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One of these guys should come off the bench. But which?

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Thoughts?

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24 Responses to Leading From Behind: Why Marc Gasol Should Be Removed From The Starting Lineup

  1. Andy WatersNo Gravatar says:

    We should worry less about stroking Zach’s ego and more about when the “Juice at Point” experiment will mercifully end.

  2. SteveRNo Gravatar says:

    Lee, I think you’re on to something there! The coaches may have had this thought too.

  3. Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

    Andy:

    I think they put up with Juice at the point because even if Juice bobbles the ball away on some possessions, him having the ball gives him the freedom to shoot more or less at will. No it’s not ideal, but overall, I think Juice at the point works . . . in doses. Still wish that Arenas would look for his shot more.

    Steve:
    I hope they have. And to be clear, I’m not trying to say that Zach isn’t a team first player, because I truly believe he is. But Zach also has that same gene that short circuited Allen Iverson in Memphis, and to some degree bothered O.J. all last season. “Coach, you want me to back up a guy I know I can beat?” No matter how much you tell them its better for the team, they can’t wrap their brains around it.

    And that’s okay. Championship squads generally need at least one player with that mentality, that “I’m the baddest emmmin effer on the court! They can’t guard me!”

    We NEED Zach to be that guy, but I don’t think he can do it if he’s not starting.

  4. ChrisNo Gravatar says:

    Although I get what you’re saying, I don’t agree with the sentiment that zbo is “sulking.”

    I’m going to defer to coach H on this one.

    • Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

      Touche. “Sulking” is a strong word for it. But I guess, comparing how it was when O.J. was dealing with the same thing, I can just tell that Zach is bothered by it. Doubt he’s being disruptive or anything negative. But I sincerely think his play would return to “normal” if he was in the starting lineup, especially now that he’s lost weight and is getting his timing back.

      • HartNo Gravatar says:

        I have to ask, though, how do you think Speights would take to coming off the bench? Speights has gained tons of respect from his team & around the NBA, but if the bench-ego is holding back Z-Bo (to even the tiniest degree) it should be transitive that the effect of the starting-ego is helping Speights.

        • Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

          I think they tried that when Zach first came back. And Speights wasn’t nearly as effective coming off the bench. Which is why I suggested that Marc’s game would likely be the least affected by coming off the bench. If coach broke it down to him that it was best for the team, I think he’d take it that way and still bring his A game off the bench.

          An often under appreciated part of a coaches job is managing these players psyches to get the best out of each of them for the sake of the overall team.

  5. Matt SheltonNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with you about the egos of Gasol and Z-Bo. I think Z-Bo could benefit much more from starting than it would hurt Marc to come off the bench. My question is this: what would that do to the Griz defensively? Marc is an excellent defender, especially in the sense that he organizes the team on the defensive end, and I think the Griz do best when they set a defensive, “Grit, Grind” tone early. Not to downplay Zach, but he’s not exactly a stalwart on the defensive side (though he has certainly improved a lot). Would this change have much an effect defensively?

  6. Mr.DemraNo Gravatar says:

    Benching Mr. Gasol is an intriguing idea Mr. Smith. And you make a persuasive argument. However, have you considered what would become of the Grizzles’ defense without Mr. Gasol in the starting lineup? Mr. Gasol enables Mr. Allen and Mr. Conley to be exceedingly aggressive on the perimeter. I fear what the team would lose defensively, with Mr. Gasol on the bench, far outweighs what it might gain offensively.

    • Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

      Demra:

      There is that. And I admit I hadn’t thought of that aspect of this proposal.

      Only thought is this: Give it a shot. Especially now that we’ve locked up a playoff seed, let’s give it a whirl and see what happens. Both Mo and ZBo would need to become chatterboxes on the defensive end — talking, communicating . . . but they need to do that anyway.

  7. HartNo Gravatar says:

    Like you said, this is also a conversation about the productivity of Mareese Speights. Because if he weren’t giving solid minutes you wouldn’t be able to even think about resting Gasol or have him play a bench role through the play-offs.

  8. DaveNo Gravatar says:

    Bringing Zach off the bench makes sense to an extent. He is on another level talent wise and coming in to destroy other team’s second team puts a ton of stress on the defense and helps build up an injured Z-bo’s confidence. Gasol isn’t the offensive weapon Zach is though. Bringing him off the bench doesn’t really accomplish anything other than limiting one of your best players minutes.

    The one that really needs to come off the bench is Speights, whether his ego likes it or not. He isn’t nearly the player Marc or Zach are and with Arenas proving to be a viable weapon off the bench on occasion and Cunningham being productive when he is given opportunities our success isn’t hinged on Speight’s performance as it was earlier in the year.

    • Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

      I actually like Zach coming off the bench, also, for the same reasons you mentioned. I do think Marc is a potent offensive weapon, with that skyhook, that 15 foot jumper and perhaps most importantly for his passing.

      But we’re kind of running into the same reason why O.J. ended up on the bench: You can’t have all your offensive weapons on the floor at the same time. Last year, we fed Marc & Zach because we didn’t have a reliable perimeter threat. This year, I don’t know if you can get good early game production with Marc, Zach & Rudy looking for shots. The old “not enough basketballs” argument.

      With Zach or Marc on the bench, you kind of establish a pecking order in scoring.

      Of course, come winning time, you have your best players/hottest players/best lineup out there. Period.

      • DaveNo Gravatar says:

        Can you imagine Speights trying to defend Bynum? I just don’t see any scenario in which Gasol playing less minutes makes the team better.

        • Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

          Didn’t say less minutes, just said starting the game off the bench.

