I’m not saying anything new to suggest that in Marc Gasol’s breakout All-Star season, the team should look to manage his minutes in these last five games before the Playoffs start. He’s put in a lot of minutes, been banged up (most recently with a bone bruise in NOH) and we need a healthy Marc Gasol to do anywhere near the same kind of damage we did last post season. He needs rest. He deserves rest. He should get rest.
But that’s not why Lionel Hollins should take him out of the starting lineup for the remainder of the season and possibly beyond.
Marc should come off the bench because he’s a leader — one willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. And if you’re wondering why bringing your All-Star Center off the bench is good for the team, it’s really about doing the math.
Here are the facts:
- Marreese Speights has excelled as a starter, and seems to be most productive early in games. To wit: Mo went off for 10 first quarter points against the TWolves last night . . . scored 2 the rest of the way. (Shout out to J. Hugar for today’s appreciation piece on Mo Speights, which indirectly inspired this piece.)
- Zach Randolph, who finally seems to be getting back to normal physically, is CLEARLY demoralized by coming off the bench. Even though he’s getting more minutes than Mo. Even though he’s finishing games. Let’s keep in mind that we are talking about the same guy who made a name for himself in last year’s playoffs. The same guy who told Chris Vernon before suiting up for the Grizz that he couldn’t think of any power forwards who were better than him (14 minute mark). The same guy who, when Kevin Durant shook his head and called Zach the best PF in the league, Zach chuckled and grinned: “I gotta say I agree with that. Thanks KD!” Like it or not, Zach is the kind of player whose ego can’t take not starting — even if he’s still the go-to guy at the end of games.
- Marc Gasol does NOT have that kind of ego. Marc is the consummate “team first” guy. Not that Zach isn’t, but let’s just say it: Marc won’t sulk if he had to come off the bench.
When you add all that up, it equals out to this: Starting at PF: Zach Randolph. Starting at Center: Marreese Speights. First Big off the bench: Marc Gasol. You get to keep Marreese’s early production and stroke Zach’s ego. You also get to rest Marc a bit more, while still bringing a potent post weapon off the bench with Arenas & Juice. More than likely, your “winning time” lineup: Conley, Gay, Mayo/Allen, Randolph, Gasol.
The beauty of this team is that it is highly adaptable — whether it’s been from injury or just going with what the team needs, the players have shown they can adjust fairly well to whoever’s on the court. And specifically, the beauty of the Randolph/Gasol tandem is that in many ways they are the same player and thus interchangeable. Both guys will bang for rebounds & points; both guys are effective & willing passers. And I must admit that I salivate when I think about our “Point Center” passing out of a double team to a cutting O.J. Mayo or a wide open Gilbert Arenas beyond the arc. Gasol is the kind of guy who could get even more production out of that second unit while holding down the defense in the middle.
But where Zach and Marc are different: Gasol’s ego could absorb starting the game in a reserve role for the good of the team. Randolph’s ego clearly cannot. And on a team where Gasol has consistently led by example and been a glue guy, how much more does it help the team gel when freakin’ Marc Gasol accepts (or even ASKS) to come off the bench for the good of the team? How hard would these guys play for each other then?
So . . . Marc, if you’re reading this . . . go talk to Coach. With five games to go, here’s hoping that Coach Hollins makes this slight tweak in his lineup starting tonight against New Orleans. It is a minor change that could return Zach to BEAST MODE just in time for a deep playoff run.