Memphis is currently 18-44 and riding a 13-game losing streak. They’ve also yet to win a single road game in 2018. Given that the Grizzlies currently have the league’s worst record right now, they’re no longer listed in our NBA futures for winning the Western Conference and championship.
Gasol won’t draw much sympathy from the average person, given that he’s earning $22.6 million this year, and will collect over $50 million in the next two seasons. But basketball fans have to feel for one of the best centers to play in recent times.
Gasol led the “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies teams over the past several seasons. Since winning 40 games in the 2010-11 campaign, Memphis has yet to have a losing season.
But that’s officially guaranteed to end this year. Even if Memphis wins their final 20 games, they’d end with a 38-44 mark.
The Grizzlies have never made it to the Western Conference Finals during Gasol’s tenure. But they’ve always been very competitive in the conference and given the top teams a run for their money. That said, Gasol has to feel in a different world now.
Injuries and Free Agency Have Decimated the Grizzlies
Nobody expected Memphis to dethrone the Golden State Warriors this season. After all, they lost a key cog in their Grit and Grind teams after Zach Randolph left in free agency. And All-Star point guard Mike Conley has been out most of the year with an injury.
This has left Gasol playing with rookies and other unproven players. For example, unheralded rookie Dillon Brooks is playing over 30 minutes a night. Deyonta Davis, a former Iowa Energy/Memphis Hustle member, is the team’s leading scorer off the bench recently.
This isn’t to bash Brooks and Davis for taking advantage of the opportunity and showcasing what they can do. But Gasol is no longer playing with skilled veterans like Conley and Randolph.
Gasol Hasn’t Had a Great Season Himself
Marc Gasol is a 3-time All-Star and was the 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. That said, people expect a lot out of the 6’11” big man. But 2018 definitely hasn’t been his best season.
He’s shooting a career-worst 41.3% from the field, including 32.8% from three-point range. He also ranks just 206th in defensive rating among starting players according to NBA.com. His points per game have dipped from 19.5 PPG last season, to 17.8 PPG this year.
This means that Gasol is not only losing games, but also playing worse basketball on the offensive end.
Memphis Coach Weighs In
Coach J.B. Bickerstaff was asked about the struggles of both his team and Gasol. Here’s what Bickerstaff told Yahoo Sports:
“It’s frustrating A guy as competitive as he is, and a guy who every day matters to him, whether it’s practice, drill work, three-on-three, he’s trying to win. The games come on, same thing, he’s trying to do everything in his power to lift his team.
A guy who is so unselfish, he doesn’t care how many points he scores. The only thing that matters to him are wins and losses. I think we all understand and appreciate guys who are that way. There’s no doubt about it, it’s frustrating for him.
“He has his moments. But one of the things he has done is he’s embraced the young guys. You watch him put his arm around guys, teaching guys, working with guys.
“And then he has started to work on his game and do different things that will help him moving forward as a player. He’s human, and those moments [of frustration] do come up, but he’s spent more time focusing on growth than he has on the situation that we are in.”
Gasol Still Working Hard
“He’s working on different parts of his game,” said Bickerstaff. “Post-up game. The way teams are playing, you don’t see a ton of post-up opportunities any more. He’s working on his face-up game, he’s working on a different array of shots, in the paint, how he gets to those spots, things like that.
“Playing from the perimeter, being able to attack off the catch versus other big guys. Those things we’ve seen him be able to implement. He’s been able to implement them quick. As soon as he puts his mind to it, he can add it that night.”
Gasol will Likely Never Win a Title with Memphis
As good as the Spaniard has been, it’s a sad reality that he’ll probably never win a title with the team he’s spent nearly a decade with. He’s 33 years old and entering the back side of his career.
The squad will no doubt improve when Conley returns. And it would certainly help if Chandler Parsons could return to his glory days and live up to his max contract.
Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough other pieces to make Memphis a real contender in the future. Something drastic will have to change in the form of a surprise draft pick or highly skilled free agent somehow choosing this team.
But looking at the facts, Gasol is getting older, Conley will need time to work back from his heel injury, and Parsons has played just 51 games in the last two seasons.
Perhaps Gasol’s best chance to win will be opting out when he becomes a free agent in 2019. At the very least, he could use his option to leverage the team to make some moves – a.k.a. LeBron James style.
But right now, it doesn’t seem like he’s too happy with the current losing situation and state of the organization.
“[Winning is] pretty high … winning is what this is about,” he recently said.
“It’s not about somebody playing well or getting your reps or developing players. We have a league [the G League] for that. We have a team here in Memphis to develop guys. This is the NBA, not the [G] League.”
Gasol may have to get used to seeing G League and rookies on his team for a while, given that there’s little hope for the immediate future.