As the dust settles from the Toronto Raptors' first championship, we're rolling out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of the team from this past season. Before turning the page into the 2019-20 season as free agency begins, we'll take a closer look back at how everyone performed in 2018-19.
When Masai Ujiri went out and traded for Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, it sent a clear message to the league - the Toronto Raptors were in it to win it.
The trade also sent a message to the team. At the time of the trade, the Raptors were moving along well and getting set to make a deep playoff run. After the trade, the remaining Raptors knew they were gearing up for something special.
On the court, Gasol brought to Toronto with him a viable post option and one of the better rim protectors in the league. Off the court, he brought experience and leadership.
While all those attributes were part of the reason Ujiri decided to trade for Gasol, the biggest one was one of his more underrated skills at the time - his passing ability.
MORE GRADES: Kawhi Leonard | Fred VanVleet | Serge Ibaka | Nick Nurse
Prior to the blockbuster deadline deal, the Raptors often found themselves stagnant on offence with the ball sticking in Kawhi Leonard's hands, especially in late game scenarios. After the trade, the Raptors saw themselves move from 15th in the league in assists per game to 4th post-All-Star break.
Gasol's arrival opened up options offensively for Nick Nurse and his staff to use. He quickly became valuable operating from the elbow, where he averaged 5.9 touches per game post-All-Star break - just one touch less than the best passing big in the NBA today, Nikola Jokic.
The offensive side of the ball isn't the only place Gasol made an impact. The Raptors were already a good defensive team before they acquired the former Defensive Player of the Year, but they went to another level upon his arrival. The Raptors' defensive rating prior to the All-Star break was 107.3, good enough for a top-10 spot in the league. Post-All-Star break, they bolstered a 105.6 defensive rating, good for third in the NBA during that period.
The Raptors would be even stingier in the playoffs, riding a 104.1 defensive rating to their first-ever NBA championship.
In fairness to Jonas Valanciunas, he made strides defensively this season, especially in shorter windows coming off the bench, but Gasol's defensive savvy and positioning gave the Raptors a championship-level defence - something Valanciunas probably wouldn't have been able to provide.
Ujiri gets an "A" grade for identifying that Toronto needed a little something extra heading into the playoffs. He made the decision to trade for Gasol and it did indeed sent a message to the rest of the roster. It also sent a message to Gasol himself - that he would be the last piece of a championship puzzle that had been building in the 6ix for a long time.
From his impact on the court to his leadership and professionalism off of it, Gasol was as good as advertised all year for the NBA champs. Throw in his MVP performance at the championship parade, and you got a solid grade for the Spaniard.
Marc Gasol is the star of this parade 😂#WeTheNorth | @Raptors pic.twitter.com/j6KLMVb0SN- Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 17, 2019
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