Pau Gasol is one of the better passers in the entire NBA. His innate feel for spacing and timing, and his ability to deliver passes on target to teammates in a position to finish easily, makes him really unique for his position.
The fact that Gasol is able to make these passes from the post is what makes him even more special. In most instances, he has his back to the basket and doesn't have vision of the entire court.
Unlike a point guard, Gasol often must know where his teammates are before he's making a pass. He doesn't have the benefit of seeing all of the defenders in his line of sight.
In the video above, you see exactly what makes Gasol elite.
He quickly sets up on the left block and makes himself available for a post entry. When the ball is in the air, he's already taking note of his man, where the defense is positioned and where his teammates are going (not just where they currently are).
When the ball is nearly to him, he immediately sees the double-team approaching and that his teammate (Andrew Bynum) is breaking free under the rim.
When Gasol finally makes the catch, he rifles an over-the-shoulder touch pass that Bynum easily catches and converts with a dunk.
Passes like these simply aren't normal.
Most post players wait until the ball is in their hands before they are able to diagnose a defensive alignment. Most post players are thinking how they can score rather than if anyone is going to have an easier shot.
Gasol, though, is processing information at speeds much faster than a normal post player.
Even on plays where Gasol isn't posting up in a traditional manner, he is thinking a step ahead. In the above clip, Gasol is on the weak side at the midpost.
Seeing that his man is trying to take away a direct pass to the post, Gasol quickly cuts to the rim to make himself available for a lob pass. When the ball is in the air, Gasol is not only seeing how he can score, but he is seeing if anyone else is in a better position to do so.
When Gasol catches the ball, he sees Bynum's man has rotated to contest the shot and that Bynum is now wide open under the rim. Gasol hits him with a touch pass before he even lands, leading to a dunk.
Again, Gasol is making reads in a time frame that most other players simply aren't capable of. He's seeing the entire floor while going after the ball the way a punt returner sees the entire field while waiting to catch a punt.
The defense may be moving into position to take away his opportunity, but that only allows him to see the open man that he can pass to instead.
Of course, Gasol's not a great passer simply because he can make the instant read. He's also great because he knows how to set up a pass within the context of the offense his team is running.
On the play above, Gasol is posting up in a traditional manner on the left block.
He's positioned himself first and foremost as a scoring threat by establishing position in the middle of the block where he can either go baseline or to the middle of the floor.
Once he receives the entry pass from Luke Walton, he sees that Walton is going to cut to the baseline side off his shoulder.
Gasol then subtly shifts his body to hand the ball off to Walton cutting while also screening off his own man and Walton's man at the same time. This gives Walton a free path to the basket for a score with no defender close enough to challenge him.
Post passing isn't only limited to the work done at the low post, though. To be an elite post passer, you must also be able to pass from the high post.
Read-and-react offenses (like the Triangle and the Princeton) park their best-passing big man at the elbow and let him distribute to teammates from that spot.
The play above is in semi-transition, but the principle remains the same.
Gasol sets up at the weak-side elbow while Kobe Bryant and Bynum run a high pick-and-roll on the opposite side of the floor.
When Kobe turns the corner, he doesn't have a passing angle to his rolling big man and instead passes to Gasol. Once Gasol makes the catch, he sees that he does have an angle to hit Bynum and throws a perfectly placed lob that Bynum finishes above the defense.
Because Gasol is such a threat to score, defenses must respect him. And because he understands how defenses want to try and take away his offense, he can quickly read who is open and where the next pass can go.
Some post players can learn to pass well through the repetitions they get while playing, but only a select few players have the instincts to make the right pass from the moment they come into the league.
Pau Gasol is one such player.
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