It wasn't pretty, but Pau Gasol's long-awaited return from injury fueled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 101-100 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. This marks the Lakers' third consecutive victory—one that will be remembered as the moment we learned an important truth about L.A.
It is imperative that Gasol becomes Mike D'Antoni's glue guy.
Gasol may not be the same athlete he was in previous seasons, but he remains one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA. He's a dominant rebounder, elite-level facilitator and a reliable interior defender.
Such was on full display against Charlotte as he finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks. Even if he's not the star in Los Angeles, Gasol must be the player who holds it all together.
Something he is more than capable of doing.
For evidence, evaluate his time with the Spanish national team.
Gasol ranked fourth among all players in scoring, and sixth in rebounding at the 2012 London Olympics. He also ranked seventh in terms of blocks per game.
Most important of all, Gasol led the Spanish national team in assists. That's right, frontcourt-player Gasol led the Spanish national team in assists—a team that included Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Llull and Rudy Fernandez.
This is the type of player Gasol can be under coach D'Antoni. Although he will not lead the team in assists per game, Gasol is capable of playing a role in facilitating each and every possession.
Even if he doesn't get the assist or take the shot, possessions should run through Gasol. The offense is far more dynamic that way.
It is also more consistent.
As previously alluded to, Pau Gasol is the definition of a two-way performer.
Gasol can score with the best of them, facilitate at a world-class pace and defend the rim as well as any. Career averages of 18.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.7 blocks prove just that.
His 2011-12 averages of 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 blocks offer further evidence.
Although his numbers are down in 2012-13, Gasol proved what he remains capable of doing against the Charlotte Bobcats. Ten points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks are the type of numbers Gasol can post for the Lakers.
The blocks will decline from four per game, but the points would rise just as easily. He may have finished 3-of-10 from the field, but he also worked his way into position for quality looks.
Gasol's shaking off the rust provides coach D'Antoni with a reliable scoring option from everywhere within the three-point line.
Bump Screens and Handoffs
One of the staples of Pau Gasol's game is the high bump screen. This enables a ball-handler to work his way around Gasol for a clear path to the lane or drop the ball off in Gasol's hands to set up a give-and-go.
It can also lead to another man being found off of the drive down the middle of the lane.
Another option would be to hit Gasol with the ball in the high post and have him set a bump screen for a teammate along the perimeter. Gasol can then face up and hit said player on the drive.
Gasol can also capitalize on the space created by his assignment stepping up on the rotating perimeter player, thus attempting a relatively uncontested jump shot.
Not only can Gasol facilitate while facing the basket, but he can hand the ball off of the bump screen. He will then hit the man in motion, who will come around for a jump shot or find Gasol off the drive—an art Kobe Bryant has mastered.
Embracing the Post
If Mike D'Antoni continues to embrace the dominant force Pau Gasol has proven to be in the post, the Lakers will have their glue guy.
Gasol is one of the most well-rounded low-post players in the history of the NBA. Not only does he have the versatility to score with both hands, but he's an outstanding passer who knows how to mix up his feeds.
Even if Steve Nash were healthy, the Lakers offense would be offered a different animal with Gasol facilitating.
Gasol can be the player who adds a new dimension to the offense and a level of consistency to the defense. Although Gasol is not the athletic shot-blocker he once was, he's the best help-side defender Dwight Howard has ever played with.
We already know what he can do for Kobe Bryant. Two championship rings on his fingers prove that.
With Gasol's presence benefiting all on the floor, the Lakers have the reliable player who keeps the team together. He will score when the stars are struggling, facilitate as well as any big in the league and defend the rim with consistency.
What more could you ask for from the guy who keeps it all together?