Player Capsule: Pau Gasol
Perhaps more than any of his teammates in the past three seasons, Pau Gasol has sacrificed his individual game in order to try to fit into a team full of fellow stars, and never more than during a frustrating 2012-13 campaign for the seven-foot Spaniard and his team.
A four-time All-Star who helped Kobe Bryant take the Lakers to three consecutive NBA Finals immediately upon being traded to L.A. in February of 2008, Gasol has moved progressively further away from the basket starting in 2010-11 to accommodate 2012 All-Star center Andrew Bynum and 2013 All-Star center Dwight Howard. He sacrificed some of what many coaches and front office executives still consider the best offensive skill set in the NBA because he also happens to possess enough perimeter skills to move his game to the high post.
According to hoopdata.com, Gasol in 2012-13 attempted just 3.4 shots per game at the rim, 2.0 from 3-9 feet and 0.8 from 10-15 feet, all lows in his Lakers career. Meanwhile, he attempted a career-high 4.2 shots from 16-23 feet and 0.7 three-pointers per game. By comparison, in 2010 Gasol took 5.8 shots at the rim, 3.7 from 3-9 feet and 1.8 from 10-15 feet and just 1.6 from 16-23 feet and 0.1 from three.
This should be no surprise, of course, as Gasol was primarily playing on the perimeter, though it's also due in part to injuries that plagued him all season. He appeared in only 49 games – the fewest of his career – while battling various ailments, most notably a tear of his plantar fascia and tendinitis in both knees that affected his explosiveness and limited him to 33.8 minutes per game (down from 37.4 in 2011-12).
"My knees (were) an issue this year from beginning to end, and then I had to deal with my (torn plantar fascia) to come back as soon as I could," said Gasol at his exit interview. "The soreness increased as I was playing more on it (when I returned). I’m going to go through several medical tests in the next several days to see the status in my knees and the arch, and then decide what kind of procedure if any or treatment I need to go through to get healthy. Hopefully next season I’ll come back at full strength."
Towards that end, Gasol underwent a procedure to deal with scar tissue in his knees on May 9 that he hopes will benefit him in both the short and long term.
On the season, Gasol averaged 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists before emerging late after returning from the plantar fascia injury, contributing 14.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists in the postseason. He recorded two triple-doubles in the final three regular season games and another in Game 3 of the Round 1 loss to San Antonio.
"We finished the year a lot happier of how I was placed on the court, and how I was used," said Gasol. "My productivity shows that. (Coach Mike D’Antoni and I) agreed that we all took our time to know each other and figure each other out, and figure out how to utilize the personnel to play the (best way). Nothing to regret from that part, but as any player would, I’d like to be used the right way so I can maximize what I bring to the table.”
Gasol has long done just that for the Spanish National Team, the world's second best squad for several years. He dominated at last summer's Olympics in London, leading his country as the flag bearer and then his hoops team to a silver medal, ultimately losing to Team USA in a gold medal game during which he was nearly unstoppable (24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 33 minutes).
That's the player Spurs anchor Tim Duncan – a pretty decent authority on NBA big men – still sees.
“I don’t see how he’s changed much at all," said Duncan. "He’s in a different system, and he’s asked to do different things. He’s as skilled as there are of big men out there. He can do just about everything, and he’s unselfish. I see him playing the way he’s been asked to play. I think if he’s asked to be more of a scorer, or be something else, he can do that as well. I don’t see why he doesn’t have many years left in him.”
If not yet fully healthy late in the season, Gasol proved Duncan's point in April, with these split stats: 17.5 points on 51.3% shooting with 12.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.3 blocks per game as the Lakers went 7-1.
While his assists were way up due in part to his playmaking responsibilities increasing with Steve Nash sitting out all eight April games, those overall numbers are very close to the Spaniard's in his best seasons in Los Angeles. Gasol saw that as the simple result of the team figuring out how they wanted to play together, no easy thing with all of the change due to personnel, the coaching staff and injuries.
“In the beginning, we struggled more because everybody wanted to assert themselves and establish themselves," he said. "Things didn’t work out that well from the beginning. The coaching change had a big role into it, but we progressed as the season went on and put our individual desires aside and found what worked. We finished the season playing the right way as far as a balance.”
If Gasol and his team got little else out of the most difficult season of his Lakers career, he at least reminded us with his late-season showing that he remains one of the NBA's very best big men.