I wrote this feature for SLAM Online, and it was originally published on their website on October 1, 2013 as part of the ongoing 2013/14 SLAM Online Top 50 series.
We, the people, tend to forget.
And the recent past hasn’t exactly been flattering to this member of the SLAM Top 50.
Our opinions of Pau Gasol—one of the greatest big men of the past 10 years—have been masked by his horrible and unfortunate ‘12-13 season. Paired next to Dwight Howard, Gasol finished the season with career lows in points (13.7 ppg), field-goal percentage (.466), and his Lakers’ career low in rebounds (8.6). Tendinitis in both knees, a concussion, and a tear to the plantar fascia of his right foot accumulated to hold the Spaniard to a career-low 49 games during the season.
Once considered among the best players in the League (Gasol peaked at 10th in the SLAM Top 50 back in 2010 and has never been out of the top 20, until now), Pau isn’t even the best ‘Gasol’ in the League any more. His younger, tougher, grizzlier brother Marc is currently the League’s darling and reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Pau, meanwhile, has diminished in the public’s eye, going from ‘Dominant Big Man’ to ‘Marc’s Older Brother’ in a matter of years.
But don’t let those years fool you into believing that the Older Gasol is going to fade away any time soon. Don’t let his ill-fated partnership with Howard last season mask the fact that Gasol is still perhaps the most technically gifted big man in the League, an efficient and effective offensive combination of footwork, finesse, upper body strength, soft hands, and the increasingly rare ability to dominate the post facing or backing away from the basket.
Now at 33, Gasol is surely far removed from his prime years, but the road ahead promises to be better than the forgettable season that he has just left behind. In losing Howard, the Lakers have been forced to ally their faith in Gasol, and in a season that offers mostly days of darkness for the Laker faithful, Gasol’s form could be a welcome ray of hope.
With Howard manning the middle, Gasol never full settled in the power forward position, as the perimeter-oriented Mike D’Antoni offense attempted (and failed) to turn him into a jump-shooter. When the two big men shared the floor, Gasol averaged .92 PPP (points per possession) on 46.1 percent shooting from the field. In his 707 minutes without Howard, however, those numbers improved to 1.07 PPP on 47.8 percent shooting. His rebounding rate spiked in Howard’s absence, too (via ESPNLosAngeles.com). As a center last season, Gasol posted an impressive PER of 22, in compared to a mere PER of 15.4 while playing power forward (via SportsMedia 101). His best years as a Laker have always come in the center position. In the regular absences of Andrew Bynum, the Lakers’ most successful offenses involved Gasol as center with Lamar Odom shifting to power forward. In the coming season, Gasol will share the space in the middle with Chris Kaman, a natural center but one who has the ability to stretch the floor and give Gasol his comfort space in the middle.
Last season was a tragicomedy of Hollywood proportions for the Lakers, and Gasol’s fortunes were synchronous with the fortunes of the team. He was cursed with injuries, was forced to play out of position in D’Antoni’s offense and failed to mesh with the new point guard, Steve Nash, on his squad. But if we are hell-bent on being true prisoners of the moment, even the failures of ’12-13 are the distant past.
We, the people, can start thinking about the present now. We can remember the last time we actually watched Gasol play: in the final month of the last season, Gasol posted averages of 17.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, leading the Lakers to win seven of their last eight games and to a spot in the playoffs. Bryant’s end-of-season injury unceremoniously ended all chances of a Laker revival in the post-season, but Gasol had given a glimpse of his return to form.
be at 100 percent health at the start of the Lakers’ training camp and is expected to keep the franchise afloat for the upcoming season.
Minutes after Howard announced that he would be taking his talents to Houston, Bryant posted a picture on Instagram that assured the world that he was still unaffected by our collective amnesia. It was a picture of him and Gasol together, with “#Vamos” as a rally cry for the road ahead.
And as we all look at the road ahead, we, the people, the fans, can expect to start remembering again. Remembering the joys of watching one of smoothest big men in the League at work. And remembering that the past can still be relevant in the future.
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