It's a good thing that Pau Gasol rediscovered his elite facilitating form at the end of the Los Angeles Lakers' regular season because the team is going to need its best playmaker to shoulder an even heavier load in the playoffs.
When Kobe Bryant's ruptured Achilles forever rearranged L.A.'s offensive scheme, Gasol ably stepped into the role of its primary distributor. He totaled 13 assists in the Lakers' two games following No. 24's injury.
Gasol's ability to step up with Bryant out was critical, but it's also important to note that the Spaniard had already been absorbing a greater share of the playmaking duties before Bryant went down.
Broken down another way, the Lakers posted an offensive efficiency rating of 108.1 in the five games Gasol played in March and 109.4 in the eight he played in April. Both of those figures blow away the team's season mark of 105.6.
There's no question that Gasol—especially when he's passing—makes the Lakers a vastly better offensive team.
It shouldn't be surprising that Gasol has proven to be such a capable facilitator; his offensive game has always been predicated on a mixture of passing skill and innate unselfishness. Even amidst an otherwise disappointing campaign, Hoopdata.com shows that Gasol's season assist rate trumped that of every other elite power forward.
His talents as a passer seem inborn and his creativity leads to a unique focus on finding the best shot available—regardless of who ends up taking it. Some of his dimes could even have qualified as artistic achievements.
Contrast the organic ease of Gasol's passing with Bryant's more deliberate approach to facilitation and it's obvious that Gasol is a passer by nature, while his teammate became one for stretches because he felt he had to.
And even though Bryant piled up career-best assist numbers during the Lakers' season, Gasol's assist ratio of 20.8 percent on the year was still markedly higher than Bryant's 17.9.
More specifically, Gasol's skills make him a key in the Lakers' pick-and-roll attack. His ability to receive the pass from the ball-handler, get to a dangerous area in the lane and then survey the floor for a secondary defender makes him vital to L.A.'s most important offensive set.
When he catches the rock in the paint, he has been particularly good at drawing Dwight Howard's defender up toward the foul line, which has allowed Gasol to fire a quick lob to D12 at the rim.
Scoring is a second option for the unselfish Gasol in these situations, but when Plan B is a 10-foot jumper for a mid-range shooter as good as he is, that's not a bad backup to have.
In addition to his skills in the pick-and-roll, Gasol makes an emphasis to find Howard as much as possible. Often, the results are spectacular.
The Lakers have no choice but to run everything through Gasol. Fortunately, it turns out that they've been at their best lately when they do just that.