Marc Gasol still has room to improve


After a breakout sophomore campaign, what's next for Marc Gasol?

A year ago, tons of fantasy owners helped themselves on draft day by recognizing the depth available at the center position. Two notable late-round finds were Chris Kaman, who produced a nice bounce-back season for the Los Angeles Clippers, and Joakim Noah, who emerged as a glass-cleaning machine for the Chicago Bulls.

Then there was Marc Gasol. Though he was coming off a decent rookie season (11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds) in 2008-09, Gasol seemed like little more than a late-round afterthought. Maybe a lot of us inevitably saw him as Pau Gasol's less-gifted younger brother, or maybe we got gun-shy when the Memphis Grizzlies passed on the likes of Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry to draft another center, the gargantuan project Hasheem Thabeet, in the summer of 2009.

Whatever the concerns, they faded quickly. Immediately meshing with new arrival Zach Randolph, Gasol improved significantly in almost every category. The 7-footer even stepped out of his brother's shadow to a degree by showing a willingness to get physical down low, as evidenced by his 1.6 blocks (up from 1.1 rejections the season before). Fantasy owners also welcomed Gasol's 9.3 boards and 58.1 percent shooting, while his other numbers -- 1.0 steals, 2.4 assists and 67.0 percent from the line -- were respectable for a big man. The one blemish on his season was its premature conclusion, as Gasol missed 13 of the Grizzlies' final 15 games with a partially torn neck muscle. Still, fantasy owners who drafted "the other Gasol" undoubtedly got value.

Entering this season, Gasol is no longer a fantasy sleeper. But if anything, he offers greater fantasy value. For starters, Gasol is still young; he'll turn 26 in January. He's apparently healthy, having played for Spain in the FIBA World Championships last month. His neck problem aside, Gasol is durable. He'd never missed an NBA game prior to that injury. And fantasy owners shouldn't be concerned if Thabeet, who worked with Hall of Famer Bob Lanier in the summer, carves out a few productive minutes behind Gasol (and Randolph). No team relied on its starters more than the Grizzlies last season. Among centers, only Brook Lopez logged more than Gasol's nearly 36 minutes per game in 2009-10. Sitting out a couple of extra minutes a night actually wouldn't hurt.

Finally, Gasol has two forms of incentive: getting the Grizzlies to the postseason next spring, and seeing a big payday next summer (when he becomes a restricted free agent). OK, maybe they're a tad overoptimistic with that playoff talk in Memphis, but fantasy owners have every reason to expect Gasol will be even better. Points and the percentages figure to be where Gasol makes the biggest strides, as he should be more involved in the offense this season, making him a solid top-50 pick.

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.