This year the race for Defensive player of the year in the NBA was wide open. A lot of people wouldn’t even think to themselves that Marc Gasol is an elite defender because he plays in a small market, he’s not a high flying shot blocker, doesn’t grab a ton of boards and he doesn’t have the look of a “menacing” defensive presence. But, his team was 2nd in the league defensive efficiency, where they only surrendered 97.4 points per 100 possessions .With the race being wide open this year, voters were forced to think outside the box and they made the right choice. Dwight Howard, the perpetual favorite, quickly played himself out of contention, as his recovery from back surgery relegated him to looking like the old D-12 one night and Al Jefferson the next game. Tyson Chandler and LeBron James never quite reached inflicted their defensive reign of terror from last year, when Tyson took home DPOY and LeBron showed that he was EASILY the best perimeter defender in the NBA. Serge Ibaka has enhanced his game a great deal this year on offense. On defense he remains a terrifying intimidator who struggles playing “position defense against quality big men and smaller teams, where he is stuck next to a sloth named Kendrick Perkins, when he really should be defending centers, instead of playing in space.
Some will say Tony Allen may be the single most disruptive defensive player in the NBA, but his impact is limited, 26.7 minutes per game, because he’s such a poor offensive player that teams will play off him and drop an extra defender down to bother Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies allow about 4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Gasol is on the floor(Per Zach Lowe at Grantland), and although he doesn’t come soaring through the sky like Serge Ibaka to block shots, he protects the paint and rim very well. The most underrated facet of Gasol’s defensive abilities is that he is always in the right place, and you’ll almost never catch him where he isn’t supposed to be. Being a great offensive player only enhances Gasol’s value as a defender because he can wear his man out when his team is on offense, and you can play him a ton of minutes because he doesn’t hamper the team’s offensive production. They say the most important ability is availability, and he was always available for his coach. Gasol is always moving around the court in perfect symmetry with the other team’s plays, and it often seems as if Gasol is one step ahead of his opponent. He never over commits himself, rarely over-rotating himself out of position or losing touch with his man while helping elsewhere, usually Zach Randolph’s man. His defensive intellect really shows up when he uses mini-slides, subtle reaches into passing lanes and little disruptive hip checks. These little things are easy to miss, never show up on SportsCenter like a LeBron chase down block or Serge Ibaka sending someone’s shot into the 8th row, but these subtle things are essential to the Memphis Grizzlies defensive killing machine . Always remember that an elite defensive big man trumps an elite wing defender. In doing research at NBA.com, Hoopdata.com, Basketball-refrence.com, Espn.com, and The Hardwood Paroxysm; while gauging the conversation on various social media, I don’t think there’s a wider gap between the level of regular fan appreciation of a player and the level of appreciation from coaches/scouts/league executives for that player than the gap for Gasol. People inside the league adore this guy.(Grantland.com)
In summation, it seems injuries and minutes made this an easier choice for voters than it would have been when the season tipped off. Marc Gasol is the centerpiece of the league’s most chilling defense, and unlike the Tony Allen’s, Thabo Sefolosha’s and Bruce Bowen’s of the world, Gasol is good enough offensively to stay on the floor for BIG minutes. He finished 21st overall in total minutes, and among post players, only David Lee played more. This gives Gasol the jump on defensive stalwarts like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who are great defenders but didn’t play heavy minutes due to their age and attrition. Memphis only allowed 95.4 points per 100 possessions when Gasol is on the floor and 102.8 when he sits.(NBA.com) Gasol isn’t spectacular, but he is always in moving, and always talking, as the back-line anchor of the “ground and pound” Grizzlies. He protects the rim aggressively without fouling, he’s cannot be moved in the post, and every opponents possession is basically 18 seconds of him shifting around the floor in fiercely subtle ways that show he understands not only what the offense is currently doing, but what movements are coming next. He glides into passing lanes before they open, chucks cutters early, walls off pick-and-roll handlers, and acts as Memphis’s traffic cop. And while his individual rebounding numbers aren’t much to look at, he always takes care of his own defensive assignment and Memphis protects the glass at a much better rate when he’s on the floor. It’s easy to look at him physically and try to downplay his impact on a game, but there was a play in Game 1 of this year’s playoff series that really caught my eye. Chris Paul drove, and Gasol cut off the baseline. Then Paul pitched the ball to a cutting Matt Barnes and Gasol walled off the paint and then the ball found its way to Chauncey Billups, who tried to drive using a pick and roll. Gasol blitzed the pick and roll, forcing Billups to try and make a difficult pass, which Gasol deflected into Michael Conley’s clutches. Conley promptly fumbled the ball back to the clippers, which Chris Paul picked up and tried to throw to Barnes underneath the basket, but the pass never made it to Barnes because Gasol deflected it, 24 second shot clock violation. That one play illustrated why Marc Gasol should be the defensive player of the year.