Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pau Gasol: Black Swan Or Discolored Goose?

The good news for Pau Gasol is that its already halfway through August, and the Lakers haven't started shopping him around the league yet (at least not openly). 

The bad news for Pau is that the keyword in the previous phrase was "yet." 

For a player that is widely consider a top-10 PF at worst, Gasol has consistently faced some of the NBA's worst criticisms from his two harshest critics: The Laker faithful and the Laker franchise. We already know that playing under the bright lights in Hollywood is not for the faint of heart (Howard ahem), but even at Pau's worse, he's never shied away from analysts, critics, or his own teammates when it's come to owning up to the statistical skid he's endured over the last three seasons. 

Props Pau. Props. 

Now I hate giving excuses for anyone, let alone the NBA's million-dollar boys club, but Pau's dealt with multiple injury-related setbacks that would plague anyone's productivity (on or off the court) no matter who they suited up with or for.  With Pau specifically, he's been dealing with foot/ankle problems for most of his career and the wear and tear that comes with being a busy big man in the league finally grew into a full-blown case of plantar fasciitis. 

If you understand medicine like I do (the stranger the name, the worse the ailment), than this diagnosis is nothing to laugh about. 

Clinically speaking, plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tissue that protects the bottom of your feet and connects your heel to your toes, creating the arch in your foot. So in lament terms, its basically a total pain in your foot! (I couldn't help it.)

From a basketball standpoint, any injury directly relating to an athlete's ability to move laterally, vertically, or just move in general is going to hurt that player's on-court efforts. This isn't rocket science. Any moron can figure out that foot problems, or even toe issues, can sty my even the best players' careers.

Just ask Shaq how much trouble his big toe caused him over over the latter part of his career. In fact, that toe probably cost him an extra few seasons of positive production. The years of the Big Shamrock could've been less "sham" and more "rock." 


In broader terms, a player's footwork can be a distinguishing asset between the NBA's elite and the NBA's mediocrity. You know, the difference between Steve Nash and Goran Dragic, or Lamarcus Aldridge and Bismack Biyombo (more extreme). 

Coincidentally, Pau relies on his fundamentally concrete footwork to do most of the dirty work on both sides of the ball, and his troubled tootsies have seemingly "mediocritized" his game. 

Think of it as the difference between a "black swan" (Pau's nickname dubbed by Kobe) and a "discolored goose." 

When Pau's at his best offensively, he's catching the ball 5-7 feet away from the basket, threatening the defense with a soft jumper and tormenting paint protectors through pump fakes, spins, and running hooks. All moves that require strong feet for masterful footwork. 

Without the quickness and foot strength to gain post position or even finish explosively, Gasol's been forced 15-20 feet away from the basket where he's settling for rinky-dink jumpers on a rinky-dink foot. 

Here's a stat for you: Pau Gasol's attempted 56 three pointers over the last two seasons (2011-13) compared to just 10 total attempts between his three seasons prior to 2011-12. 

A noticeable jump if I don't say so myself. 

Similar to players like Paul Pierce, Pau isn't known for speed, he's known for his off-speed movement that keeps the defense on their heels, but the most underrated part of Pau's game is his court vision. 

Gasol is easily one of the best passing big men in the game, not only from the post, but from the perimeter as well. Given that his passing game isn't directly linked to his foot problems like his slowed-down spin move, his restricted offensive arsenal allows defenders to recover quicker and consequently crowd him easier when he gets the ball. Also, he's less likely to run the break or fill-in the wing on a fast break opportunity like we've seen in the past. Therefore his propensity to create and earn easy baskets has diminished dramatically, subsequently straining his offensive prowess and hurting his efficiency. 

Defensively, Pau has yet to shed the "soft" moniker but his feet haven't helped that either. Being that Pau has never been a "block the ball in the air" type of player, we don't expect him to fly off the weak-side block to pin the ball on the backboard. However, there was a time and a place when the Lakers could depend on him to move quickly between the blocks to shore up the paint in a timely manner. This youthful quickness has dissipated partially due to his age and partially due to injury, but honestly, the plantar fascitis hurts him much more defensively than it does offensively. 

The problem is the Lakers need Pau's offense more than they need his defense and that'll be a consistent trend throughout 2013-14. 

Adding Dwight Howard was supposed to ease Pau's workload last year, but Dwight was never at full strength in Los Angeles. I know, I know, excuses, excuses. But, it's the truth! 

My point is this, Pau Gasol is a professional and he's a champion. Despite the plentiful trade rumors, the horrid tweets, and the uncertainty of not knowing what his worth is on an NBA roster, he's been a class act. He's been a great teammate, a formidable leader, and an excellent example of what an NBA role model looks like. Sure, his numbers dropped to a career worst 13.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg, and yes, he was arguably the non-existant x-factor that the Lakers needed last season, but with the possibility of not having Kobe for a month or two coupled with a full summer of re-cooperating, I'm looking forward to a Pau-erful rebirth in the upcoming year. 

I foresee a much better relationship between Mike D'Antoni and his team as well as a renewed effort to put Gasol, Nash, and Kobe in offensive scenarios that create easier looks for them and their teammates. D'Antoni may opt to tweak his famously fast-paced offense in favor of a scheme that focuses on half-court execution because his team is old, like Tim Duncan old.

All I'm saying is "play to your strengths."

Thanks for stopping by,

The Mattman


Post a Comment

Listen to internet radio with ProBasketballTalk on BlogTalkRadio

NBA Rumor Mill


Sheridan Hoops