Los Angeles Lakers: Pau Gasol Is Ready To Bounce Back

It has been six years since the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol in a blockbuster trade and during this time we have seen the best and the worst of him. The first half was impressive, to say the least, as the Lakers, their fans and all others around the league saw him play at an extremely high level. He was a two-time All-Star and an NBA champion while helping the Lakers to three consecutive Finals appearances. During his first four seasons with the Lakers, he averaged at least 18 points and more than eight rebounds every year, while averaging a double-double in two of these years. The second half was full of constant role conflicts, trade rumors and injuries as the Lakers have failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs the past three seasons. As the championship years passed the Lakers, Pau’s production, consistency and durability took a serious shot. During the 2011-12 campaign, Gasol averaged 17.4 points, more than a point drop from the previous year, and only played 65 while recovering from injuries. This past season was his worst while wearing the purple-and-gold. He averaged just 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds, his first sub-double digit average rebounding season in three years. He also only played in only 49 games and shot just 46 percent from the field, his career low.

Over the past few years, Lakers fans have called, cried and begged for Pau to be traded for younger, quicker players that the team can depend on during the post-Kobe Bryant era that looms in the distance. With the seventh season of the Pau Gasol era ahead and Dwight Howard gone, fans can only hope that he will return to the form we all saw during his first four years with the Lakers. The possibility of this look bright.

Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol

With Dwight Howard (left) gone, Pau Gasol can return to his true position, center, where he thrives. (Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels, Flickr.com)

With the departure of Dwight Howard, Pau now has the opportunity to play his natural position and is the ideal center in coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Gasol’s versatility will allow him to finish in the lane, pop out for a jump shot or make the pass to an open teammate out of pick-and-roll sets. During his time with the Lakers, Pau has been most productive when he is at the center position. Heading into this season, Mike D’Antoni expects Pau to have his best season and there should be optimism about his transition to the center position. With Kobe Bryant at age 34 and recovering from a torn Achilles, the Lakers need Pau to be at top form and stay there for the entire season. Player efficiency ratings (PER) shows how he struggled at power forward but thrived at center:

Gasol at PF: 15.4, Opponent: 17.2 ; Net Production = -1.8
Gasol at  C: 22.0, Opponent: 14.4 ; Net Production = +7.6

This particular statistic becomes even more valuable and insightful when comparing Gasol’s PER to last year’s All-Star centers, where he ranked third:

1) Brook Lopez: 25.6
2) Tim Duncan: 25.5
3) Pau Gasol: 22.0
4) Dwight Howard: 20.9
5) Tyson Chandler: 20.6
6) Chris Bosh, 20.5
7) Kevin Garnett, 20.3
8) Joakim Noah, 19.1

It’s been three difficult seasons for the Lakers and their fans, who expect nothing short of a championship every year, but there should be high expectations for Gasol to return to All-Star form. He is clearly the second option again, should be fully recovered from knee tendinitis by the start of the season and primed for one the best seasons of his career, which the Lakers desperately need.

Many have written off Gasol because he has lost his athleticism, but they shouldn’t mistaken that for loss of skills. At the top of his game, he is a fantastic finisher around the rim, can knock down the perimeter jump shot and is an extremely underrated passer. When put in positions to succeed on the court, Gasol has delivered two championships and is still one of the best skilled big men in the game. Although the Lakers seem to be surrounded by a dark cloud of Pau Gasol inconsistency over the past two seasons, Lakers fans hope to see more of this Pau Gasol this coming season:

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