Everyone loves some home cooking, right?
Well, if you don’t, Pau Gasol certainly does. While he may not be playing in his native Spain, he is putting on his national colors to compete in EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania to help his home country qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. And in Spain’s first contest leading up to the tourney, it was Pau that led the way in helping his team down France in yesterday’s “friendly” match up. From the game report:
Spain reminded France they are a very different team when Pau Gasol is in the line-up. Gasol, the EuroBasket 2009 MVP and the player the French couldn’t stop in the teams’ Quarter-Final showdown two years ago that Spain won 86-66, had a game-high 19 points to lead his country to a 77-53 romp over Les Bleus in Almeria on Tuesday. Playing alongside his brother Marc as twin towers in the starting five, the elder Gasol dominated. He skipped last year’s FIBA World Championship to take a well deserved break but has returned to the national side and looked as good as ever as Spain won their first friendly of the summer.
Gasol looked really confident in his jumper. He started out playing away from the rim with Ibaka and his brother sharing the inside duties. As soon as he caught it, if he was open, it was going up. (He) knocked down two threes in the 1st quarter and a long two with his foot on the line. He was also running the floor well, getting ahead and getting the ball and finishing. Had 3 or 4 fast break buckets where he beat either Turiaf or Noah down the court just with his speed. As always he was comfortable in the post, drawing fouls and getting the rest of his points from there.
All in all, it was a very solid performance, where Pau Gasol looked extremely comfortable, and that is before you consider how uncomfortable he looked in the post-season with the Lakers. I don’t know if it is the fact he’s like the elder statesmen with that team or if the freedom with the Spanish team is helping, but he looks a hell of a lot better, like the Gasol who started the year with the Lakers (though slightly more outside oriented with Spain).
Based off these observations, it’s very encouraging to hear that Pau is back to playing well against solid competition. Noah and Turiaf are both NBA quality bigs (with Noah being one of the better defensive bigs in the game) and it speaks well about Pau that he was able to run the floor well (check out this clip of him changing ends well and then finishing off a sweet dish from his brother) while also being assertive on offense.
One tidbit that is particularly noteworthy is that Pau was decisive with his offense and looking to score with little thought about what he should do once he made the catch. One area in which Pau struggled towards the end of the season and into the playoffs was his decision making, often seeming unsure of what he wanted to do with the ball after he’d receive a pass. Too often he would hold the ball only to get himself into a position where he wasn’t getting a good shot or end up making a pass with little accomplished towards progressing the team’s offense. The fact that Pau was looking for his shot – be it a jumper, in the post, or when running the floor – and not over-thinking possessions is a good indicator that he’s mentally in a good place on the court.
Whether this trend continues into the actual tournament remains to be seen but these early returns are exactly what I’d like to see from Pau this summer. Be it fatigue (mental or physical) or some other issue, Pau clearly was not the same player in the recent playoffs as he’d shown during the rest of his tenure with the Lakers. If Pau can use his time in Europe to find his groove and come back as the confident player that many hailed as the most complete big man in the game, all of the fixes we’re discussing with this team become less important. Pau Gasol is that good a player and can make that type of an impact when at his best. Here’s hoping we see more of that Pau for the rest of the summer and into the season.