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Toronto Raptors

What have we learned from Marc Gasol's first month with the Toronto Raptors?

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Marc Gasol (NBA Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors made a win-now move at last month's trade deadline by sending Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and a future second-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for three-time All-Star Marc Gasol.

At the time of the deal, we hypothesized about how he might fit in with the Raptors.

Now that he's a month into his tenure with Toronto, it's time to revisit his fit and take a closer look at his impact so far.

Season Stats

Team G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3PT FT%
Grizzlies 53 33.7 15.7 8.6 4.7 1.1 1.2 44.4 34.4 75.6
Raptors 10 23.1 9.9 6.1 3.6 0.8 1.0 47.0 36.4 73.9

Inconsistent Scoring

If you're looking for a sign that Gasol is still adjusting to his new surroundings, this is it.

In his 10 games with the Raptors, Gasol has been held to single digit scoring six times, doing so on a combined 36.8 percent shooting from the field.

He also struggled in their overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons last week, in which he missed eight of his 10 shot attempts, including the one at the end of regulation that would've won the game.

Gasol has never been known as a big-time scorer, but the Raptors did give up Valanciunas, who is averaging close to 20 points per game with the Grizzlies, to acquire him. For them to be at their best in the postseason, they'll need Gasol to be a more consistent scorer, whether it's as a starter or a reserve.

The encouraging news for the Raptors is Gasol has still strung together some strong performances, the first coming against the Brooklyn Nets, when he scored 11 of his 16 points in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

He showed off his entire repertoire in those minutes, scoring three baskets out of the post and two more outside of the paint.

Gasol did more of the same in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, his first time starting alongside both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard. He finished the game as Toronto's second-leading scorer with 19 points on an efficient 9-for-13 shooting from the field.

The one part of Gasol's offensive game we haven't seen much of in Toronto yet is his 3-point shooting. He's been far more likely to shoot from midrange than from the perimeter with the Raptors, which is surprising given how his game has evolved over the last couple of seasons.

That's not necessarily a bad thing - Gasol has been practically automatic from midrange this season - but his ability to stretch the floor out to the 3-point line is one of the biggest ways he differentiates himself from Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka.

It'll be interesting to see if that trend continues, but even if it does, teams still have to account for Gasol in ways they don't for those two. Whereas neither Valanciunas nor Ibaka have developed into reliable threats from the perimeter, Gasol ranks third among centres in 3-pointers made and attempted since the start of the 2016-17 season.

It's why teams continue to close out on him when he receives the ball on the perimeter even though he's taking around 3-pointer per game in a Raptors uniform.

Next-Level Passing

What Gasol lacks as a scorer, he makes up for as a passer.

The big man is averaging 3.6 assists per game and 5.6 assists per 36 minutes with the Raptors. Not only does the latter put him behind only Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet for most on the team, it would be the highest mark of his career by a large margin.

The Raptors have never had a passer like Gasol at the five. According to Basketball-Reference, Oliver Miller is the only centre who has ever averaged more than two assists per game while with the franchise. The next-closest is Marcus Camby, who averaged 1.8 assists per game two decades ago.

To be fair to them, there aren't many 7-footers in NBA history who can pass like Gasol. He's long been one of the best passers in the league from the elbows, where he has led the league in touches in each of the last six seasons, and he's not someone teams can easily double in the post or collapse on the roll.

If they do, they run the risk of him kicking it out to one of the four 3-point shooters he's almost always surrounded by.

Lowry might end up being the one who benefits the most from the addition of Gasol in the long run. The two have formed natural chemistry in pick-and-rolls and handoffs, and Gasol has already unleashed Lowry as a cutter.

"Just give him the ball and I just make the cut," Lowry said about what it's like playing with Gasol. "That's how good he is."

Equally as important is Gasol is a ball mover. According to NBA.com, he's holding onto the ball for an averaged of 1.63 seconds per touch with the Raptors, the third-lowest mark on the team this season.

The only players ahead of him? Chris Boucher, who rarely plays, and CJ Miles, who is as pure of a shooter as it gets.

Serge Ibaka makes decisions at an almost identical rate as Gasol, only he's more likely to look for his own shot, not make the extra pass.

The Raptors are hoping Gasol's unselfishness can help bridge the gap between the two styles they've been playing this season - the iso-heavy one when Leonard is on the court and the free-flowing one when he's on the bench.

While it's only been nine games, the early returns are encouraging. Prior to the trade, the Raptors ranked 22nd in the league in assist percentage. Since then, they rank third behind only the Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards.

Gasol's passing, it seems, has become infectious.

Promising Defence

Gasol has never been the type of player who can switch onto every position, but he is an incredibly smart defender who knows where to position himself and how to use his size to his advantage.

You can see it on plays like this, where he stonewalls all 275-pounds of Jusuf Nurkic in the post and uses his length to create a turnover:

Gasol is far more equipped to guard bigger players than Ibaka. It explains why his three starts have come against the Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons, teams that play more traditional big men at centre.

That should come in handy in the postseason if the Raptors go up against Hassan Whiteside or Andre Drummond in the first round. It'll matter even more if they eventually run into Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Al Horford gave the 76ers fits last postseason by picking-and-popping on one end and guarding Embiid straight up without much help on the other. Horford is a better player than Gasol at this stage of their respective careers, but Gasol is an excellent shooter as well as a long and physical defender in the post. He could, in theory, present similar problems to Embiid and the 76ers over the course of a seven-game series, even if he's not as fleet of foot.

For that reason, it's hard to put too much stock into any of the defensive numbers from Gasol's first nine games with the Raptors. They were slightly better defensively with him in the lineup prior to their loss to the Houston Rockets, but they were 6.2 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the court after it.

That'll likely continue to fluctuate wildly until we have a larger sample size to work with. And even then it might not matter because of how the Raptors will likely use Gasol in the postseason.

What to watch next

The passing and defence will likely always be there for Gasol. It's the scoring that is worth monitoring moving forward.

It matters less when he starts because the Raptors usually get enough out of Lowry, Leonard and Pascal Siakam, but Gasol's scoring is especially critical when coming off the bench. Toronto's second unit has struggled for much of this season and Gasol the potential to be the go-to scorer they've desperately been needing.

He's shown that he can do it with the Raptors, just not consistently.

A lot of that could come down to him adjusting to a new role and playing the fewest minutes of his career. We'll know more in the coming weeks.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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