It’s been six years since Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers, and during this time, we’ve seen the best and worst of him.
The first half was impressive, to say the least, as he was a two-time All-Star and NBA champion while helping the Lakers to three consecutive Finals appearances. The second half was full of constant role conflicts, trade rumors, and injuries as the Lakers have failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs the past three seasons.
Heading into the seventh season of the Pau Gasol era, there is certainly division among Lakers fans. Some feel that Gasol will return to All-Star form while others feel that he is no longer capable. Regardless of what your opinion is of him, one thing is for certain: the Lakers need him at full strength if they want to make a push in the playoffs.
When discussing Gasol’s effectiveness this upcoming season, it’s important to recognize that the game has gradually changed. More teams have resorted to small-ball as a result of the Miami Heat’s success and the lack of skilled big men in the game. Many traditional power forwards like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have made the transition as centers and have been very effective.
With the departure of Dwight Howard, Pau now has the opportunity to play his natural position and is the ideal center in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Gasol’s versatility will allow him to finish in the lane, pop out for a jump shot, or make the pass to an open teammate out of pick-and-roll sets.
Heading into this season, Mike D’Antoni expects Gasol to have his best season and there should be optimism about his transition to the center position. Player Efficiency Ratings (PER) provided by 82games.com show how he struggled at power forward but thrived at center:
Gasol at PF: 15.4, Opponent: 17.2 ; Net Production = -1.8
Gasol at C: 22.0, Opponent: 14.4 ; Net Production = +7.6
There is a significant difference in terms of production, but this particular statistic becomes more valuable when comparing Gasol’s PER to last year’s All-Star centers where he ranked third:
1) Brook Lopez: 25.6
2) Tim Duncan: 25.5
3) Pau Gasol: 22.0
4) Dwight Howard: 20.9
5) Tyson Chandler: 20.6
6) Chris Bosh, 20.5
7) Kevin Garnett, 20.3
8) Joakim Noah, 19.1
One issue that should be mentioned regarding PER is that it is a metric primarily is used to measure offensive, not defensive performance. While it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gasol ranks third, it’s clear that he’s not as effective on the defensive end compared to other centers. In order to minimize these deficiencies, the Lakers have brought in athletic perimeter players to hopefully shrink the floor and put less pressure on Gasol to protect the paint.
It’s been three difficult seasons, but there should be high expectations for Gasol to return to All-Star form. He is clearly the second option again and should be fully recovered from knee tendonitis by the start of the season.
Many have written him off because he has lost his athleticism, but they shouldn’t mistaken that for loss of skills. When put in positions to succeed on the court, Gasol has delivered two championships and is still one of the best skilled big men in the game.