Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol’s stroke from the perimeter is weightless; the ball isn’t propelled into the basket as much as it sublimates in the air and through the hoop. The way he effortlessly hoists 3-pointers (at a rate of nearly four attempts per game), you wonder how it could be that this is the first year he’s ever made a serious attempt at shooting from beyond 16 feet. And then you wonder how, in his first year, he’s already one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in the game. (And you wonder if this ease of adaptation is hereditary; Marc is shooting 44 percent from 3 on the season, but his brother Pau is shooting nearly 45 percent in San Antonio.) These are the kinds of observations you tend to make the first time you realize Marc Gasol has turned himself into Dirk Nowitzki.
Here he is going through the motions of a typical Marc Gasol jumper: stop, declare your intent with deliberate body language, hesitate, waiting for a defender that will never come, then let it fly.
In any other year, this shot is coming from 18 feet. This year, he’s moved back 10 feet, and the accuracy has not suffered one bit for it.
Gasol shot 4-of-6 from behind the arc in Thursday’s emotional 88–86 comeback win over the Blazers at home, and that casual 28-footer was just a taste of the newfound swaggering confidence Gasol has from the great beyond. His 36 points on 13-for-24 shooting on the night accounted for nearly 41 percent of the Grizzlies’ total output (hell, nearly 21 percent of the game’s total output) in one of the worst shooting games of the season. The Grizzlies managed to convert only 35.6 percent of their field goals, yet were somehow significantly more efficient than their opponent, who had the second-worst field goal percentage of the season at 30.5, behind only the Mavericks’ 28.8 percent performance against — you guessed it — Memphis.
For all the talk about what’s new in Memphis — the coach, the starting lineup, the 3-point shooting — the most impressive thing is how much has stayed the same. The Grizzlies’ season has begun the way most of their seasons do: a mediocre start sets the league to wondering if this is the end of an era, a few key injuries threaten to fracture their playoff viability completely, a restabilization in the standings, and a few signature, hard-fought wins that have us all believing again in the team’s undying mantra.
Grit ’n’ Grind doesn’t explain the wholesale changes in Gasol’s game, except it does. You learn, you change, you adapt, you pile burdens on yourself for those you care about. Gasol is a 7-foot-1, 255-pound superlative — the team’s best scorer, best shooter, best defender. He is their best player. He is their best leader.
Here is Zach Randolph being embraced by teammates (most lovingly by Gasol) a few days ago during his 1,000th career regular-season game, and his first game back from a seven-game absence after the death of his mother, and it was just as touching on the original broadcast as it is here in Phantom slow motion. It’s frankly easy to dismiss the Grizzlies in the abstract, with their definition-of-insanity levels of consistency, with the team always there in the middle tier, always a barrier preventing their ascent into the highest echelon. But then you watch a game, and you remember why it’s so important that they remain a relevant team year in and year out. Some teams project the enthusiasm of their booming fan base, but the Grizzlies’ viscerality seems to comes from something deeper. This is a team that has a true and profound love for one another.
David Fizdale may have reinvigorated the Grizzlies with a new sensibility, but his ideologies are a superstructure atop a much more rooted foundation, a foundation so self-reflexive that it’s essentially its own truism. Grit ’n’ Grind is the answer to every question; it is both the reason and the result. Memphis is 10–0 this season in games decided by five points or fewer. It’s an astounding figure, and one that, strangely, only goes to reinforce the Memphis idiom — there’s no need to explain it away with whys and hows. It is because it is; because if you play the Grizzlies on their terms, there is no other result. Welcome back to the feedback loop. Welcome back to the Grindhouse.