Pau Gasol On the Free Agent Circuit

Not to slight  Jimmy Butler, who is the Bulls future, and not to slight Derrick Rose, who is the Bulls past, but Pau Gasol was the most important person on the Chicago Bulls team in 2015-16. But he won’t be back. Gasol has an opt-out and like all players with opt-outs this summer, the number one priority is for them to cash in. Gasol’s openly talking about the Spurs, a team that courted him when Chicago and Tom Thibodeau made their pitch. Gasol choose the Bulls because of Thibodeau and because the city of Chicago offered the cultured Gasol an opportunity to feed his appetites. But Gasol is not part of the floor spacing Fred Hoiberg system; Chicago does not want him.

Gasol, will be in his sixteenth year in 2016-17. He has more positives than negatives. He is still able to rebound, work out the post, finish with his right or left. He can block shots and is a presence in the paint, and most importantly, is a generous teammate. But for a team like the Spurs or even the young Blazers who badly need an All-Star center,  Gasol is a question mark. Can he keep up with the hyper-constructed offenses of the West?

Pau Gasol Points Rebounds Rebound % Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
2015-16 (Chicago) 16.5 11.0 18.25 106 101

Among centers last season, Gasol’s Defensive Plus-Minus rating was 12th. The Warriors Andrew Bogut was first. Other Western Conference centers who made more of a defensive impact than Gasol were Steven Adams and DeAndre Jordan, both on contending teams in the west.

Gasol’s offensive impact was consistent with his reputation and his game. He was ranked 7th among centers with Enes Kanter the only player on a contending western team ranked above him.

But how much does Gasol have left? In Chicago he had back-to-back seasons of 70+ games which followed three seasons of 65 games, 49 games and 60 games. Gasol’s durability at the age of 36 is going to be an issue for whatever team he signs with. He has never played less than 31 minutes but as he ages is he better served at 28 minutes a game?

On the Bulls, Gasol was the lone representative of NBA excellence, winner of two rings. He had been to the conference finals three more times than Jimmy Butler who had zero appearances and two more times than Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson. His experience in Europe as the most important player on his Spanish team has put Gasol in the spotlight his entire adult life, having to handle the mental work load of carrying a nation by himself.

This past year, Gasol’s season was his least productive (offensively) in four years. He posted his second lowest scoring average (16.5) and field goal percentage (46.9%). Yet he still managed 11 rebounds a game, even though his 2.2 offensive rebounds were the second fewest of his career. His 21.7 PER was higher than his last two years in Los Angeles.

Of course, 2015-16 was supposed to be more nuanced than one man, one team. In the off-season, when the Bulls rid themselves of Tom Thibodeau, they looked at it- they being the front office geniuses- as slamming the door on a five year run that bore no fruit. The Michael Jordan curse remained in effect: 17 years and counting.

Thibodeau gone meant the Bulls were ushering in, or should I say welcoming in, the new era of a fast paced, space the floor, shoot the ball or move the ball dynamic that has changed the league from an inside-out style to an outside-in shooters bonanza.

But, plans don’t always go according to plan. The great Bulls offense was stuck somewhere between 50 and 60, never in the fast lane. They took a lot of two point shots but were the second worst team in the league at making them. They didn’t have perimeter defenders with quick hands who stole the ball. So naturally they didn’t get a lot of points off of fast breaks.

Offense or Offensive? Points FG% 3-Point % Assists Fast Break Points Offensive Rating
Chicago Bulls 2015-16 101.6 (21st) 44.1% (22nd) 37.1% (3rd) 22.8 (12th) 10.2 (28th) 105.0 (23rd)

 

Defense Opponent Points Opponent Field Goal % Opponent 3-Point % Rebounds Defensive Rating
Chicago Bulls 2015-16 103.1 (16th) 44.1% (7th) 34.5% (10th) 46.3 (3rd) 106.5 (15th)

This is where Pau Gasol’s leadership and talent kept a sinking ship afloat, but in the end, even Gasol’s leadership couldn’t save the Bulls. The parts were all wrong, the coaching was wrong, the personnel didn’t fit and everyone missed Thibs.

Gasol had a good two year run in Chicago but this last contract for Gasol has him searching for a contender, not a team trying to reboot their identity.

Recently Kobe Bryant was asked who was the best passer he played with and Bryant didn’t hesitate. He said Pau Gasol, partly because of his height and the ability to see over the top, his unselfishness, and his talent. Add to that, Gasol’s ability to finish with his left and right, his array of post moves, and being a seven footer in an increasingly small league. If Draymond Green can lead the Warriors in assists from the forward position so can Pau Gasol.

photo via llananba