What’s up with Pau Gasol? Seriously. Ever since arriving in Los Angeles, Gasol has been considered one of, if not the best post player in the game. His true-shooting percentage since 2008-09, his first full season with the Lakers, is right at 60 percent. His offensive rating during that same span is tied with Chris Paul and Nene at 123, the highest in the entire league for players with more than 4000 minutes during that time.
Just a few weeks ago, Amar’e Stoudemire made waves when he again touted that Gasol was soft. He isn’t the first to make this claim and certainly won’t be the last. But just as people use player opinions as the end-all, be-all to say Kobe Bryant is the most dangerous crunch-time player in the game, then what can we make of all these players, direct competitors of Gasol, who say he is soft?
Through two games in these playoffs, playing against a team that according to Hornets coach Monty Williams he destroyed during the regular season, Gasol has put up eight points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He’s shooting barely 20 percent, a ridiculous number for someone so skilled and so big.
In Game 1, he wasn’t just passive; he was overtly passive, clearing refusing to demand the ball and hardly ever fighting for position inside. But in Game 2, with the Lakers attempting to get him going, he was even worse. Watching it made me think of Kwame Brown. During the 2007-08 season, the year that Gasol came to L.A., the Lakers opened their schedule with a game against the Houston Rockets. At the time, people were counting the days until Kobe left town following his summer trade demands. Despite the boos, he went nuts that night, scoring 45. But what I remember most about that game was Kwame Brown. In the second half, Brown had a five-minute run where he couldn’t do anything right. He dropped passes. He missed layups. He shot airballs. He was out of control. He was lost. It went way beyond funny and ending up being sad. When the crowd’s boos switched from Bryant to Kwame, I started to feel bad for the kid.
Gasol obviously isn’t Brown. I’m not trying to compare the two as players. But that same “lost” feeling Brown felt was what I’ve seen in Gasol against the Hornets. It was like he wanted it so bad that he couldn’t grasp it. He psyched-out himself. Gasol spent so much time mentally preparing himself that when the actual game came around he was already exhausted. It seemed like he was straining, or pressing, because whenever he did get the ball in a one-on-one situation, he looked lost. Should I go left or right? Should I back this dude down or should I just take this easy jumper? His moves weren’t forceful and out of his 10 shot attempts, there were three or four that weren’t even close. Normally, even a passive Pau comes close on his shots. But in Game 2, he was wilting, indecisive even as he was shooting.
When comparing these two games to his worst playoff games as a Laker, it gets a little weird. Just twice during all of last season’s run to the championship did Gasol not finish in double-figure scoring, and in one of those games, he grabbed 18 rebounds and sent Oklahoma City home for the summer with a game-winning tip-in. During the Lakers’ first championship push, he didn’t have a single game this bad. Even during the 2008 Finals, L.A.’s lone playoff loss during Gasol’s tenure in the purple and gold, the big man scored nine points in Game 3, but contributed a dozen rebounds and the Lakers won. Basically when breaking it down, these last two games are probably his worst playoff games ever as a Laker.
Will this last? Absolutely not. But after an amazingly effective first two months to the season, when Gasol was easily the team’s best player, he’s tailed off. It could be old age. It could be his legs. More than likely, it’s just boredom. That’s not good.
We’ve been led to believe the Lakers can turn it on and off whenever they want to. They usually could because they have championship experience, they have a player who never turns it off and because they were just flat-out more talented than everyone else in past years. But this year, it’s totally different. They will get by New Orleans no matter how Gasol plays during this series. But from the second round on, he has to bring his All-Star game.
Gasol is a great player, but as Kobe said earlier this week, he’s not naturally aggressive. He has to be revved up. As you get older, become more successful and start to lose whatever physical attributes gave you your edge, you better be a mean SOB if you want to stay at the top of the game. It takes an extraordinary focus, an obsession with work and a will to say I’m not letting ANYONE take my spot.
I love Gasol’s game. But he’s battling with himself right now. Being content is what the Lakers have to fight to overcome more than anything else.
Is Gasol content? I don’t think two games are enough to shred his character. But it’s getting increasingly more clear that the Lakers aren’t good enough anymore to just turn it off and on.
Why do you think Pau Gasol has struggled so far in the playoffs?
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