The Steve Nash Effect on Pau Gasol

The rumor mill in Los Angeles has not eased up, and in fact it has accelerated in the past few days. The Dwight Howard saga continues to fill up our Twitter timelines and causes frustrated fans to get ever more flustered over his decision that seems to have no set timetable to be decided. On the other hand, one rumor that was in full force last season and the days leading up to free agency 2012 in Lakerland, has rapidly quieted. In fact, you can start to hear crickets.

The Lakers’ Pau Gasol had a year that was less than spectacular. Gasol put up his lowest average in points per game (17.4) and field goal shooting (50.1 percent) in his five years as a Laker. Those numbers don’t appear bad on paper, but it was his tendency of not being aggressive on a consistent basis that was unsettling for fans. Whether blame for this should be placed on Gasol, Mike Brown or both, his future in purple and gold seemed to be in real jeopardy when the Lakers’ post-season came to a disappointing end.

However, Pau Gasol has quickly evolved from “the must trade of the summer” to the “I can’t wait to see him play with Steve Nash next season.” Once again, we must applaud and respect the power and influence of Steve Nash. There was a mixture of feelings among the Laker fanbase regarding Gasol. Some wanted to trade him because they were tired of his “softness”, especially in the post-season. Some were hesitant, but welcomed a Gasol trade because he seemed to have run his course in L.A. and knew he represented trade value. Some were adamant about not trading Gasol. Then, there were a lot of in-between reasons and feelings.

While all of these reasons have merit and must be respected, things have changed in Los Angeles. Have I mentioned that we should thank Nash for this? Add a thank you to Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss for pulling the unthinkable off as well. Pau Gasol in all probability will not be traded this off-season for two reasons. One, his contract ($19 million for the 2012-13 season and $19,285,850 for 2013-14 season) is a hard-sell to other teams. It has been quite surprising how high the contracts have been that were offered by under-the-cap teams to average or slightly above-average players. At this point, these teams who were the most likely to go after Gasol have simply run out of salary capitol to do so.

Second, it seems there are plans already being thought of and written down for how Gasol will play off Steve Nash. The idea of bringing the pick-and-roll game between Nash and Gasol is something that the Lakers haven’t rolled out for their offense in years. Mike Brown seems to be relishing the fact that he can add the pick-and-roll to his offensive playbook, especially considering the struggles he had on the offensive side during his debut season with the Lakers.

Additionally, the thought of pairing Steve Nash up with Pau Gasol on offensive sets will please both Gasol and Mike Brown. This is essential considering Gasol struggled to perform under the new assignments Brown handed down to him last season. Gasol was visibly uncomfortable working in the high-post and changing to a pass-first player. Brown struggled to find ways to open up offensive opportunities for Gasol, which wasn’t helped by lack of full practices prior and throughout the season due to the lockout.

Therefore, Gasol will have a full training camp and pre-season schedule to become familiar and comfortable with fitting into Mike Brown’s system that put him out of his comfort zone last season, and with perfecting the pick-and-roll with Nash. Gasol will additionally enter training camp in better condition due to his summer play representing Spain in the 2012 London Olympics. These are all points of optimism for Mike Brown and for Laker fans.

Gasol is an added gift to the newly acquired Steve Nash. Nash hasn’t played with a big man with a basketball IQ, post moves and abilities as high as Pau Gasol’s. During his Laker introduction press conference, Nash touched on how his main purpose is to make everyone’s job a little easier while he is on the court. This is exactly what he’ll do for Gasol, which should be music to Pau’s ears.

For example, take a look at how Nash affected the Suns’ Marcin Gortat’s stats in Phoenix compared to his stats with the Orlando Magic. In Orlando, Gortat averaged 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds on 52.8 percent shooting in 12.2 minutes. In Phoenix, Gortat averaged 14.2 points and 9.7 rebounds on 55.9 percent shooting in 30.9 minutes. With all due respect to Gortat, he is not near Gasol’s level.

Watching the Lakers next season will be quite compelling, not only to see how the roster changes will affect the team on and off the court, but to watch how Pau Gasol answers to questions and concerns from last year. It was reported recently that Gasol once again understands that basketball is a game of no guarantees, but reiterated, “I want to win another ring and I cannot see any other place better than the Lakers, and L.A., my city, to do so.”

Once again, Gasol remains the consummate professional and come next season, eyes will be on him to see how he will respond to critics.

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