The best players are often identified by the time they hit puberty. They are then primed and molded in a bubble free from anything that would deter them from basketball. The eldest of three sons, Gasol would begin honing his skills on the Escola Llor campus at age 9, a school that almost considers itself two schools—one for sport, one for academics. Gasol had the freedom to harness the two; his intellectual curiosity and his appreciation for basketball, living side-by-side in perfect harmony.
The Lakers have come to find, it’s that same intellectual prowess that accelerated the process of learning the triangle offense for Gasol. The triangle offense requires a heady big man because when he catches the ball in the post, it opens up a plethora of offensive options where quick decision-making skills are a plus. Being one of the more efficient power forwards in the league, his incredible court vision and passing skills are tailor-made for Phil Jackson’s offense. The proof is in the ring he now bears and the one he’ll receive in about 20 days. Oh and about those offensive options.
Being above the rest in terms of height has its advantages. Aside from the air at 7-feet being slightly thinner, it allows him to oversee and read the opposing defense to find a cutting Bryant, kick the ball out to Derek Fisher at the perimeter or lob it down to Lamar Odom on the block if double-teamed. He can also keep it, which opens up a myriad of options, given that Gasol can drive left as well as right and finish with either hand. Give him space, and he drains a 16-foot jumper. It’s this skill set that makes it hard to fathom that Gasol still remains some-what underrated.
Gasol isn’t all offense, however, as he proved last year playing a bigger role defensively, raising his rebound rate from 14.7 to a career high 17. He blocked shots, going from one a game to 1.7 and raising his “and-one” percentage from .43 to .57, meaning his time in the weight room building strength allowed him to score more frequently even after absorbing contact.
Not bad for a kid who tackled Tchaikovsky on the piano with the same enthusiasm he had picking up a basketball.