The Toronto Raptors’ frontcourt situation is one of the most schizophrenic setups in the league. On one hand, Pascal Siakam continues to impress after a slow start, and Chris Boucher is becoming a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate. On the other, Aron Baynes and Alex Len, both of whom were signed by Masai Ujiri after Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol made the trip to Los Angeles, were simply unplayable at times, with Len even earning himself a release.
As tempting as it is to look at Gasol’s 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and credit Ujiri for not overspending on the aging former star, the Raptors let both of their quality veteran big men walk out of the door, and the Gasol decision looks worse given how Nick Nurse has suffered without him.
Marc Gasol remains an elite defender, while Aron Baynes has been awful
The poor play from the center position is due not only to Gasol’s absence, but also the poor play of Baynes, has really handicapped Toronto. The Raptors are scoring just 81 points per 100 possessions with Baynes in the lineup, a mark that is the worst for any big man in the league. Gasol, meanwhile, is still maintaining an incredibly high assist percentage for a big man while helping the Lakers average 127 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, which puts him in the 77th percentile among bigs, per Cleaning the Glass.
Gasol might be 36, but he remains a quality defender and passer for a player his size, even if he’s not the offensive force he was in Memphis or defensive ace that helped the Raptors win their first championship in franchise history. He’s not putting up the stats he was in Toronto, but there’s only so much he can do next to players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Instead, he’s become an expert role player on a championship team, filling the Lakers’ biggest hole while making a new one in Toronto.
Gasol is not having a great offensive season, but his ability to create by distributing the ball and shut down opposing bigs in the paint are sorely missed on this Raptors squad. If Gasol was still up north, and Baynes was floating around in the free agent miasma, it’s not unreasonable to assert that the Raptors might have an extra check in the win column.