Top 50 NBA Players: #40 Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol
Resume: 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, 33.8 minutes, 47% FG, and 70% FT… Team record in games played: 27-22 (18-15 without)… Playoffs: 14.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 36.5 minutes, 48% FG, 55% FT, 0-4 record

It’s a tough task to not put too much stock in a player’s past or a player’s future, since this list is about the spectacular now (great flick by the way). If we were just looking at the past and evaluating careers, Pau Gasol would be about twenty spots higher than I have him now. If we were evaluating who is going to be a Top 50 player in five years, he wouldn’t be able to sniff the Top 50 if it were doused in Icy Hot (I know this list isn’t a tangible object, but still). Ultimately, Pau lands at #40 on my list basically because he spent the better part of last season vacillating between “offensive savant with some gas left in the tank” and “washed up big man who is about to make a rather sharp decline.” I went back and forth figuring out of my feelings on the greatest Spanish born basketball player. It ended up looking something like this:

Last season Pau posted career lows in points, field goal percentage, free throws attempted and games played. Granted, he was battling plantar fasciitis and knee tendinitis all season long, but when you’re 33 years old, seven feet tall, entering your 13th NBA season, and already have 845 games on your odometer, there is no guarantee that those nagging injuries heal up as quickly as when you’re a spry 25 year old. In all likelihood, it just means Pau is on the downslope of a very successful and accomplished career.  That is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s just how father time works.

Additionally, it hasn’t been a well-kept secret over the last two seasons that the Lakers have tried to move Gasol on a number of occasions. Hell, he was actually traded at one point in 2011 before David Stern walked down the aisle like Vince McMahon and declared that there was no chance in hell that trade would happen. Isn’t it possible that Gasol’s skin is only so thick and the constant flow of trade rumors and feeling disposable might have beaten him down? He’s only human, so I would argue yes. And that’s a major point to make. The Lakers have been dangling Pau as trade bait like he’s a worm on the end of a hook for bigger name stars and for potential rebuilding pieces. Doesn’t really seem like the Lakers value Pau too much.

Apr 24, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol (16) drives to the basket while guarded by San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (left) during game two of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT

When healthy, Gasol may still be the measuring stick for all-around offensive brilliance for big men. It’s hard to imagine a seven-footer as well-rounded or consistently solid as Pau was for a seven season stretch where he averaged no fewer than 17 points, 8 rebounds, or 3 assists, and never shot worse than 50% from the field. He could score with his back to the basket and you could also count on him to knock down 18 foot jumpers. Plus, he could finish with either hand in the paint and no big man is a better passer. The numbers and description of his excellence can’t even properly reflect how good Pau was in that stretch of time.

Proof of this: late in the season when the Lakers needed to win down the stretch to get one of the last Western Conference playoff spots. Kobe was in the process of being run into the ground by Mike D’Antoni, Dwight was looking for real estate in Houston, and the rest of the Lakers ragtag roster was, well, let’s say trying hard. Pau stepped up and delivered in a large way. During the Lakers 8-1 finish to the regular season, Pau averaged 16.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and notched two triple doubles (including a huge 17 point, 20 rebound, 11 assist gem in a must win against Houston on the last night of the season). I was sold. That was all I needed to see to re-affirm my belief that Pau was still Top 50 worthy. The Lakers will have to go to war this year with Kobe Bryant, Pau, a well past his prime Steve Nash and a supporting cast that is basically screaming “Andrew Wiggins, help us!” from the top of their lungs. And it’s still difficult to count them out.