Who’s Better: Roy Hibbert Or Marc Gasol?

Normally, if you asked this question, people would smirk. Or laugh. Or chuckle. Or call you an idiot. After winning this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award, as well as the unofficial title as the bloggers’ favorite basketball player, Marc Gasol is morphing into a stud. He spearheaded the league’s top scoring defense, averaging 2.7 stocks (blocks plus steals) a night. He dropped 14.1 points and a career-high four assists per game. Almost overnight, he’s become the Grizzlies’ best player (sorry, Zach Randolph).

But after a subpar season that had him as one of the year’s most disappointing players, Roy Hibbert upped his game in the playoffs. When it mattered most, he hit New York with two 20/10 games in the second round, including 21 points, 12 boards and five blocks in the series clincher. Then again Miami, Hibbert went OFF, posting series averages of 22.1 points (on nearly 56 percent shooting) and 10.4 boards. To call him one of the league’s best centers isn’t crazy anymore.

Gasol had the breakout regular season; Hibbert, the breakout postseason. Being mirror images of one another as talented defensive pillars, the Dime office often gets into a debate. Who’s better: Roy Hibbert or Marc Gasol? We argue. You decide.

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The common perception among the ever-changing NBA inner circle is that the old-school center is vanishing. A brick wall in the middle of the paint that stops incoming intruders and a capable pick-n-roll player who can set up camp on the right block and use an array of post moves to score. That doesn’t seem that hard to find, does it?

Well, let’s just take a look at the candidates. Dwight Howard took a step back this year and didn’t display nearly the same defensive and offensive presence we are used to seeing. Brook Lopez is as efficient as any center but still struggles to rebound. Al Horford isn’t as smooth in his pick-n-roll game as other centers. Roy Hibbert isn’t that good of a passer and is still smoothing out some of his offensive game. The remaining candidates are Tim Duncan and Marc Gasol. Since Tim Duncan is mostly considered a power forward and isn’t necessary for this article we won’t gush about his all-around game. This article is for the grizzly bear, Marc Gasol.

Gasol didn’t always have the praise and attention that he does now. He was a second-round pick by the Lakers that would eventually be traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for Marc’s older brother, Pau. Gasol has transformed from that point to become the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year. Here are a couple of plays that show how smart and good he is defensively.

In the first defensive sequence against the Utah Jazz, Gasol is able to defend the baseline for teammate Quincy Pondexter and prevent Gordon Hayward from getting to the basket.

Gasol quickly realizes that he has to rotate over to his man Jefferson once Hayward picks up his dribble. Not falling to his right when Jefferson fakes to go in the paint allows Gasol to keep the perfect defensive stand with a hand in the face of his opponent.

Sticking with Jefferson as he attacks the basket, Gasol is able to use his size to prevent Jefferson from bullying him inside and is long enough to properly time the jump to block the shot.

In the third defensive sequence, Gasol smartly goes over the top of the Greg Monroe screen in order to allow Mike Conley Jr. enough time to get in front of Brandon Knight. Gasol does just enough to allow Conley enough time to front Knight before he is able to penetrate to the basket.

Monroe initially beats Gasol off the dribble but Gasol is able to recover and move his feet quick enough where he can get in front of Monroe.

After Monroe is able to make a strong spin move, Gasol disrupts his shot enough where Monroe misses. Give credit to Monroe. He made a strong one-on-one move but Gasol’s discipline allowed him to do exactly what he is supposed to do, which is play good defense and hope that a player doesn’t make a great shot.

Keep reading for more on Gasol…

His effect on defense was integral to the success of the Grizzlies. They were ranked first in opponents points/game (90), fourth in opponents points in the paint/game (38.5), and fourth in opponents rebounds/game (48.1). The importance of the Grizzlies great defense was that it was the team’s identity, led front in center by Gasol. It was really important for the Grizzlies to have guards that could defend opposing guards from penetrating into the lane but it was even more important for there to be an imposing figure down low once they did get deep into the paint.

The counterargument to the point I made about the team’s concept of team defense is that Gasol was just another piece of such a great defense, that he played a part but not the WHOLE part — that you could put an above-average defender in his place and get close to the same results. Those arguments can be made for Hibbert but not for Gasol. The Grizzlies allowed an offensive rating of 98.2 when Gasol was in the game and 105.1 points when he was on the bench. That is the difference between a great defense and a mediocre one.

In mentioning his defensive greatness, I forgot to state how good he has become on the offensive end. You want a comparison that shows how good of a season Gasol had? You’d have to look back to 1976-77 Bill Walton. That team was entirely built around team defense, ball movement, and his ability to play the high post. Gasol isn’t quite at that level because pundits see the Portland Trail Blazers season as a “perfect” one, but he did have similarities to the responsibilities that Walton had. Having an offense run through the center is something rarely seen in the NBA today.

