Amidst the trade rumors, Pau Gasol has been playing the best basketball this season. He doesn’t look as winded conditionally running up and down the court. Being consistent and pro-active are qualities of leaders and Pau Gasol looks like he’s taking the reins. Just look at his past three games:
Of the past three games, he’s averaging 24.4 points per game, 11 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game, 3.3 blocks per game, on 46.7% shooting from the field. There are considerable leaps he made with scoring from his usual 15.6 point per game and 9.5 rebound per game average. Field goal percentage actually increased a couple of percentage points. More importantly, he’s averaging 20.3 shot attempts per game, nearly what Kobe has averaged for his entire career.
With the addition of Kendall Marshall, a true point guard in the starting lineup, Pau Gasol is getting into better post position at all four corners of the key. That one extra step into the paint allows him to get into an attack position, very similar to the touches and looks he got playing under the triangle offense. Marshall puts his teammates into attacking position every time, whether it’s an open jumpshot, post entry passing, pick-and-roll execution, or out in transition. Gasol has been a beneficiary of that and is finally looking like his All-Star self.
It’s possible that the trade rumors have gotten to Gasol. Whether it’s an injury or upper respiratory inflection, his play has been up and down all season. Lately, he’s playing as the fans always wanted him to; aggressively taking shots and looking to seize every opportunity on the floor. Even Kobe Bryant has been in his ear throughout his tenure as a Laker to take advantage of scoring opportunities. Every time the Lakers have Pau that is willing to forego playmaking for others and create his own shot, the team is all the better for it. He begins to standout as a legitimate #1 or #2 option on the floor, instead of trying to balance out the team’s scoring. Perhaps he’s realizing that becoming a primary scoring threat for the Lakers also opens things up for his teammates as well. Nick Young, Jodie Meeks, and other Laker players aren’t suffering offensively. Instead, their looks at the basket are more open because Gasol draws out his defender. Both Gasol and Kendall Marshall are able to execute more give-and-go plays for easy scores.
It’s clear he no longer needs Kobe Bryant to be his primary facilitator. Kendall Marshall has stepped into the role well, and allowed Pau Gasol to excel as the primary scoring leader of the team. Kobe refers to Pau Gasol as his little brother. We’re watching him step out and become a man for the team. We’ve seen him before when it was easy, to be among the elite teams and compete for championships. Now we’re seeing a stronger Pau Gasol weathering through the torrential winter storms of being on a sub-.500 team. He never looked this good behind Dwight Howard’s shadow. Hopefully, he can maintain this level of play next to a healthy Kobe Bryant. We need him to. The road to competing for championships for the next two years goes through Pau Gasol. It’s nice to see that he’s able to pave it without Kobe Bryant. After all, someone has to take the shots.