What’s Awry with Marc Gasol?
The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.
— Howard Cosell
There is something amiss with Marc Gasol. Before you start attempting to dazzle me with your stats that say he’s averaging a career-high in points, assists, and 3-point percentage — let me just stop you. That’s all true. For the season, Marc’s numbers are good. Damn good, in fact. However, anyone who has watched him since the All-Star break knows that all is not well with the Grizzlies’ 3-time All-Star.
Since the mid-February hiatus, Marc Gasol’s plus/minus is a combined -70 over those 8 games. Even in their 2 wins over Denver and Phoenix, he posted a negative plus/minus. That’s right — he hasn’t had a positive plus/minus in a game since the loss to the Pelicans before the break.
Indeed, all of his numbers seem to have gone down since then: fewer points on fewer makes of fewer shot attempts while grabbing fewer rebounds and snagging fewer steals. He’s getting to the free throw line less and hitting substantially fewer of his shots when he does get there. (Cue: Super Trooper saying “fewer” instead of “meow”) The only things on the rise are the number of threes attempted and his assists, while his fouls committed are also down. You might think “But Josh, shouldn’t that be a good thing that he’s committing fewer fouls?” Not really, since he’s rarely ever in foul trouble and is currently averaging under 2 fouls per game since All-Star Weekend.
It’s not just the stats that point out the change in Gasol, either. The much-maligned “eye test” bears out the same fact. On Thursday night against the Clippers, Marc didn’t go through the introduction line with his normal skipping followed by his trademark head-thrown-back roar. Instead, he just walked down the line, business-like and without any discernible emotion. On Saturday night, he didn’t participate in warm-ups, standing near midcourt and chatting with members of the Hawks. During the early portions of the game, he seemed disinterested in participating in the huddles during timeouts, as well. It was as though he was distracted and wanted to be elsewhere.
Well…maybe he did.
There’s been some idle chatter in the last two weeks about Marc potentially being a “coach killer”, given his well-known distaste for Dave Joerger by the time last season concluded and his previous issues with Lionel Hollins’ particular brand of authoritarian leadership before that. To me, that’s complete and utter garbage. That’s not to say that Marc cannot be mercurial, petty, moody, and pouty. He’s been all of things and more since donning Beale Street Blue.
Indeed, I’ve taken him to task multiple times lately for his refusal to take on more of a leadership role with this team. His comments this past week about not wanting to have any input on personnel decisions of any kind echo what he has maintained for years. He just wants to play basketball — and win. Most importantly of all, he wants to win. That competitive drive, above all else, is why I’ll never believe that Marc would ever intentionally tank his performance levels in order to “kill” off an unwanted coach.
So, if not on a quest to send a message to his coaches (and possibly the front office), why would Marc be so off as of late? The answer might have arrived suddenly last night, as his wife’s water broke and he left the arena immediately after the game for the birth of their second child. I’d heard earlier this season that they were expecting again, but it had honestly escaped my mind until I was reminded of it this morning with that news.
“Ahh..I see,” says the blind man.
For the record, I’m not married and I don’t have any children. However, as a 37-year-old, the vast majority of my friends and family members do fall into that category. As such, I have heard countless stories of what effects pregnancy, raising children, and just general married life can do to your productivity levels in a normal 9-to-5 world. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it is to balance all of that while being a professional athlete who travels constantly and has the pressure of being one of the best players in the world on his shoulders.
Last week, I wrote about how we as fans (and media) think we have all of the answers, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. In the same manner, I believe that we often fail to look at the human component of the sports world we choose to live and die with on a nightly basis.
These guys that we all but worship (when we aren’t griping at them or even booing them) are just people. Yes, they’ve been blessed by genetics to be able to play basketball as a career for millions of dollars instead of becoming the accountants that work for them, but they’re still just people. We remember that when one of their parents passes away and manage to be empathetic to their loss. After Brett Favre’s father passed away, we were all fans of his for one night and reveled in his accomplishments “in tribute” to his late dad during a Monday Night Football game for the ages. When ZBo’s mom unexpectedly passed away, we were all sorrowful for him and (mostly) understood his need to take time off from the team, despite their already shorthanded roster. But what about in their daily lives?
I know of a few Grizzlies players who have had their own troubles at home over the past few seasons at various points, and their on-court performance clearly suffered as a result of that. While we are all doubtlessly joyous at the birth of a new member of Grizz Nation, think about how much of an effect that has on a player’s daily life — from the moment his wife becomes pregnant until…well, until he retires because child-rearing never ends.
I’m not going to say that his wife being in her last month of pregnancy completely excuses Marc’s lackluster play of late. First, it doesn’t because he hasn’t been showing good effort. Second, I don’t believe that’s necessarily all that has been bugging him, Third, he’s been through this before, although his first child was born in the offseason of 2014, rather than during the season. But (BUT) it does make things make more sense now.
Remember at the end of last season when an injured Marc’s absence on the bench became the topic du jour? “Where’s Marc? Why isn’t he there to support his teammates?” Imagine just how gut-wrenching it must have been for him to not be able to play, much less not be able to help that ragtag band of D-Leaguers and role players as they limped into the playoffs while he literally limped around, one leg propped on his comical-looking scooter, dealing with the very real possibility of a career-ending injury.
Marc’s competitiveness and commitment to his teammates should not have ever been in question, but they were because he wasn’t out there in plain view for all to see. Why? Because fans simply don’t know what’s going on with each of these guys, whether it be in their heads or in their homes. However, we should be able to piece it together if we would just take a moment to pull our collective heads out of our nether regions and try to put ourselves in their position.
I’m excited and happy for Marc and his wife, and I wish them all the joy and health in the world for their family. I’m also excited to see an engaged and focused Marc Gasol for the final month of the regular season and a (hopeful) playoff run, too. I don’t expect these Grizzlies to make every shot, grab every rebound, or make the right defensive play every single time. I do expect them to give their all, though. I think Marc is capable of doing that. The sooner he and his teammates do that, the quicker they’ll get back to winning basketball games instead of having to answer questions about what’s wrong with them.