How Much Do Chicago Bulls Need from Pau Gasol Next Season?

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How Much Do Chicago Bulls Need from Pau Gasol Next Season?
M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Between both frontcourt positions, the Chicago Bulls have 96 minutes per game to distribute between Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol in their 2014-15 campaign.

How many of those minutes will go to Gasol?

The 34-year-old Spaniard, and two-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, is undoubtedly one of the top post presences of his generation. But whether he should clock major minutes in his twilight stint with Chicago is a dubious question. More likely, he’ll become an invaluable role player, redefining himself in a fashion reminiscent of Ray Allen with the Miami Heat.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Like Allen, Gasol left his storied NBA franchise on questionable terms. Under-appreciated as part of the reign of Kobe Bryant, and misused through multiple coaching changes, Gasol’s got something to prove with the Bulls. “Instinct told me to pick Chicago,” he told the press at his introductory conference. He’s got more basketball life to live.

But his new mission shouldn’t involve the workload of a cornerstone. Gasol’s new job, if optimized, will make him into a kind of perfect basketball poison. Because he’s troubled by injuries—he missed 55 games combined over the past two years—and also plays with two elite defenders in Gibson and Noah, Gasol should be employed strategically. 

Twenty to 25 minutes per game should be enough time for Gasol to make his imprint, giving the Bulls another look with his dexterity in the lane and passing vision from the high post. Gasol can duplicate a lot of what Noah did as “point center” last year. Gasol and Noah, Bulls fans hope, can also converge as twin passing threats and find each other and cutting teammates at the rim.

They’ll have the chance to develop such chemistry, as Gasol is likely to start. Head coach Tom Thibodeau tends to give starting jobs on a basis of seniority whenever there’s a gray area. Gibson is arguably a better player at this point of his and Gasol’s respective careers. Gibson clocked a staggering 26.5 player efficiency rating in an increased role against the Washington Wizards in the postseason. He’s a remarkable player and is squarely in his prime.

But Thibodeau showed he's respectful to tenure by starting Carlos Boozer over Gibson throughout 2013-14, during which Gibson was a vastly superior player. And Thibodeau may also be wise to mix and match his bigs so as to have one defensive-minded big next to a score-first man for most of the game.

In other words: Expect to see Gasol, a questionable defender as he ages, next to Gibson or Noah, while rarely sharing the floor with Mirotic. Thibodeau’s obsessive zeal for protecting the rim makes the Gasol-Mirotic combination a dim possibility. 

The Bulls need the extra punch Gasol brings on offense, but they’ll also be expecting a lot from him off the court. His experience and renowned, team-first attitude were big parts of Gasol’s appeal to Chicago. He enters a long-running cultural effort by the team—the Bulls are only interested in players eager to accept Thibodeau’s intense principles and tireless eye for X’s and O’s detail.

By bringing Gasol on board, the Bulls gain a personality who knows how to weather the harshest challenges of the NBA calendar and someone who’s happy to share his know-how with the rest of the roster. Mirotic learning under Gasol also bodes well for the Bulls’ future.

M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

A fellow Spanish speaker, Mirotic will face rough lessons and a steep learning curve in his first year playing in the United States. A mobile, skilled power forward, Mirotic also falls in a similar category of player as Gasol. He stands to learn a lot as his understudy.

The Bulls got themselves a winner in Pau Gasol. He isn't the same all-world player he was in his prime, but he's still a singular character in the league. If Chicago manages his role just right, he could turn out to be their best acquisition in years. 

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