Pau Gasol’s NBA career has taken a turn for the worse during the 2012-13 season with the revamped Los Angeles Lakers. The Spaniard has struggled and received a huge amount of criticism for his play, but his career is far from being in jeopardy.
The four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion has posted a career low 12.7 points per game this season on a career-low 42.9 percent shooting from the field. His comfort level—not only in the Princeton offense under Mike Brown, but also in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system—has been at an all-time low.
The proverbial “rock bottom” for Gasol this season though came after a Dec. 2 loss to the Orlando Magic. Following the loss, Kobe Bryant infamously told reporters that Gasol needed to put his “big-boy pants on" (via NBA.com's Sekou Smith). Again, Gasol is no stranger to criticism, even from Bryant. However, as Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com explains in this video, Gasol was unfairly blamed by Bryant following the loss.
“Pau sat on the bench for the final six minutes of that game,” Sheridan said. “The Lakers were up one when he went to the bench, and Orlando scored 31 points in the final six minutes.”
Bryant has been nothing short of stellar despite getting up there in age at 34 years old, so he should feel free to call out whomever he pleases. Despite that fact, Bryant took a shot at Gasol following the loss to Orlando even when Gasol didn’t get the chance to play in crunch time.
Following the loss and the Bryant quote, Gasol missed eight games due to knee tendinitis.
Gasol’s season thus far has been marred by negatives. He hasn’t been able to justify his $19 million salary, and the Lakers have a mediocre 15-15 record. However, Gasol has shown signs of returning to being the productive player he’s been throughout his illustrious career.
On Christmas day in a win against the New York Knicks, Gasol posted numbers quite similar to his season averages: 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists, one block, one steal and shot just 38.5 percent from the field. However, up by three with 14.4 seconds remaining, Gasol received the inbounds pass and drove aggressively to the basket for a game-clinching dunk.
Following the play, it appeared as if Gasol had a weight lifted off his shoulders. His teammates showed great camaraderie, and Gasol smiled for what felt like the first time since the London Olympics.
It appeared as if the emphatic dunk would help springboard Gasol and get him back on track. That certainly seems to be true, given that Gasol has shown great improvements since Christmas day.
Collectively, in a loss to Denver and a win against Portland, Gasol scored 34 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, dished out 10 assists and blocked five shots. Over the course of those two games, Gasol shot 65 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three-point range.
Pau is getting real animated with his 3-point celebrations. He's starting to look like my hero Steve Novak out there.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 29, 2012
Pau Gasol is really feeling good. Making faces, waving arms. Living it up. Even nodded and said, "Ok" when scored on. Lakers up by 25.— J.A. Adande (@jadande) December 29, 2012
Dwight and Kobe are Pau's biggest cheerleaders on the bench. Grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face.
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 29, 2012
Has Gasol struggled this year? No question. Does that mean Gasol’s career is in serious trouble? Most certainly not.
Gasol finally seems to have gotten into a rhythm with the Lakers this season, and a major point of emphasis with that rhythm has been his three-point shooting prowess. Gasol is shooting more often from beyond the arc this season, and he’s shooting a career-high 41.2 percent from downtown. Those impressive numbers led coach D’Antoni to provide the following colorful quote (via ESPN’s Arash Markazi):
D'Antoni: "If I let Darius Morris shoot a 3, I'm certainly going to let Pau shoot a 3. He's a better shooter."—Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) December 29, 2012
Gasol doesn’t need to completely reinvent himself to have success this season (although he has somewhat with the great three-point shooting). He’s a champion and an All-Star-caliber big man.
His production so far has been a bump in the road, but as the Lakers start to turn their fortunes around, I believe Gasol will as well.
Note: All statistics in this article are accurate as of Dec. 30, 2012 (prior to games played).