          Right now, Zach is coming off the bench and averaging more minutes than MoSpeights.

          • DaveNo Gravatar says:

            Not less minutes than Speights, less minutes than he is playing now.

            On the season Gasol has averaged 37 minutes a game. In comparison, Randolph’s role in the last 10 games equates to 27.4/game. OJ’s season average is 26.8/game. Even really heavily involved 6th man such as Harden and Terry aren’t breaking 32/game.

            Say Hollins keeps the starting unit in until the the 4 minute mark in the first. Gasol as the first sub in the game could only sit out 3 minutes of game time the rest of the game to match his season average of 37/.

            No matter how you look at it Gasol coming off the bench means 5-10 minutes less Gasol than we are seeing now. I’m not saying there is not a chance it could work. But it’s not realistic to expect him to continue to get 35+ MPG coming off the bench, and I don’t think its a risk you can take with the rotation at this point in the season.

  9. Neo-realistNo Gravatar says:

    It may be worth a shot to try this in the last few games, but I am skeptical. The crux of the issue seems to be Speight’s productivity off the bench. But his productivity may be more related to who he is playing with rather than whether or not he comes off the bench. I have a feeling that Speights plays better when Marc is in the game (for a variety of reasons). Advanced stats may provide some insight on this (but I don’t have the time for that).

  10. boNo Gravatar says:

    i’ve been harping on gasol and conley over-playing all year.
    ive enjoyed the oj point guard situation because:
    1. keeps pargo and selby off flor
    2. oj plays a totally different pg, in that he looks to shoot the outside j and actually splits the defenders leading to easy shots close to goal.
    3. this way pargo only has to fill in a few minutes a game
    where his hustle can cover on d
    4. even with arenas, i still like it
    5. yes, even though oj gets his pocket picked cleanly at least once a game
    as for gasol/bench: get haddadi in game more and earlier, especially at home since it fires up the crowd.

  11. Joe SmithNo Gravatar says:

    Good article, interesting thoughts, but you tend to forget:

    Offensively, Z-Bo is better than Marc. When you bring Z-Bo off the bench with the 2nd unit, generally they run the offense through him. They can spread the floor better with the 2nd unit then the first unit. Which helps Z-Bo out immensily with his skillset. Personally, with the way Conley and Gay play defense on the wing, I would rather see OJ in the starting lineup. That way Allen and Speights can pick up the defensive stagnant that happens w/ Allen/Gay/Gasol/Conley aren’t on the floor.

    But this also determines who we play. LAC: Griffin has problems with Z-Bo defensively and he abuses our other PF’s offensively. Conley matchups with CP3, but CP3 abuses Mayo. Jordan can’t handle Gasol on either end. Gay can cover and destroy Butler all day. So having Conley and Mayo on the floor together would allow Allen to switch to Paul and Arenas can cover the SG slot.

    I feel we are better with Allen on the floor with Arenas at the Guard cause it allows us to switch defensive roles. Allen makes up for Arena’s lack of speed. So now we have 2 guards that can overextend defensively and allow Z-Bo and Speights/Haddadi to handle the get throughs.

    Good article, just I think the discussion should be Mayo needs to start and let Allen and Arenas work together off the bench w/ Z-Bo carrying the scoring load.

    • Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

      Great points, Joe!

      I think I’d have to stick with Juice off the bench, though. He would not have the freedom he enjoys offensively (i.e. to jack up shots) were he starting. Also, though Juice is much better defensively than he was, I still like T.A. setting the tone at the beginning of games. A quiet part of what T.A. does is simply keep a guy from getting into a rhythm in the first place. It’s easier to keep a guy from getting going than it is to slow him down once he’s rolling.

      And while Allen does quietly get you 8-10 points a night, and Juice often needs better shot selection, I’d MUCH prefer Zach passing out to Juice than to Tony.

      But again, what you gotta love about this team is that we’re VERY versatile and generally all dialed in. Should be a fun postseason!

  12. Joe SmithNo Gravatar says:

    Good points Lee. One of my only issues with Grocery List is his need to chuck 3s when the offense is in fast break or not set up. This is where him starting would help. With Rudy, Speights, and Gasol you have 3 rebounding Beasts (obv Zach is a monster).
    This is probably my favorite part of the team. We are so deep in all positions you could virtually go back to Hubie Henchmen mentality with constant rotations. I’m going to be so devastated during the off season. Unless we make the finals, and Heisley is willing to spend, we are losing Speights, Arthur, Arenas, and Mayo. All will go to starter roles. Honestly if we could sign Speights to a good long term deal, I’d be fine with packaging Zach/Mayo in a trade.
    Also, someone needs to put a bug in someones ear and look at bringing back Posey next year

  13. NC_Mtn_Grizz_FanNo Gravatar says:

    LEE!!!! I want to hear your thoughts on the Lester Hudson acquisition!!! Does he make the bench scarier or what? The Cavs owner was tweeting that Lester was going to be the next Jeremy Lin. It still remains to be seen what he can do in a Grizzlies uni, but I am kinda on pins & needles. He just has so much potential and seems like he has found his comfort zone in the NBA. He could be the home-town hero this post-season. Don’t want to put too much on his shoulders just yet, and I could be stuck in a pipe dream. But I can’t help but be a little giddy and if nothing else it gives me more of a reason to watch these last couple games against sub-par opponents.

  14. [...] night, but he also picked up 9 points 6 boards in only 11 minutes. I can’t help but wonder if Lee Eric Smith’s suggestion of taking Gasol out of the starting lineup and going with a front … might help. This team just seems to be better when #5 is [...]

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