Pau Gasol has a chance to rejuvenate his career during the 2013-14 NBA season.
The last time the 33-year-old was an All-Star was 2011—a season in which he averaged 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds and shot the ball nearly 53 percent from the field. His numbers drastically dropped in 2012-13, making folks wonder if his best days are truly behind him.
Making the All-Star team shouldn't be the goal for Gasol. The West is stacked with talented big men, and chances are the nod in February will go elsewhere.
The goal needs to be returning to championship form, as he has the skill set and IQ to succeed in today’s game.
Gasol is entering his 13th season, so it’s fair to say he is a seasoned veteran. That doesn't mean he has entered the twilight of his career, though. There's plenty of productive basketball yet to be played.
Consider 2012-13 an anomaly. He saw action in just 49 contests, which equated to 41 percent of the team's total minutes, according to 82games.com. He never had a chance to find consistency, and he certainly never jelled with the new faces on the roster.
Staying healthy is the foundation of success for Gasol. In 2013-14—and every year into the future—the big man must remain on the floor. Recovery can be tough at this point in his playing days, and game-to-game maintenance is impossible when you can't participate.
But while Gasol needs to stay injury-free, it’s not just his own health that will determine his success. Steve Nash—the point guard who was supposed to orchestrate the perfect pick-and-pop/pick-and-roll game alongside Gasol—missed 32 contests. He averaged the fewest assists we'd seen him collect since 1999-00. Needless to say, chemistry between the two was never fully established.
This tandem has a chance to do some serious damage in D'Antoni’s offense, but only if they both see the floor. Fewer minutes throughout the year will be beneficial to long-term health if they're on the bench by choice—not because of injuries.
Stick to Center
As much as D'Antoni would like Gasol to be a prototypical stretch 4, it would benefit the team to place him where he was meant to play—the center position.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, that's precisely what the Lakers intend to do. It's important to note Shelburne's report came before the signing of Chris Kaman, but if L.A. is smart, it will bring the newcomer off the bench and allow Gasol to reclaim his spot as the starting 5.
Gasol's exceptional skill set caused D'Antoni to miscast him as a power forward alongside Dwight Howard. In fact, Mike Brown was guilty of the same transgression—although he had a healthy Andrew Bynum on his side, so it's an easy mistake to make.
The idea was that Howard and Gasol would be the league's next Twin Towers. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition, as Howard's low-post game and Gasol’s shooting touch never justified such comparisons to David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
With Howard now gone from the roster, D'Antoni must recognize Gasol is a center and play him as such. In 2012-13, the Spaniard spent just 12 percent of the team's total minutes at the 5-spot, per 82games.com. He recorded a PER of 22.0 per 48 minutes, which was 6.6 better than power forward, where he played 29 percent of the time.
As a center, Gasol has never recorded a PER below 20 for the Lakers. The numbers speak for themselves, as his most recent All-Star campaign saw him dominate down low throughout the course of the year.
Regain the Shooting Touch
D'Antoni’s system is most effective when there's one center who can do a little bit of everything. The big man must be able to score in the post and run the pick-and-roll but still be capable of spreading the floor.
That's why it's crucial Gasol finds his shooting touch, even if he's predominantly featured in the paint.
In 2012-13, Gasol was placed in a position that was both unfamiliar and uncomfortable. He wasn't popping out to the perimeter as a No. 2 option; he was waiting for the ball to be passed his way as Howard set up shop in the restricted area.
Would you rather see Pau Gasol perfect his jumper or stay in the paint?
Comparing Gasol's most recent outing to his 2010 All-Star campaign can be a bit misleading, as he played in 33 fewer games. For example, the big man attempted 661 shots inside of eight feet, according to NBA.com, but only 294 in 2012-13.
That number is radically lower in his first year under D'Antoni, but Gasol's injuries can be looked at as the primary reason for the drop.
What can't be justified is the number of shots Gasol took from the perimeter. In an 82-game showing in 2009-10, the 7-footer attempted three shots from 24 feet or farther. In 2012-13, that number rose to 28 despite the fact that Gasol played in 33 fewer contests—and he shot just 28.6 percent from that spot.
The idea here isn't to make Gasol a prolific shooter; it's to make him decent enough to keep defenses honest. He'll be playing center in his second season in the new offense, but a wider skill set will benefit both him and the Lakers.
|Inside 8'||8-16'||16-24'||Outside 24'|
|2009-10 (All-Star)||58.1 %||42.0 %||52.2 %||33.3 %|
|2012-13||54.8 %||39.2 %||39.4 %||28.6 %|
Wear His Big-Boy Pants All Season
Kobe Bryant famously told Gasol to put on his “big-boy pants” during a postgame interview in 2012, via Joe McDonnell of Fox Sports West. The quote was comical for those on the outside looking in, but the message was clear: Get your head on straight.
What Gasol does on the court will be a direct result of how healthy he is and how D'Antoni uses him. That said, the big man can be emotional, and staying focused must become a priority.
I have probably heard Kobe use the phrase "big boy pants" 100 times. This was a gentle tap at Pau, not a slap— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) December 3, 2012
Bryant went on to say, "You can’t whine about it or complain about it...My ass is running up and down the court more than I ever have in my entire career. But you have to adjust to it."
Those are strong statements from one of the greatest of all time, but if a picture is truly worth a thousand words, the image he posted on Instagram seven months later spoke even greater volumes.
The Lakers are in this together, and Gasol is an integral piece of the puzzle. We've seen his head hang low during rough stretches, but it's time to get back to business.
Trade rumors have impacted him in the past, but in a contract season, he needs to play at the top of his game. Getting benched and missing shots impacted his morale under D'Antoni, but he has Bryant on his side, who has come to his defense many times throughout the years.
Basketball can be a game of emotions, and if Gasol keeps his head high night in and night out, he'll be primed for a comeback in 2013-14.