Can Pau Gasol Become a Top-10 Player Again for LA Lakers in 2013-14?

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Can Pau Gasol Become a Top-10 Player Again for LA Lakers in 2013-14?
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All signs point to a big year from Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol during the 2013-14 NBA regular season, but can Gasol elevate his game to the level it was from 2008-11?

During those seasons, Gasol was arguably the league's premier power forward and one of the game's top 10 players. There are several factors that suggest Gasol will improve dramatically from the career low numbers he posted last season.

Gasol's 13.7 points per game and 8.6 rebounds during the 2012-13 season were only symptoms of a much larger ailment that plagued the Lakers during the short-lived Dwight Howard era.  Howard's departure may have lifted a weight from both the Lakers and Gasol.

Howard's presence in the paint meant less touches for Gasol, and it pushed him away from the basket and out of his comfort zone. But now Gasol is once again the Lakers' primary post option, and he should be more comfortable playing in head coach Mike D'Antoni's offense.

It doesn't hurt that Gasol should find extra motivation since he just happens to be playing for a new contract as well.

Younger power forwards like Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge have posted better numbers than Gasol in recent years, which has led to the assumption that they have also passed Gasol as players. That comparison is not fair when you consider all three were the first or second offensive options for their teams.

Gasol's inferior statistics during the 2012-13 season don't change the fact that he is still one of the most fundamentally sound big men in the league. His versatility should be on full display next year, especially with star guard Kobe Bryant recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.

Love may be a better rebounder, and Griffin and Aldridge might be better scorers than Gasol, but none of them have Gasol's unique blend of size, skill and vision in the paint.

However, it may be a stretch to think a 32-year-old Gasol can elevate his game enough to be considered one of the NBA's top 10 players regardless of position, even if he has renewed focus and purpose in the Lakers offense.

Age is certainly one of the obstacles facing Gasol if he hopes to surpass a group of players who are all younger than 30, and it doesn't help that the overall talent pool for power forwards is pretty thin.

Most of the NBA's top players are either point guards or small forwards, and it's hard to imagine Gasol cracking the top tier of NBA talent that includes names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony.

Maybe Gasol could find a place among the next group of elite players, but it will be equally difficult to place Gasol ahead of those like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Dwyane Wade and Gasol's own teammate, Bryant.

You could easily plug others like Gasol's brother Marc, Golden State's Stephen Curry or San Antonio's Tony Parker in that group before settling on Pau, and notice that Love, Griffin and Aldridge were not even mentioned.

Still, Gasol's own coach is expecting him to have the best season of his career next year. While that may be setting the bar extremely high at this point in his career, Gasol is poised to have a monster campaign.

Gasol finished last season shooting 50 percent or better in eight of the Lakers' final 11 games, and he went through a period where he recorded three triple-doubles in a span of six games.

Lakers point guard Steve Nash will play a big role in making sure Gasol is effective in the paint next season. According to the 39-year-old lead guard, the Lakers were more productive when Howard was off the court.

“I thought the games that Pau and I played together where Dwight didn’t play, I thought we really played well together and the offense really flowed,” Nash told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “So, I’m not concerned about that. That’s going to be great.” 

Can Pau Gasol become a top-10 player next season?

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Gasol may not be one of the top 10 players in the NBA next season, but if he manages to average a double-double while shooting a high percentage from the field, Gasol could reclaim his position among the top players at his position.

And considering the low expectations surrounding the NBA's premier franchise, a big season from Gasol could mean the difference between the Lakers reaching the 2014 postseason or joining the other teams who will be aiming for Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 NBA draft.

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