Pau Gasol Is Officially the NBA's Most Underappreciated Star

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIDecember 25, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 22:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers is introduced before their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 22, 2012 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

No star player in the NBA is as under-appreciated as Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol. As a four-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA champion, nobody takes more unwarranted heat for his team’s shortcomings than Gasol does for the Lakers.

Chris Bosh is another solid example of an under-appreciated NBA star, because he plays beside the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But even Bosh is respected more than Gasol in this regard. When Bosh was out during the playoffs last season with an abdominal injury, everyone took note of just how important he is to the Miami Heat.

Gasol, meanwhile, plays beside superstars named Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, but he takes a huge amount of blame when he plays below his lofty standards.

There’s no question that Gasol has had a difficult time adjusting to the presence of Dwight Howard in Los Angeles this season. Couple that with a variety of different offensive systems that don’t play exclusively to Gasol’s strengths, and there’s plenty of evidence as to why Gasol’s numbers have taken a hit.

Through 19 games this season, Gasol averaged 12.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Gasol’s numbers in those three categories are down across the board from his career averages.

Even though Gasol has clearly struggled, the Spaniard is averaging nearly four assists per game (3.7).

As a team player, Gasol recognizes his own offensive struggles, which have been highlighted by an abysmal 41.2-percent shooting clip from the field—the worst of his career. Gasol’s own offensive stats have been career lows, but he’s still making a concerted effort to get teammates involved by setting them up to score.

Gasol’s lack of confidence this season could certainly be attributed to the new offensive system. However, it’s also evident that Gasol hasn’t been 100-percent healthy.

Following a home loss to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 2, Gasol went on to miss eight consecutive games due to knee tendinitis.

Of course, that was after teammate Kobe Bryant took a verbal jab at Gasol through the media after the loss to Orlando, telling Gasol to “put your big-boy pants on” (via Royce Young of CBS Sports). That quote shows just how under-appreciated the four-time All-Star has been in Los Angeles.

Chris Sheridan of provided interesting insight on the matter in the following video:

Fans of teams like the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats would love to have a superstar as talented as Gasol, but they don’t have that luxury. Gasol’s name has fluttered around trade speculation and rumors all season long, but the truth of the matter is the Lakers are a better team with Gasol on board and playing well.

Perhaps Gasol’s solid Christmas Day performance against the New York Knicks will provide him with the spark of confidence he’s needed through all the negativity.

In the 100-94 win, Gasol had 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a blocked shot. But what may truly turn Gasol’s fortunes around was an emphatic dunk in the closing minute of the game.

As Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony switched defensive assignments, Kidd was late getting to Gasol on the perimeter. As a result (as he did so well in the past), Gasol drove the ball hard to the basket and finished with a two-handed slam, closing out the game for the Lakers.

Following a 9-14 start to the season, the Lakers have managed to turn their fortunes around with a five-game win streak, as they’re finally back to a .500 record. If Gasol can bounce back from his rough start and play up to his usual abilities, the Lakers will be a major threat come playoff time.

Of course, regardless of whether Gasol continues to play poorly or turns things around and starts to play well, he’ll be one of the league’s most under-appreciated stars.