Grizzlies Ship Marc Gasol Up North to the Toronto Raptors

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Filip Dimitrovski, Staff Writer

The Marc Gasol trade was huge for the Toronto Raptors. The franchise kept trying to push the narrative that they’ve changed from previous years, but this year they have really taken that to an extreme. As touching the reunion of former teammates Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry is, the real story is how adamant the Raptors are in making themselves true championship contenders.

The Raptors aren’t just stockpiling talent, they’re keen on adding players that will fit, and oh boy does Marc Gasol fit. In each of the past five seasons, Marc Gasol has led the league in elbow touches. The Raptors, however, are 28th in the league in assists out of the elbow. Gasol being the great passer he is is going to be a big help in the post.

Defense is something “the big burrito” provides as well. In last year’s playoffs, Jonas Valanciunas was practically played off the floor due to his incapability to switch, but Marc Gasol doesn’t possess that same weakness. He’s a true defensive anchor, landing in the top 15 in the NBA in defensive box plus/minus this season. Gasol also had a really strong start to the season, which lead to direct correlation with team success. Both he and the Grizzlies had a bit of a falling out since, but Gasol taking a lesser load both offensively and defensively on the Raptors can be a big benefit to the success of his game.

The question with Marc Gasol in the rotation isn’t if he is going to help the team, it’s how will he? Is he a destined starter? Will he lead the reserves unit? Will he be on the floor in closing lineups? There is a lot of ambiguity as to how Nick Nurse will implement the former Defensive Player of the Year into the Raptors.

Starting is obviously a real possibility at this point and he’s definitely good enough, but who does he pull out: Pascal Siakam or Serge Ibaka? Per Cleaning the Glass’ lineups tool, the Raptors post a better net rating with Siakam on the court and Serge off than vice versa. That and Siakam is having a breakout year and is arguably the team’s second-best player this year, so demoting his role won’t bring anything to the team. Benching Ibaka can get messy too. For now its best to assume Gasol will start out coming in off the bench and Nurse will see what works best later on, but he does not have too much time to experiment for the remainder of the season. Even the two main pieces on the team in Lowry and Kawhi have played just 29 games together so far and are 10th on the team in minutes played for a two-man lineup.

It should also be mentioned that Marc Gasol has a $25.5 million player option for 2019-2020 in his age 35 season. Whether or not he will opt into it stands as a mystery for now, but if he does, that tightens the Raptors’ payroll for this summer when they try and re-sign Kawhi Leonard. It won’t stop them from signing him, it will just throw the Raptors in some deep luxury tax water. It may benefit Gasol to opt out for a longer contract too. Taking less money annually but havingmore overall guaranteed money can be beneficial for a guy who probably won’t ever see another big contract for the remainder of his career. Either way, keeping Gasol around is probably going to help the Kawhi recruitment soon to come.