This may be the year Lakers fans will see Pau Gasol back to being the player he was when the organization first acquired him during the 2007-08 season.
The 12-year veteran is heading into the 2013-14 season, where he will return to position as the team’s unquestioned second scoring option behind Kobe Bryant. Gasol last season had to endure several different obstacles that included struggling to adjust to head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense, dealing with tendonitis in both knees, suffering a torn right plantar fascia that caused him to miss seven weeks, and he also had trouble playing together with Dwight Howard due to the fact that both players occupied the same spots of the floor on offense.
As all of this was going on the 7-foot Spaniard was still able to average 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 49 games played last year. He is still one of the most talented and well-rounded big men in the league with his solid low-post game, good passing skills, rebounding and his high basketball IQ.
With the departure of Howard this offseason, the Lakers will now have to heavily rely on Gasol as he slides over to center position as the only viable big man who provides consistent offensive output. The team will be heading to a season with a bit of an unknown with Bryant still rehabbing from his Achilles surgery and Steve Nash, who is still not fully recovered from his hip injury that he suffered at the tail end of last year that limited his contribution and impact to the team’s success.
As for Gasol’s effectiveness in the offense, it clearly affected by Howard as the two were unable to find a compilable style to maximum both of their abilities. The problem that lied at the forefront of the difficulties was the fact that both players are most effective in the low post area, so when they were on the floor together it was evident that Gasol had to adjust his game to that of Howard’s, whose limited offense only allowed him to work in the low post. This forced Gasol to take more outside shots and become less effective in the team’s offense.
Last season when Howard was on the floor with Gasol, the 33-year-old took 28 percent of his shots from three feet or closer and shot 22.3 percent of his attempts from 3-9 feet. When he played on the floor without Howard, his number respectively both shot up to 31.8 and 26.9 percent. There was also the case with his point per possession (PPP) and field goal percent as he averaged .92 PPP while shooting 46.1 percent from the field with Howard and without him on the floor his stats increased to 1.07 PPP on 47.8 field goal percentage.
What this ultimately points out is that with Howard leaving the Lakers, it now allows for Gasol to move around on the offensive end more freely in his comfort zone in the low post area.
Although Gasol is currently rehabbing from May surgery to treat the tendonitis that bothered him throughout last year, he is expected to be ready by the start of the season. The procedure that he underwent eliminated any discomfort in his knees that he went through this past season and allow him to play more freely and at the high level he has become accustomed to.
As for the his place in team’s offensive game plan, D’Antoni showed late last season that he was willing to adjust to playing more of an inside-out game that Gasol thrived in which was apparent by his numbers in the final month of the regular season where he averaged 17.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists per game that also included posting two triple-doubles.
D’Antoni appears to be on board with Gasol as a central figure in the Lakers’ offense this upcoming season as he stated in a interview in late July with ESPN 710’s Mark Willard and Mychal Thompson that he expects the big man to “have the best year he’s ever had.”
With a healthy Gasol in the middle and an offense that will be more centered around him, look for him to return back to his All-Star form that was a major factor in helping the franchise in claiming its 15th and 16th championships.
He is a highly undervalued player to the organization,who went through several points in the last two season where he was rumored to be a trade chip or a possible option for the team’s amnesty clause. Despite all of that surrounding him, he continued to produce and make an impact on the team’s success. So with that said, Gasol will show this upcoming season why the Lakers need his production in order to achieve a high level of success.
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