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Steve Nash Is Right, Pau Gasol's Biggest Problem Is Confidence

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates his three pointer with Steve Nash #10 during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 28, 2012 in Los Angeles, 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2013

Steve Nash is the man. More importantly, he knows that Pau Gasol is still capable of being the man as well.

Optimism has become a rare commodity within the Los Angeles Lakers' circle. With the team six games under .500 and five games back of the Western Conference's final playoff spot, there hasn't been much cause for faith in Hollywood.

How could there be?

Kobe Bryant is still playing out of his mind (30 points per game on a career-best 47.2 percent shooting), but that hasn't translated into wins.

Instead, Los Angeles' superteam experiment has been marked by a Dwight Howard who just can't seem to do enough. A defense that ranks 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions. A roster that just can't seem to get healthy.

And a Pau Gasol who just can't seem to make a contribution that doesn't border beyond tragic.

At present, the once-prolific Gasol is having a year to forget, and one that has all but cost him his reputation. He's averaging a career-low 12.2 points per game on a career-worst 41.6 percent shooting.

To cap it off, he's been plagued by plantar fasciitis, which hasn't allowed him to play at all, let alone consistently.

But does that mean Gasol is broken beyond repair? That he is out of place beyond finding a fit? That he's too old, too slow and too incapable to help this team?

Absolutely not. At least, not according to (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngles.com) Steve Nash:

"I think Pau is a tremendous basketball player," Nash said. "I need to see him get his health and his confidence back. Even when he has been inside this year he hasn't looked very confident. For me, I really want to see him really feel better physically, mentally, confident and enjoy the game because I don't know if he's been himself this year. If we can get him back to himself, it doesn't matter where he plays. He'll be great."

Again, I feel compelled to reiterate how wise of a player, of a person Mr. Nash is.

Gasol's roster spot has been called for since the Lakers won their last championship under Phil Jackson in 2010. His performances during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns were dissected and ridiculed to no end. And it's been the same story, different year this season.

We tend to forget that as underwhelming as Gasol was last season, he still averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds on 50.1 percent shooting. This is the first year—in his 11 years playing at the NBA level—that he's averaging less than 17 points per game and posting a PER below 19.5. 

And that matters—more than most of us realize.

This isn't an age thing. Gasol turned 31 prior to last season and still finished out the crusade with a PER of 20.5.

This isn't a health issue either. Not entirely. Big men are prone to injury. These types of setbacks happen.

No, as Nash pointed out, this is a confidence thing. This is the result of Gasol struggling to find his identity, the result of an unrelenting doubt that has been shown in him for more than two years. And we shouldn't be surprised. At all.

How could Gasol's confidence not be rattled when his name has spent the better part of the year on the rumored chopping block? How can he find himself when Los Angeles' front office continues to openly admit that he's out of place?

How can he turn his season around and help the Lakers turn their season around when he's not put in a position to succeed?

He can't, he won't, and as Nash noted, it's up to the team to start putting him in positions where he can make a difference:

"I'm going to try to get Pau involved," Nash said. "Obviously, I think he's a terrific player. I think when we played together recently, there was a lot of opportunities where (the defense) would jump out on my pick-and-rolls, I'd get it back to him quickly. He can be the playmaker in 4-on-3, 3-on-2 situations where he really thrives. 

Remember, this is the same Gasol who averaged 19.1 points on 61.2 percent shooting from inside the arc during last summer's Olympics. Overseas or not, that's no happenstance. It's a testament to his skill, to his abilities.

The abilities that helped him lead the Lakers to two championships alongside Bryant. The abilities that allowed him to drop 17-plus points per game even when he was at his supposed worst.

The abilities that are admittedly being misused.

So of course this is a "confidence" conflict.

Gasol's being asked to be something he's not on a roster where it's difficult enough to distinguish one's self as it is.

"You've just got to support him," Nash had said (via Sam Amick of USA Today). "Six months ago, he was unbelievable at the Olympics. It's still in there somewhere..."

Indeed it is, right along with his confidence.

The same confidence that continues to elude him.

And the same confidence that is the key to turning his season—to turning his career—back around.

 

*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 12, 2013.

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