EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Marc Gasol has upped his game in many aspects, with defense being on top of the agenda|
The NBA announced on Wednesday night that Spanish international Marc Gasol, of the Memphis Grizzlies, was the winner of their Defensive Player of the Year award.
Gasol received 19.5% of the vote (212 of a total 1,089 points) with USA international Lebron James coming in second and Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Gasol's team-mate on the Spanish national team, voted in third place.
The news did not exactly come as a surprise, as an ESPN reporter had already revealed on Tuesday that the Barcelona-born player had been voted as the winner.
In anticipation of the official announcement, his brother Pau, in his weekly column in Spanish daily Marca, described Marc on Wednesday as "possibly the best '5' in the NBA right now."
"He deals extremely well with the concept of defensive helps, he is very tough and consistent," the Spanish superstar said of his brother's defensive qualities.
"It's difficult to go past him, he will stick on his opponent no matter who it is, he is competitive and wants to win always."
Gasol has become the first European player ever to receive the award and has joined the legendary Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo as the only three players born outside the USA to have been lauded as the best defenders in this league.
The choice of the 28-year-old Memphis center also marks a noteworthy turn for the NBA in another aspect, as Gasol did not top any of the statistical categories that a more typical winner of this accolade would in recent years.
He finished the Regular Season as the 12th-leading player in blocked shots with 1.7 per game (Ibaka actually topped the NBA in blocks for the second consecutive year), tied in 37th place with one steal per game, and 23rd in total rebounds with 7.8 per encounter.
Memphis however were the best defensive team in the entire league this year and, statistically, they gave up 95.4 points per 100 possessions (of the opponents) with Gasol on the floor.
With the big Spanish man was sitting on the bench however, this number rose to 102.2 per 100 possessions, a figure that would situate them as the 12th-best defence in the NBA.
But it was his ability to read the game of the offence and 'direct' the Memphis defence that was valued the most, as he is using his basketball fundamentals to interpret and anticipate the opponent's next move.
The middle of the Gasol brothers (Adrian, the youngest, is not a professional player) only left for the NBA in 2008, when he had already accumulated five seasons of top-level European basketball at FC Barcelona and Akasvayu Girona, and worked under coaches like Duško Ivanović and Svetislav Pesic.
He became a senior Spanish international in 2006 and conquered the gold medal at the World Championship in Japan that year, and EuroBasket gold in 2009 in Poland and 2011 in Lithuania.