Los Angeles Lakers Player Grades: Pau Gasol

Darius Soriano —  May 9, 2014

General Thoughts on the Season

Like nearly every other player on the roster, Pau came into this season with something to prove and looking for redemption. After being pushed out of his comfort zone last year while masquerading as a “stretch” four in Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick and roll attack while flanking Dwight Howard, Pau would enter this season as the main big man and the key interior player.

Theoretically, then, Pau was set up for success as a fulcrum of the team’s offensive attack.In practice, though, what followed was season filled with ups and downs, bouts of poor health, and, sprinkled in, some of that redemptive play sought from the beginning.

If anything, what Pau showed is that he can still be a very good player in this league. After dealing with the repercussions of not training all summer (basically, Pau had to work himself into shape) the season did not start as many of us would have hoped. Already in athletic decline, Pau struggled even more to play with a strong base and get the lift he needed to excel as a post player. Further, his diminished foot speed affected his ability to get by his man offensively and contain his man defensively. The results were some ugly numbers that translated more to a player who was close to being done as a solid contributor.

As the season wore on, however, Pau got more healthy and the quality play returned (at least offensively, but more on that later). As a pick and pop player, Pau showed the needed lift on his shot to start making his mid-range jumper. As a post player, he was able to better work his full arsenal and finish on his variety of hooks and turnaround J’s set up through primary and counter moves.

In January he averaged 20 and 12 on 51% shooting. In February, those numbers dipped some to 18 and 8, but his FG% jumped to 54%. In March he put up 19 and 9 on 50%. Basically, he was back to approximating the player he was before last season. No, he wasn’t championship level Pau, but he was a featured player on offense who could score one and one, drew some double teams, and still passed the ball wonderfully.

In April, however, the unevenness to Pau’s year returned. Bouts of vertigo caused nausea and headaches that had him in and out of the lineup. When he tried to play and/or travel with the team, the symptoms only worsened and he ultimately finished the season on the disabled list.

Not necessarily the banner year that Pau (and fans) hoped for, but there were definitely signs that he’s still a very capable player. Though, clearly, not one that enjoyed playing in the all-up tempo-all-the-time style that Mike D’Antoni preferred.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Pau Shot Chart

As mentioned above, Pau showed that he can still be a very effective player on offense. As his shot chart shows, he was an excellent mid-range shooter from straight away and very good from the right elbow. A pet play the Lakers ran a lot after Kendall Marshall came on board was the pick and pop on the right wing where Marshall could drive hard to his left hand and Pau could float into the FT line area where he proved comfortable knocking down that open shot.

And while his numbers on the season don’t reflect it, Pau was a much better finisher inside — especially in the restricted area — as he got his legs under him. From January 1st through the end of the season, Pau shot 65.6% in the restricted area and 49.4% on shots in the paint (non-restricted area). Compare this to his numbers from the first two months of the season (62% in the restricted area, 35.4% in the paint (non-restricted area)) and you can see how he got stronger and was able to maintain better play over the season’s last 4 months.

Of course, basketball is played on both sides of the floor and while Pau flashed a worthwhile offensive game the same cannot be said about his defense. While he was better in the 2nd half of the season as a rebounder and paint protector, the fact is that Pau offered his worst defensive season as a Laker and probably the worst of his career outside of his rookie season. Pau was often late to help on penetration and too often didn’t help at all. His screen and roll D offered much to be desired as he neither had the foot speed to hedge and recover on ball handlers nor the needed burst to sag below the screen and still jump out hard to contest the mid-range jumper. This often left him in no-mans land, not really helping on the ball handler but not sticking to his own man either.

Pau could still be a good man to man defender in the post, but as the game has moved away from classic post up threats to more spread pick and roll attacks those skills of being able to bottle up your own man down low constitute a fraction of the defensive play types of what they used to. This didn’t necessarily render Pau useless on D — his length was still useful when he did rotate and led to him blocking nearly 2 shots a game post All-Star break, but all in all he left a lot to be desired defensively. Especially when he was asked to leave the paint and help anywhere near the perimeter. There used to be a time when Pau, though not an elite defender, could play from the rim to the three point line and back to the paint on a single possession and be somewhat disruptive. Those days seem very far behind him now and don’t look to be coming back.

Most Memorable Moment

I mean, how could it be any other moment?

Overall Grade and Summary

When you add everything up, and when grading on a curve towards individual performance rather than by team results, it’s hard to give Pau anything higher than a B or B-minus on the season.

His offense was good to the point that if you just looked at his numbers — especially after the turn of the calendar year — you’d see a player who was performing near the levels he did when the Lakers were making deep playoff runs. He may not have had any of those huge “wow” games that he was able to produce in past years, but he had a solid consistency to him where you could pencil in his 17 and 9 and call it a night. That’s not the Pau of old, but it’s close enough where you could justify having him be option 2B for a playoff level team.

His defense, however, knocked him down at least a notch (and probably 2). Too often he just wasn’t (or couldn’t) be where he was supposed to and that compromised the integrity of the defense. The team’s failings on that side of the ball aren’t just on him, of course, but a more active, engaged, and capable defender could have done more to help hid the team’s deficiencies on that end.

Darius Soriano

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