Back in the day, prior to joining Spurs Nation full time, I was both a Lakers fan and a Spurs fan. From 2000 to 2010, one of my teams was in the NBA Finals almost every year – and won most of the time.
One of the highlights was when the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol in a trade for several nobodies, plus someone no one who anticipated would ever become good. That final player was Pau’s younger brother Marc, who then lost 30 pounds and became very good. It was still a great trade for the Lakers, and for me. With Robert Horry gone, Pau became my favorite Laker, even before he helped the Lakers win two straight crowns. Now, many years and even more games later, Pau joins Spurs Nation.
And there was much rejoicing.
Our noble leader JR Wilco asked that I contribute my observations from Los Angeles of Pau as a Laker. I have also asked several of my basketball buddies in LA, who also lived through Pau’s time in LA, to contribute their thoughts.
My first thought: If there was one player available who fits into the Spurs culture, Pau is it. He is very intelligent – both on and off the court – and unselfish. Like the great Duncan, he plays excellent position defense, and like TD, rarely jumps. (Of course, this is the best possible spin on his defense – while he is average or slightly above, he is no Tim Duncan.) He is an excellent passer, and unlike TD at the end, can still make the open 17 footer to stretch the D. Indeed, he and Kobe ran the pick and pop many times, or at least whenever Kobe decided an open 17 footer from Pau was a better choice than a fall-away double clutch jumper in traffic.
When Pau was with the Lakers, he was also remarkably diverse defensively. When the Lakers beat Orlando in the 2009 Finals, the Lakers rotated three bigs: Pau, true center Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom, an oversized 3-man playing power forward. When Pau played with Lamar, he covered Dwight Howard on the block at a time when Howard was the best big man in the game. When Pau played with Bynum, Pau covered Orlando’s 3-point shooting forward Rashard Lewis 20 feet from the basket. I don’t think any player in the game was capable of playing both players as well as Pau did, or at all.
Interestingly, with one notable exception, Pau’s stats last year compare favorably with the year the Lakers beat the hated Celtics in the 2010 Finals. That year, in 37 minutes a game, he averaged 18 points, 11 boards, 3.4 assists and 1.7 blocks. Last year with the Bulls, in 32 minutes a game, he averaged 16.5 points, 11 boards, 4.1 assists and 2 blocks. The notable, and concerning, exception: His shooting percentage last year was 47%, down from 53% with the Lakers in 2009-2010. One would hope that playing in the Spurs system will get him better shots than whatever you would call the Bulls offense last year.
My final thought on Pau relates to those who call him soft. He is not. He plays hard, as proven by his 19 point, 18 rebound (9 offensive) game in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. I understand why some give him that label, as he does get knocked around a bit. But that does not come from being soft. Instead, it comes from having a high center of gravity without a powerful lower body. Watch him play with that thought in mind, and I think you will agree he does not deserve a “soft” label.
Spurs Nation, even though Pau is not the athlete he used to be, you will enjoy having him as part of our team. As will the Spurs themselves, since he is an excellent teammate – something that is very important since he is replacing the best teammate ever.
Here are some of my LA hoops friends’ thoughts on Pau:
From Steve Carlston, former BYU player and all around good guy:
“Pau was an incredible all round player, he was a finesse big man during the time of muscle big men, so he got disrespected. But a closer look reveals a 7 footer that could shoot inside, and out. He was a perfect complimentary player to Kobe, because he was unselfish, could pass, run the floor and create space for Kobe.
To me he is a hall of fame player, a great teammate and stats that mirror, Duncan, Dirk and Garnett.”
From Marc Cimino, music exec and basketball savant:
“I think there should be some mention that Kobe destroyed his confidence so much that there was school of thought that Pau was done. Being freed of Kobe, combined with Thibs putting him in good positions to succeed, brought him back to All Star level. Pop should be able to put him in similar positions (e.g. minutes against second teams).” [My note – Phil D’Antoni probably had as much to do with Pau’s unhappy ending in LA as Kobe.]
From Mike Ross, LA gym legend, and underrated passer:
“Poor man’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, without the sky hook, better left hand, nicer to the media.”
And, finally, from Don Tringali, who plays such good D we call him The Stopper:
“Pau plays basketball like the really smart guy in 8th grade algebra; everything comes easily to him, and he could just relish in being the class standout, taking home all of the awards himself. Instead, he helps the others with their homework and even lets them glance at his answers during tests. “