Pau Gasol: Older is Better

Like a fine wine, Pau Gasol has simply gotten better with age. At 35, he is playing the best basketball of his career and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Just ask France’s EuroBasket team. Gasol dropped 40 points on them in their semi-final matchup. In fact, Pau dominated the entire 2015 FIBA EuroBasket tournament, averaging  25.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. To put these statistics into context, Gasol ranked first out of all players in points and blocks, while only playing the 16th most minutes in the tournament. After leading Spain to a gold medal, Gasol said that he “will remember this for the rest of my life.”

Last season, Gasol had a tremendous year playing for the Chicago Bulls. The Spaniard had career highs in three-point shooting and rebounding despite being a 14-year veteran. He handled his heaviest workload since 2011, playing 34.4 minutes per game of efficient and productive basketball. Pau ranked 13th in the NBA in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), ahead of players such as Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, and his younger brother Marc.

Gasol’s critics will always cite his health as a reason for doubt. He has missed over 15 games in a season on eight separate occasions. However, Pau played 78 out of 82 games in 2014-15 which is his best output since his 2010-11 campaign with the Lakers. If Gasol can continue his new trend of staying healthy while putting up big numbers and playing substantial minutes then he will no-doubtedly be playing in his sixth All-Star game this February.

The Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau after the 2014-15 season which bodes well for Gasol’s ability to retain good health. Thibodeau, though a great coach, is notorious for playing his starters for excessive minutes throughout the season. Jimmy Butler, for example, led the NBA in minutes per game last season with 38.7. Gasol was tied for 21st in the league in minutes with 34.4 per game, despite being 34 years old and having an extensive injury history. It is likely that Pau’s minutes will be reduced this year by new head coach Fred Hoiberg which will keep him fresh. Hoiberg should also find no problems limiting Gasol’s minutes with the Bulls abundant PF depth including Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, and 2015 first-round pick Bobby Portis.

Gasol fits like a glove in Chicago, bringing strong scoring to a team that ranked dead last in the NBA in points in 2013-14. Although the Bulls struggled to score without Gasol, they still found success thanks to a stout defensive unit. Yet this failed to work when the team needed to come from behind, or find scoring late in a game. With Gasol last year, the Bulls climbed to 15th in scoring while still maintaining their trademark Chicago defense. Pau actually received three NBA All-Defensive Second Team votes, proving that he can help his squad on both ends of the court.

The Bulls’ offense has reaped the benefits of having Gasol as their power forward, as he is a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere within the three-point line (although he also went 12-26 from beyond the arc last season). He can spread the floor as an excellent mid-range shooter and can dominate from the paint when needed. Pau can also act as a floor general, as he ranked fifth out of all power forwards in assists per game last season. This allowed the offense to flow smoothly, as Gasol could find shooters such as Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler for open shots.

After witnessing what he has done over the past year on the court, it should be clear that the elder Gasol brother is primed for another productive season. A change of scenery from Los Angeles to Chicago might have been exactly what Pau needed as the transition seemed to have given him a burst of motivation. If the Spaniard keeps playing his proficient brand of basketball, the Bulls will have a legitimate shot at the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

photo via Wikimedia.org