Pau Gasol the spectator is having a much better year than Pau Gasol the player.
Gasol's game didn't look so good before his recent foot injury. And, since returning from a 20-game hiatus, the seven-foot Spaniard has been nothing short of underwhelming for the Lakers.
In order for the Lakers to make the playoffs and then do some damage in them, they'll need Gasol to play more like the gifted passer and shooter who helped them capture back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
Based on the four games Gasol has played since returning from his bout with plantar fasciitis, the chances of that happening this year are slim to none. While seeing occasional flashes of Gasol's passing and shooting brilliance, the overall play is that of a tired, out-of-shape, aging superstar.
With this week's major injury to Metta World Peace, Gasol's gradual return to big minutes is over. Expect to see him on the court for 30-34 minutes a game, regardless of his inconsistency.
After four games, including three losses and a squeaker in Minneapolis that almost got away, Gasol and the Lakers do not look poised for success.
In order to save this season and his future with the team, Gasol will need to step it up considerably over the final nines games.
Otherwise, he and his teammates will be staring at a long summer break and probable breakup of the biggest team disappointment in recent NBA memory.
It's not as if Pau Gasol has been sitting on a beach chair, eating chips and salsa all day. Well, maybe he has.
Gasol's rehab since suffering a tear in his plantar fascia February 5 in the Lakers’ win at Brooklyn has been painfully slow. He missed 20 games and couldn't do much of anything for a month in terms of running.
That's not to say he hasn't put forth the effort. Gasol is the consummate professional and understands his role and responsibilities with the Lakers. He is not to blame, but Gasol is not in great shape.
The hopeful pointed to Gasol's relatively strong performance at Minnesota earlier this week as a sign that he was regaining his endurance. The seven-footer played a total of 36 minutes, scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and had nine rebounds in the Lakers three-point win.
Those hopes were dashed the next night, when the Lakers lost their 14th consecutive back-to-back of the season, this time falling to the Milwaukee Bucks. Gasol played 32 minutes and scored 12 points, but, once again, looked tired.
What's frustrating is that Gasol hasn't really found his legs this entire season. Early in the year, players and coaches were commenting that the Spaniard wasn't coping well with Mike D'Antoni's spread offense that demands movement on both ends of the floor.
"Pau is used to laboring up the floor and coasting a little bit," Kobe Bryant said. "In this offense, we have to put the motor on the first few steps we move up the court."
D'Antoni benched Gasol in the fourth quarter of a game against the New Orleans Hornets, basically saying that he wanted to win the game and went with the players he thought could do that. D'Antoni never fully accepted Gasol and his role with the starting unit, but now has no choice but to play him.
Combine a lack of solid conditioning with a coach who doesn't believe in the twin-tower concept of Dwight Howard and Gasol and the results are dismal.
It's only been four games, but Pau Gasol appears to be getting his shot back.
The majority of his points are coming from five to 10 feet out, while Gasol's outside shooting remains rusty.
Gasol started out very slowly, going just 3-of-8 in a loss to Golden State and 2-of-10 in an embarrassing three-point loss to the Washington Wizards at Staples Center.
Against Minnesota, the shots were dropping as Gasol went 8-of-12 and scored 17 points. He shot 50 percent (6-of-12) in the team's most recent game—a loss in Milwaukee.
Gasol's strengths have always revolved more around offense than defense. He doesn't jump particularly high (if at all), but has one of the best strokes for a big man in league history.
Pau Gasol is a point guard trying to break out of a seven-foot center's body.
As good a passer as Gasol is—and he is one of the best-passing big men ever—missing so many games has affected this aspect as well.
Gasol had just one assist in his first game back, two in his second. Against Minnesota and Milwaukee, Gasol registered three assists and looked a little sharper—but not much.
In the Lakers' 10-point loss Thursday night to the Bucks, Gasol turned the ball over four times. On one play, he was double-teamed after getting the in-bounds pass and just threw the ball away, looking every bit the tired, worn-down player whom he's become.
The Lakers need a mentally alert, crisp-passing Gasol in order for them to make any sort of productive run to finish the regular season. I think there's a better likelihood of a meteor falling onto the roof of Staples Center than of that happening.
Gasol appears to have lost his passion for passing and remains unsure of where he's supposed to be in the Mike D'Antoni offense.
A total of 71 people have watched Pau Gasol's 2-of-10, four-point highlight reel against Washington on YouTube.
So, just how much blame for Pau's lousy game does one place on the big man, and how much blame on the Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni?
Of course, some of the responsibility rests with the coach, who has publicly chided Gasol and doesn't think he can play alongside Dwight Howard. But, the player has to perform, and to date, Gasol is not performing.
Sure, Gasol scored 17 and 12 points in his last two games, respectively—a 14.5 average. Remember, this is the same guy who has a career average of 18.4, and just last year, was at 17.4 points per game on 50 percent shooting.
Gasol has made 14-of-24 shots in the games at Minnesota and Milwaukee, but his post game and offensive rebounding leave a lot to be desired. Though he pulled down nine rebounds against the Bucks, Gasol had none on the offensive end.
For his career, Gasol averages six free throws per game—not very much considering his height. In his last four games, Gasol is just 2-of-6 from the charity stripe, including 0-0 against Milwaukee.
Clearly, Gasol's offensive game has not yet come back 100 percent. At this point, the Lakers would settle for half of that.
Pau Gasol either doesn't want to make the effort on defense or simply can't move well enough to shut down the man he is assigned to guard.
Either way, Gasol's overall defense after four games remains a major work in progress.
Factor in the fact that Dwight Howard grabs most of the defensive rebounds and you can understand why Gasol's 8.1 season average is 2.5-3.0 rebounds less than his previous years with the Lakers.
But, where the holes in Gasol's defense really become apparent are in his individual coverage of opposing players. He's giving a whole new meaning to being "soft."
Because he's been injured and because he's not quick to begin with, Gasol is getting beat off the dribble consistently. He is the kind of player who does not possess much in the way of defensive acumen. And so, he has to work harder than the next guy to be successful.
Gasol has done that in the past, and his passion has paid off. That's not happening at the moment, and he has become a defensive liability.
It's easy to pick on one player and say he is the cause for a team's misfortunes. There is plenty of blame to go around in Laker Nation, and that includes people like Kobe Bryant, who has been extremely sloppy with the basketball.
But, we're talking about Gasol. As much as he is liked off the court for his demeanor and class, Gasol's defense and overall game are such that his days may be numbered in Los Angeles.
Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times summed it up pretty well when writing about Gasol's integration back into the starting lineup and how that is affecting the Lakers:
And this from former L.A. Times reporter Mark Heisler, in a column he wrote for LakersNation.com:
Mike’s (D'Antoni) early reviews of Gasol were skeptical, to say the least, but he continues to start him … possibly at the suggestion of management, to see what they have before thinking about trading Pau.
Unfortunately, as presently configured, the Lakers don’t control the tempo like a [Phil] Jackson team. Nor do they put up 110 a night and let opponents see if they can beat that, like a D’Antoni team.
Gasol has nine games to shore up his game, and even then, he will probably be shopped and sent packing this summer—unless management fires Coach D'Antoni and brings back Phil Jackson.
Regardless, Gasol's defense and overall game are not good.