I looked at a clip of some of his best passes from a couple years ago. For the majority of this clip he is stationed at the top of the paint making backdoor passes, feeding his teammates in the perfect spot or getting the ball moving. One sequence caught my attention.

On this play, Mike Conley drives baseline and is able to get the ball out to Gasol at the top of the key. Gasol’s man pinched in when Conley drove so Gasol did have the chance to pump and drive to his left. He recognized that the lane was clogged so he looked to swing the ball to his right.

It seemed Gasol was a step ahead of Rudy Gay. Conley seemed to be open for a three-pointer from the corner but Gay didn’t realize it in time. By the time he did realize it, he went back to Gasol at the top of the key to restart the possession.

Dwight Howard leaks out far enough for Gasol to get Randolph in a good position on the low block to make a move on his man.

If you watched the NBA playoffs you know that he played a little bit more down low, especially against the Thunder. The way that the Grizzlies use Gasol makes him a unique player that can’t necessarily be defined by stats. His rebounding numbers (7.9) aren’t up to snuff with some of the other NBA elite but that is mostly because he is asked to do other things while his low-post counterpart, Zach Randolph, handles some of the other responsibilities. If you want to make the case that Hibbert is that great of a rebounding force than I’d point to the fact that the Pacers only suffer by 1.7 percent on total rebounds when Hibbert sits while the Grizzlies suffer by 1.9 with Gasol on the bench.

Even though he played closer to the rim on occasions he played nowhere near as close as Hibbert. Hibbert made 847 shot attempts within 10 feet of the basket while Gasol shot only 559 shots that close. This isn’t a knock on Hibbert but it shows how much Gasol is forced to play outside and how impressive his .483 shooting percentage is compared to Hibbert’s .462. His “jump” shot percentage of .435 was nearly equal to Chris Bosh, a player known for his sweet stroke.

One of the best parts about Gasol is how he and Mike Conley picked up some of the slack when Rudy Gay was traded. Many wondered how they would win without Gay, but due to a little bit more scoring and passing from Gasol and Conley they were able to make a run to the Western Conference Finals. The Grizzlies were four points per 100 possessions better when Gasol was on the floor, showing how much of an effect he had on the overall flow of the offense. I forgot to mention that Gasol missed only two games due to an abdominal tear. The Grizzly Bear should be considered the best center in the league, not just for his beard, but also for his all-around play.

Keep reading to hear why Hibbert is better…

Roy Hibbert has officially entered the discussion for the best center in the NBA. Before this season, Hibbert was thought of as merely just a big body. He averaged 11.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in his first five seasons in the NBA — not exactly numbers that scream “next great big man.” For a former 17th pick, they were modest statistics.

However, this year things changed in a big way for Georgetown’s latest seven-foot NBA import. He hasn’t attained the same status as his predecessors Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Patrick Ewing, but in a league lacking dominant bigs, Hibbert has emerged as one of the best in the league. Hibbert also isn’t a one-trick pony; he plays both sides of the ball equally well. He is a force in the paint. Ask Carmelo Anthony or just go look at the picture in Hibbert’s house. He uses an array of post moves to score on the interior, earning him the nickname “Right Hook ‘Em to Death” Roy from all-time great Shaquille O’Neal during the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hibbert may not be as decorated when it comes to awards as Marc Gasol is, yet Hibbert is far from reaching the prime of his career. At 26 years old, Hibbert still has the potential to get better. Gasol, on the other hand, is 28 years old and it’s hard to imagine him getting any better. Before this season, Gasol’s biggest perceived weakness was defense. All he did was win Defensive Player of the Year this year.

Hibbert should join the DPOY conversation next season. He gave one of the most memorable quotes this postseason when a reporter asked how he only finished 10th in the voting: “You know what, because y’all motherf*****s don’t watch us play throughout the year, to tell you the truth. That’s fine. I’m going to be real with you. And I don’t care if I get fined. You know what, we play, we’re not on TV all the time. Reporters are the ones that are voting. And it is what it is. If I don’t make it, that’s fine. I’m still going to do what I have to do.”

Hibbert also displayed more of his personality during the playoffs, and while a player’s personality doesn’t coincide with how good they are it will help him become more popular amongst the fans. If he can become a name known by the masses, people will pay attention to exactly what the 7-2 center is doing throughout the season.

What gives Hibbert the edge over Gasol is that Hibbert is a much better all-around player. Gasol is probably the more effective defensive player, but Hibbert showed — especially in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat — that he can be a dominant force on offense. Hibbert tallied averages of 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds against the Heat and was the main reason the Pacers were one game away from making a trip to the NBA Finals.

Roy Hibbert is just breaching the surface of the player he could become in the future. Soon enough he could have a career that would make Mutombo, Mourning and Ewing proud to call him one of their own. Hibbert has gone from a mid first-round project pick to an intricate part of a title contender in just five years. As long as Hibbert suits up in blue and gold, the Pacers will continue to be title contenders.

Who do you think is better?

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