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Things for the Rings: Can newly skinny Marc Gasol feast in the paint?

The Raptors centre has been strangely relunctant to shoot the ball inside the arc. But Toronto is going to need that to change if they want to repeat for a championship.

Toronto Raptors v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The restarted Raptors are still seeking to defend their 2019 NBA title. For our latest series, Things for the Rings, we’ll break down what each essential person on the team can do to answer the major question on every fan’s mind: What does each Raptor need to do to make a Toronto repeat reality?

Marc Gasol

Thing for the Ring: Skinny Marc Gasol must feast in the paint

It’s no secret that Marc Gasol has seen his offensive contributions lag since coming north of the border.

Raptors Need Some of Memphis Marc

MEM 33.7 5.6 11.7 0.484 0.4 1.1 0.344 0.500 3.5 4.5 0.777 3.4 2.1 15.2
TOR 26.4 3 6.8 0.440 1.2 2.9 0.413 0.527 1.1 1.4 0.750 3.6 1.3 8.3

Digging into the numbers though, it’s clear that the issue is more a matter of counting stats, rather than efficiency. While Gasol has seen his points per game drop significantly from his peak, it’s in part because he’s turned himself into one of the premier frontcourt marksmen in the league. If you look closer, you’ll notice: Gasol’s effective field goal percentage is actually higher as a Raptor than it was as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Still, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the Raptors biggest worry is whether they’ll be able to squeeze enough points out against elite defenses to win four out of seven games in the playoffs.. Gasol’s three-point shooting has been great, but he’d give the Raptors an extra dimension if he could find a way to generate some buckets in the paint as well.

Earlier this year it looked like Gasol might never score inside again — he started the season mired in an all-time shooting slump — opening up the year at 19-of-61 from within the arc – a comical 31.1 percentage, while averaging less than three two-point field goals a game. It’s very fair to wonder if his crazy schedule — a deep playoff-run and then international duty for Spain — had taken it’s toll on the 35-year-old. But from December 19th on, Gasol found his two-point range going 29-of-48 — a far more robust 60 percent clip on four attempts per game.

With teams likely keying in on Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, Gasol is going to have one-on-one post opportunities for Toronto. While those shots tend to yield fewer points per possession than most other types for the Raptors, having Gasol be able to punish teams for going small — through scoring, or drawing double teams he can pass out of, because he has shown he could score — would be a definite advantage for a Toronto team that can be a little too perimeter-orientated at times.

Can He Do it?

While he’s not a scoring focal point like he was in Memphis, seeing Gasol’s shot attempts cut nearly in half (11.7 to 6.8), and his inside the arc shots drop from 10.5 to just 3.9 isn’t optimal.

There is no reason why, if head coach Nick Nurse schemes it that way, and Gasol takes the shots that comes, the Raptors couldn’t goose those up by 50 percent. Yes, Gasol is outside of his peak, but he looks to be in the best shape he’s been in a long while, and the four-month break may have been good for his overworked legs. Now we just need to see him back on the court.

Chances of It Happening: 7 out of 10

Still, will Gasol take those shots when they come to him? Since he’s become a Raptor he’s deferred, at times to a fault, to his teammates. This is often to his credit, since Gasol is an incredibly smart player and he knows how to find the best shots for the team while getting everyone involved in the offense.

In this, however, he also knows that if can get himself comfortable near the basket, taking those shots will give the Raptors’ offense another wrinkle it could definitely use.