The potential risk of injury is the only thing holding Marc Gasol back in our rankings.
A navicular fracture is the kind of injury that can slowly derail an NBA career. Yao Ming and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, among others, were haunted by it. Joel Embiid has yet to leave the launchpad because of it. Now Gasol, at age 31, will have to push through his recovery from the break to pick up where he left off. Lingering pain is a real risk with this sort of injury and could potentially hinder Gasol throughout the season. That has to be taken into account when attempting to predict just how effective Gasol will be this year—as does his broader record of nagging injury. Those factors were enough to bump Gasol down from his usual residence in these rankings, if only this far. There are limits to how much we’re willing to push a player who could fairly claim to be the best at his position when healthy. Gasol operates on that level: his passing and shooting can lift an offense to fluidity while his defense, at its best, can anchor an entire system. Teams interested in working out of the low post can feed Gasol on the block and watch opponents scramble to contain him. Gasol is so big and strong that opponents can be easily baited into double teams, which in effect only serve as an accessory to one of Gasol’s no-look passes to the open man. Gasol could also be stationed at the elbow just as easily, where he can execute dribble hand-offs that work as a faux pick-and-roll, survey a play’s development from a clear angle, and tug at the defense with the threat of his jumper. There are times when Gasol has to be goaded into pressing as a scorer—restraint is his default setting—but better that then a less capable player who insists on doing too much. (Last year: No. 9)
+ Maybe the best big-to-big passer in the league; understands the spacing of the interior
+ Sets a strong, wide base for effective screens
– Gasol’s particular foot fracture carries a worrisome precedent
– Didn’t defend quite up to his usual standards last season