to zero points virtually rendering him ineffective.

Offensive spacing with Marc Gasol

There’s something to Marc Gasol’s offense that is particularly shining: his ability to space the floor. Since the 3-pointer has boomed in the NBA we have watched numerous big men develop a shot from deep. Even Tristan Thompson is going for it this year, which is a truly far cry from where we envisioned him just a few years ago.

Nowadays, Gasol isn’t battling in the paint as he did before. Rather, because of his innate passing and shooting ability, he’s actually hanging out at the top of the key. On the play below, Gasol acts like a lighthouse, shining over the jagged coastline breathing life into the offensive abyss. Sometimes he’ll throw overhead passes to players lingering in the paint, sometimes he’ll hand off the ball, then sometimes he never touches the ball just standing out there so the big man guarding him can’t swallow Fred VanVleet driving to the rim.

Pairing Gasol and VanVleet (or Kyle Lowry, for that matter) is a godsend for the undersized point guard. Because Gasol is a credible threat from deep, the opposing defense must guard him or he can ostensibly make them pay.

Without this tactic, VanVleet would have a much more difficult time going to the hole. In fact, the rim would be significantly more crowded for any of the Toronto Raptors’ finishers.

One statistic that jumps off the page, the Raptors are shooting 4.8-percent better at the rim while Gasol is in the game, despite his struggles with the arc. Even if he’s not scoring himself, the spacing he provides is clearly allowing others to do their best work.

Gasol will never garner any significant box score numbers from the scheme, but it is painstakingly obvious that it is effective. Couple this with his defense and there you have the reason why he’s still starting and why no one is calling out Gasol when he ends games with 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Over the long haul…

If there is a crack in the offense, however, it is relying on Marc Gasol to be heavily guarded on the perimeter. While, yes, Gasol is credible from deep, opposing teams could potentially experiment with sagging off of him to bolster the paint and prevent layups from drives. Perhaps they could even throw a smaller non-center on him like the 76ers did with Tobias Harris in last year’s playoffs.

Not to get too far ahead, but over the course of a 7-game playoff series, it would be interesting to imagine how this switch in defense could potentially stammer the Raptors’ offensive strategy.

Still, with the team as a whole ramping up their quality finishes at the rim and from deep, it is hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be able to figure out a counterattack. Needless to say, this Toronto Raptors team is filled with weapons that have improved over the last year and have improved confidence.

Likewise, Gasol ignites that confidence in his teammates by delivering passes that lead to open looks. While that isn’t always recorded in a box score, it is evident by the eye test. Although box scores explain some stuff about the game, they can’t always explain the impact of players like Gasol.

Next: Can OG Anunoby win Most Improved Player?

Watch him closely in the Toronto Raptors next game, and his impact will stick out right in front of your very eyes. You won’t need to doublecheck ESPN afterward.