Our mystery player can play both the power forward and center positions at an elite level on a contender, while playing next to a top-3 center, and a future Hall of Famer. In what was allegedly a down year, he averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists per game in addition to 50% shooting. He also averaged nearly a block and a half per game, and is generally regarded as an above-average defender. On top of all of that he was a starter, and integral member of two championship teams.
Off of the court, you won’t worry about his name appearing in the headlines for the wrong reasons, as he is widely applauded for his contributions to the community.
Now, tell me, would you say yes or no?
If you said “yes”, you just said that you would take Pau Gasol on your team. Does that change your answer? Well, unless you’re a Timberwolves, Heat, or Blazers fan, it shouldn’t.
Oh, you think he’s “soft”? Well, our softie grabbed 15% of his team’s possible rebounds, good for second behind Andrew Bynum. Defensively, he contributed as many wins as Chris Bosh (3.3 Defensive Win Shares), more than twice as many as LaMarcus Aldridge, and 3 times as many as Zach Randolph.
Among his power forward peers, you could argue he’s still one of the best defenders of the position not named Josh Smith. Last I checked you couldn’t be soft to be a top rebounder and defender in the NBA.
Offensively, he’s an efficient scorer by any metric you’d care to quantify that with, and is capable of spreading the defense with his shooting range. I could list them all, but a twenty second Basketball-Reference search for his eFG, TS%, and plain old field goal percentage validates the previous statement. Crazy, it’s like there’s a reason he made almost $19 million this season…
You can’t say that he doesn’t care. Remember after Game 2 of the Lakers-Thunder series when Pau and Bynum sat on the bench well after everyone else had gone to the locker room to talk about their strategy in the high-low offense for Game 3. He didn’t race out of the arena before the media was allowed in or anything like that. Over the ten years Pau has been in the league, I’ve never thought that he didn’t care.
Wait—didn’t Kobe say after Game 4 that Pau needed to be more assertive? Sure did, but also added that he knew Pau would do better next game, and acknowledged that it was a bad read and that it happens. When you read the full quote, it’s not nearly as scandalous. Besides, Kobe calling Gasol out after he’s been in defer, defer, defer mode all season due to Mike Brown’s desire to get Bynum and Kobe shots first, is laughable.
Admittedly, his numbers are down this season. At the age of 31 it’s very possible he could simply be getting older, but that may not tell the whole story.
Remember before the season when he was nearly shipped off to Houston as a part of the vetoed Chris Paul trade, and had to show up to practice the very next day? Between that and being demoted to third banana, Pau’s psyche had to be damaged and had every right to question his worth to an organization to whom he brought two titles. It wasn’t even until later in the season that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak openly said they weren’t dealing Pau.
I’ll throw this out there: Is Pau done with LA? After all, he has to know that between him and Bynum, he’s going to be the odd man out every time, and he’s been playing out of position in favour of the young center for years while being the go-to scapegoat for just as long.
Sure, he’s still invested, but looking at his unusually low usage rate this season, it seems he’s just going through the motions and just doing as he’s told.
It’s clear that at this point a parting of ways may be what’s best at this point. Fortunately, some team will land him this offseason and he’ll be able to give at least one or two elite seasons as a top player in the game. And if that team happens to be your team, you’ll be one very lucky individual.