Welcome to "One Possession!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Toronto Raptors centre Marc Gasol takes the spotlight.
Context: When the Raptors and Orlando Magic hooked up earlier this season, Magic All-Star centre Nikola Vucevic suffered through his worst game of the season, finishing with just five points on 1-for-13 shooting in 24 minutes of action.
The biggest reason why? Marc Gasol.
According to NBA.com, Gasol was Toronto's primary defender on Vucevic and held him scoreless in the time they were directly matched up with one another.
The possession: Here's one of the six shots Vucevic was credited with missing when Gasol was guarding him:
Breakdown: Following a miss by Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, Jonathan Isaac sets a brush screen on DJ Augustin - meaning Isaac went to set a screen for Augustin but slipped it before making contact with his defender - to set up Orlando's bread-and-butter, a pick-and-roll involving Vucevic in the middle of the court.
According to NBA.com, Vucevic leads all players in points scored as the roll man through the first month and a bit of the season. He's an efficient pick-and-roll scorer as well, ranking in the 66th percentile with an average of 1.22 points per possession. That puts him on the same page as Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo, to name a few.
This isn't new territory for Vucevic. Not only did he lead the league in pick-and-roll scoring last season, he did so on similar levels of efficiency. He's at his best when he can get into the paint, but he's a more than capable shooter, both from midrange and the 3-point line.
The combination means Vucevic is comfortable popping and rolling, making him one of the more versatile pick-and-roll bigs in the league.
Fred VanVleet chases Augustin over Vucevic's screen to prevent him from pulling-up for a 3-pointer, a shot he's more than capable of making. (The Raptors learned that the hard way in the playoffs). Gasol, meanwhile, shades over to prevent Augustin from getting a straight-line drive to the basket.
Rather than popping to the 3-point line or elbow, Vucevic decides to roll towards the basket.
Augustin makes the right read - a bounce pass between VanVleet and Gasol to the rolling Vucevic - but Gasol slides over in time to contest Vucevic's shot, using his long arms to force a miss without fouling.
While Gasol isn't the shot blocker he once was, he's still an incredibly effective rim protector.
Why it matters: Vucevic might not be a household name, but he's one of the league's better players at his position. Last season, he ranked sixth among centres in scoring with a career-high 20.8 points per game. He ranks a little further down that same list this season, but he still leads the Magic in scoring with 18.2 points per game, doing so on 46.1 percent shooting from the field.
Vucevic's scoring, as well as his passing and rebounding, has made the Magic a completely different team with him in the lineup so far this season. Whereas they're averaging 108.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, they're scoring at a rate of 90.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. That's the difference between the Magic having an above average offence and the league's worst by ... a long shot.
To put it simply: Vucevic is the engine that makes the Magic go.
Vucevic and the Magic, however, have a Gasol problem. It became crystal clear in Orlando's first-round matchup with Toronto last season, when Vucevic's scoring dropped to 11.2 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting. It takes a team to slow down someone as talented as he is, but Gasol played a leading role in his struggles. According to NBA.com, the Spaniard limited Vucevic to a total of 21 points on 9-for-26 shooting in the five-game series. Against everyone else on the Raptors, Vucevic scored 33 points on 11-for-29 shooting.
It's not just in pick-and-rolls that Gasol gives Vucevic trouble. Vucevic is consistently among the league leaders in post-up scoring and Gasol happens to be one of the best post-up defenders in the league. Vucevic's post-ups against Gasol in the playoffs rarely went anywhere, which is probably why he didn't attempt a single shot out of the low block against Gasol when the two teams met earlier this season.
The only shots Vucevic has been able to get consistently against Gasol are midrange and perimeter jumpers - Gasol is not quite agile enough anymore to show against ball handlers and close out on shooters.
Again, those are shots Vucevic is capable of knocking down, but not necessarily in the volume the Magic need for him to get the better of Gasol and the Raptors.
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