Breaking Down How Pau Gasol Fits After Signing with San Antonio Spurs

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2016

Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol (16) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Pau Gasol agreed to terms Monday with the San Antonio Spurs on a two-year deal for $30-plus million with a second-year player option.

Wojnarowski reported there were multiple teams bidding on Gasol’s services:

Gasol, 35, chose the Spurs over a group of suitors that also included the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers. The Raptors and Blazers both made strong impressions on Gasol, but the combination of the Spurs' talent, history and his relationship with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was tough to overcome, sources said. Gasol nearly signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2014 before committing to the Chicago Bulls.

The news came in the wake of two other stories that broke earlier Monday: Kevin Durant, whom the Spurs were courting, announcing his decision to join the Golden State Warriors on the Players’ Tribune. Then, Wojnarowski’s report that Tim Duncan was “leaning strongly” toward retirement.


SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 10: Pau Gasol #16 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball during the game against Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 10, 2016 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

The biggest story here is what precipitated it.

It’s arguable that no player has ever meant more to his franchise than Duncan has to the Spurs. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have trotted out so many great players that no individual one has such distinction. The split between Michael Jordan and the Bulls was anything but congenial. And while LeBron James brought a championship to Cleveland, he did leave in 2010, and it is only one ring (so far).

The long-term success of the Spurs, a small-market team, enjoyed behind the leadership, greatness and malleability of Duncan is rare. Gasol can’t fill those shoes, but he can help fill them better than most.

Aside from his basketball skills, Gasol, who once aspired to be a doctor (and is the son of one), per ESPN's Tom Friend, is a thoughtful, intelligent personality with whom a coach can work. It’s little wonder that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was part of San Antonio's attraction to him.

Gasol has two championships under his belt—both as the teammate of another all-time great who retired this season, Kobe Bryant.

He likely will assume some of Duncan’s leadership role and do many of the same things on the court that the Big Fundamental once did. That theme should hold true even if Duncan decides to come back, as that future Hall of Famer is now 40 years old.

X’s and O’s

For a player in his mid-30s, Gasol was strikingly effective with the Chicago Bulls over the past two years, averaging 17.6 points, 11.4 boards and 2.0 blocks per game. Last season, he was the second player in league history above age 34 to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.

He spread his scoring out, too, making 138 buckets at the rim, showing an efficient mid-range game (shooting 305-of-682) and even knocking down a career-high 24 three-pointers.   

Gasol also dished out 4.6 dimes per 36 minutes, the best rate of his career. In addition, his assist percentage was the second-best of his career.

Defensively, Gasol had a 3.07 defensive real plus-minus, according to ESPN.com, which ranked 15th league-wide. However, that number requires a bit of explanation.

His defense was, in a sense, both very good and awful at the same time last year. According to Seth Partnow’s rim-protection stats at Nylon Calculus, Gasol’s defense down low saved an adjusted 69.72 points last year, third-best in the NBA.

However, what those numbers don’t show is how badly or frequently offenses exploited Gasol in the high pick-and-roll, or how much that cost the Bulls.

He can be a defensive asset, but he’s a liability without the right personnel around him. Fortunately, San Antonio meets that condition.

Fit and Finish

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28:  Head coach Greg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs gestures against the Los Angeles Clippers during Game Five of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 28, 2015 in Los Angeles,
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Popovich will find creative ways to utilize Gasol's offensive versatility, jump shot and passing. The Spurs are known as a passing team and ranked sixth in points created by assist last year.

Whether it’s by catching passes or distributing them, that’s Gasol at his best. His passes precipitated 6.3 field goals per game (including those where an assist wasn’t credited on the play), tied for the second-most of any Chicago player. He made 5.7 shots per contest off passes.

Surrounded by great shooters such as Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green (who had a down year) and Patty Mills, Popovich will love Gasol in the high post. From there, Pau can feed LaMarcus Aldridge at the rim, hit one of his shooters behind the arc, take the jumper himself or put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 19:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs is awarded the 2015-16 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award before Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on
Chris Covatta/Getty Images

On the other side of the floor, having a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Leonard to seal off the perimeter should help cover up Gasol’s slow-footedness. Duncan was far from the most agile player in the league last year, yet San Antonio's defense was still among the best in recent memory.

Gasol won’t do much more than patrol inside and swat shots, but the Spurs likely won’t have to pay the same price the Bulls did. San Antonio should be able to utilize Gasol’s shot-blocking without needing him to step out and defend.

Well, at least until they play the Warriors, but there’s no helping that.

There is a concern on screens, though. The Spurs rely on setting them more than most teams, and Duncan was always one of the league's best in that regard. Even if Gasol is good-not-great there, he's no Duncan. Gasol’s competitive drive tends to sway, and when it does, his picks get softer, his rebounds get snatched and he stops looking for his own shot.

These seem like the type of things that Popovich can work with, though. And there aren’t too many from who 35-year future Hall of Famers would be willing to take that type of critiquing, but the Spurs coach has earned that respect.

Gasol is just about the best addition the Spurs could have made not named Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, with Durant heading to Golden State, it’s yet again hard to see San Antonio getting past the Dubs in the playoffs.

All statistics via NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.