Perhaps he’s finally healthy. Perhaps he’s finally feeling good. Perhaps it’s because the trade talks are over. In any case, Pau Gasol is showing flashes of his former self.
This season, age has caught up to him a bit. A prime Gasol during the championship years was a pain to handle in the paint. He joined crafty, fundamental moves of great dexterity with an active motor in the paint, and this made him a load to handle offensively.
This time around, he doesn’t seem as quick. Defenders can catch up to a few of his moves and reversals. Still, Pau Gasol is getting his. In the past 10 games, he’s been averaging 20.1 points per game, 9 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game on 55.3% shooting from the field in just over 31 minutes of play. His past three games include performances of 22, 22, and 29 points respectively, shooting at a remarkable 63.8% from the field. He’s also getting 8.67 rebounds per game, 5 assists per game, and 1.67 blocks per game on an average of 35 minutes per game.
Mike D’Antoni has been implementing his system onto the team. The additions of Bazemore and Brooks added the energy and pace the Lakers want to play. Farmar added much-needed speed at the point guard position to push the pace that much further. Jodie Meeks has got time at small forward. Coming off of an ankle injury, he has used the backdoor cut on defenders for a surprising amount finishes in the paint, including a slam dunk on Nicholas Batum.
The Lakers prior to the Pelicans game having been getting more fast break points. The past three games had 22, 30, and over 30 points a game in transition, and a tied season high of 58 points in the paint against Portland.
Oddly enough, this is reminiscent of the 1980’s Lakers. When the Lakers ran, they had Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, and James Worthy flying down the wings. Laker bigmen ran the floor well too. But, when the tempo changed, Pat Riley would call the “fist” play and the Lakers would set up in the halfcourt set. What was that fist play? That play was all about Magic Johnson setting up Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in isolation in the post. If Kareem didn’t have his “A”-game going, then James Worthy would be on the opposite wing at the high post. Both guys averaged 55% or higher from the field during their primes. Both guys got a majority of shots 10′ and in. Both guys got the points in the paint in the halfcourt set. The Laker guards would just add more points in the paint with transition play.
It seems that Pau Gasol is figuring it out along with Mike D’Antoni. Pau is getting his touches from 7′ to 15′ out when the Lakers need a halfcourt set. Sometimes Jordan Farmar will pull up for an in-rhythm but ill-advised shot early in the shotclock, but Farmar, Bazemore, Meeks, and Brooks all make a conscious effort to get Pau going offensively. It may not be a fist play, but he’s getting his touches.
Perhaps, if the team was just healthy, we would be watching a Laker playoff team with some 1980’s flair. Laker fans wouldn’t have expected that. Neither would have Pau Gasol.