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Player Review: Have we seen the last of Marc Gasol?

Marc Gasol is at a fork in the road in his illustrious career. Let’s review his season and ponder his future.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics - Game Three
Marc Gasol lounging while holding a basketball - a sign of things to come?
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2019-2020 season was a roller coaster in every sense of the word. A couple of ups, a lot of downs and terrifying in nature. Marc Gasol’s first full year in a Raptors uniform is a perfect match. All year, I’ve been trying to hone in on what watching his Raptors tenure has been like as someone who was a really big fan of his before he was masterfully acquired by Masai Ujiri. I hadn’t been able to pinpoint the analogy I had been searching for until last week, when Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd unveiled their Climate Clock in New York City — a ticking doomsday alarm that illustrates, in all it’s digital gloom, the potential end of the world as we know it unless something drastic is done to correct course. Now, Father Time’s ticking clock has no known mechanism with which humankind can slow it down, but watching the seconds tick off, day in and day out, is exactly how I’ve felt watching Gasol this season.

Over the course of the season and as it progressed, Marc Gasol looked a little less spritely, saw his offensive game regress to frankly unimaginable levels at times, allowed more blow-bys on defense than he surely would have liked and saw his minutes load steadily decline due largely in part to matchups that exposed his weaknesses as the season and playoffs wore on.

With that, there is really only one question to answer when it comes to reviewing the season that Gasol had — have we seen the last of him? Depending on the answer to the question, the Raptors will feel the impact. Let’s dig in.

Yes, We’ve Seen the Last of Him

There is ample evidence in Gasol’s game that the Bubble season might very well have been his final run in the NBA. Gasol averaged a career low in field goal percentage, field goals and free throws attempted as well as points and rebounds per game. He had his second worst statistical season in a host of other stats including assists, steals and blocks per game while also finishing with a career worst offensive box plus/minus and PER by a country mile.

The Raptors needed oh-so-little out of him on the offensive end in order to keep their opponents’ defense honest and time and time again, Gasol fell short — missing bunnies, awkward runners and line-drive three pointers that Toronto had come to rely on. A lot of this can be chalked up to age, sure, but Gasol also only managed to play 44 games out of a possible 71 in a season that was mired with Raptors’ injuries. While age certainly contributes to injury and injury susceptibility, it is not a definitive factor and should be viewed through a skeptical lense. Besides which, Gasol returned after the long pandemic break having lost weight and looking fully healthy, and still couldn’t find a rhythm.

If this is the end of the road for Marc Gasol, let us remember his illustrious, Hall of Fame career for what it was, rather than what it wasn’t. Gasol was a tandem fulcrum along with Kyle Lowry in how the Raptors operated on the defensive end. An extremely high basketball IQ has buoyed Gasol’s career since it began, but as age progressed, it has allowed him to operate at an extremely high level despite his relative physical shortcomings among centres in the NBA. Gasol posted his second highest defensive box/plus minus and a better than career average defensive rating all while averaging a higher defensive win-shares and total win-shares count than in his championship year with the Raptors.

No, We Haven’t Seen the Last of Him

Well, here’s where things get interesting for the Raptors. Say Marc Gasol doesn’t retire and is willing to offer up his services in the NBA for one more year — do the Raptors jump at the chance to re-sign him? As mentioned, Gasol was not at his best last year. Does that mean that Big Spain doesn’t have another year in him, maybe in a potentially reduced role? Could he come back in the same role and shake out the gunk in his offensive game to contribute like he did in the Raptors championship run? There of course are questions surrounding another Raptors big man, Serge Ibaka; what happens with that domino will certainly have some ramifications on a potential Marc Gasol signing.

This all boils down to whether or not Toronto would be Marc Gasol’s first choice if he were come back for another year. There are rumblings about Marc returning to Europe and if he does decide to stay in the NBA, every contending team could use his services if only to feature him against the behemoth centres that he matches up so perfectly with. Gasol will be spoiled for choice, and deservedly so. Here’s hoping we get to glimpse his brilliance one more time.