This is the third in a series of posts grading the Lakers on their efforts in the 2011-12 season.
Player: Pau Gasol, Lakers forward
How he performed: 17.4 points on 50.1% shooting and 10.4 rebounds in the regular season; 12.5 points on 43.4% shooting and 9.5 rebounds in the playoffs.
The good: Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his trade availability and or reduced role with the Lakers, Gasol maintained a professional attitude about everything. Yes, he's been honest he wished he had a more commanding inside presence. He also admitted he wished the Lakers' front office would provide more clarity regarding his standing with the team. But Gasol still proved more than willing to adjust to all the varying circumstances to show he wants to stay with the Lakers.
Bynum's emergence and the loss of Lamar Odom's versatility prompted the Lakers to play Gasol at more of a facilitating role, something that he initially mastered. He shot above 50% on mostly mid-range jumpers while collecting double-digit rebounds in four of the first six contests after Bynum's suspension for throwing that forearm in the 2011 NBA playoffs against Dallas guardJ.J. Barea.
Even after airing frustrations over his reduced role, he increased his aggressiveness so much that he playfully rubbed Clippers guard Chris Paul in a regular-season game. Once the trade deadline passed, Gasol played much looser without any concern with making mistakes. It may be hard to remember now after the Lakers' disappointing playoff run, but Gasol's 13 assists through their first two games in the first round against Denver even exceeded Ty Lawson.
These circumstances were hardly perfect. But given Gasol's versatile skill set, he proved he was most suited to changing his role.
The bad: Though Gasol adapted to these circumstances well because of his professional attitude and talents, he lacked the complete mind-set in handling the role. Gasol epitomized that most when he passed up a potential game-winning shot in Game 4 against Oklahoma City and threw the ball away in what led to Kevin Durant's game-winning trey. But that was just one example.
When various trade reports surfaced before the March 15 deadline, Gasol appeared less relaxed and more frustrated when he made mistakes on the court. When Gasol's mid-range jumper stopped going in, he didn't always show the will to crash the boards or play defense. When Bryant didn't pass him the ball, Gasol often stood in frustration and showed resignation that he wouldn't have much involvement with the offense. I've often argued that most of these circumstances reflected the Lakers not properly utilizing such an elite player. But Gasol could've improved the situation by simply hustling more.
Gasol entered and ended the season right where he started. He doesn't know what his future with the Lakers is. Gasol also didn't make much of a positive lasting impression in the post-season. But things definitely changed this past season. His drop in productivity reflected more his decreased role than drop in play. The Lakers' temptation to trade him has less to do with feeling dissatisfied with his performance and more worried about the $38 million remaining on his two-year contract.
In that sense, Gasol bounced back enough to prove he's far removed from his disappearing act in the 2011 NBA playoffs. But the Lakers and Gasol no longer have the same fit they once had when he helped them to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two league championships.
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