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Confessions of a Pau Gasol Fan

 

I was reminded of something on Friday night, when the Lakers dismantled the Nuggets to advance to the NBA FInals: When the Lakers run their offense well, they play a prettier brand of basketball than any team in the league. 

Look: I’m not comfortable saying that. I’ve hated the Lakers since I can remember being alive. But if you missed that game against Denver Friday night, you missed an incredible display of team basketball–a type of game even the Lakers (or the Cavs, or the Magic or the Celtics when healthy) are only capable of pulling off a few times per season. They scored 119 points on about 88 possessions against a top-10 NBA defense on the road. That’s about 140 points per 100 possessions. They shot 57 percent–only the third team all season to hit that mark against Denver–made all 24 of their free throws, hit better than half of their three-pointers and turned the ball over just three times in the last 30 minutes of the game. 

All insane numbers. But what’s more amazing to me is that if you re-watched that game, I’ll bet you wouldn’t find more than a half-dozen high degree of difficult shots among the 75 field goals the Lakers attempted against. Frankly, I’m surprised the Lakers “only” recorded 28 assists on their 43 field goals. Almost every look was, in NBA terms, easy. The cuts were precise, the passes were timely and on target, and the shooters were open. It was gorgeous basketball. And it is hard for me to truly hate a team that can take basketball to that level. Perhaps I should hate the Lakers because they have this ability but can only put it all together occasionally. 

The beauty of the offense, for me, starts not with Kobe Bryant, but with Pau Gasol. Bash the Gasol-Gasol trade all you want, and it deserves criticism, but the bright spot for me has been the opportunity to watch Pau Gasol more often. I like basketball and all, but I have a job and a life, so I am not going to watch many Memphis-Houston games in January. 

The easy criticism of the Laker offense before Game 6 Friday was: “Why in the world is Gasol taking just 10 shots per game?” I was as guilty as anyone of voicing that opinion. Perhaps we missed the point. He took “only” 12 shots in Game 6, but he was still the fulcrum for the Laker offense during stretches of the game. Maybe we just misunderstand Gasol’s game and his nature when we demand greater volumes of shots from him. He has averaged 13.5 FGAs/game for his career, and never more than 14.9.

He’s just an unselfish player. I’ve said this regularly to fans I talk to: There is nothing prettier in the NBA than watching Gasol and Lamar Odom pass the ball in the interior. 

Is Gasol the best passing big man in the game? His assist rate–the percentage of teammates’ baskets a player is credited with assisting while on the floor–was 14.8 this season. That would have placed him second among centers, behind only Brad Miller, and 12th among forwards, according to Basketball Reference. With two exceptions (Boris Diaw and Mike Miller), the 11 forwards ahead of Gasol dominate the ball to an extent Gasol never will with Los Angeles. 

If you are a fan of NBA halfcourt offense, there may not be a more enjoyable thing to watch than Gasol facing up at the elbow as the other four Lakers are moving around and the defense is deciding what in the hell they are supposed to be doing. 

That said, of course I will be rooting for Orlando against Los Angeles. Just not with the fierce, nearly irrational, throw-the-remote-at-the-wall hatred I have reserved for the Lakers and the Yankees in the past. This is about history for me. I want to be able to call the Celtics the winningest franchise in basketball when I’m 75. I want to be able to lord that over my friends forever. I never want Phil Jackson to pass Red Auerbach. I never want anyone to pass Red Auerbach. 

So, yes, Orlando: BEAT L.A! But just don’t ugly up the series too much. (Official prediction, after the jump).

 

As for the Finals, this should be a very interesting match-up. There are a million questions to ask, and you’re going to read them in previews all over the place. I’ll just add one:

How healthy are Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom?

Odom has a bad back, Ariza a sore hip and groin. 

I focus on these guys because the Lakers, unlike the Celtics and basically everyone else in the league, have plausible defensive match-ups for Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Those guys have been killing defenses because of their unique combination of size, quickness and shooting ability. Turkoglu, especially, is the stabilizing force behind Orlando’s offense. 

Trevor Ariza is listed as 6’8”, Odom 6’10”. They seem like the perfect counters to Turkoglu and Lewis–if they’re healthy enough to pull it off. 

Official prediction (gulp): Lakers in 7.

  • Marsha

    I hear ya, buddy. I’m a Tigers fan, so of course I hate the Red Sox, but I tell Red Sox fans that it’s always fun watching such a seamless team play ball.

    It’s true of your Red Sox, and it’s true of these Lakers. That was some of the prettiest basketball I’ve seen since the old Bad Boys days ;)~

  • http://www.northstationsports.blogspot.com Nick Gelso

    I feel the exact same way.

    I cannot stomach the thought of the Lakers getting one more championship closer to our record or Red’s record championships getting taken by Jackson.

    I do want Orlando to BEAT LA!

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  • LAKERS FAN

    Admit it, you wish you could have our whole team. Oh and by the way, I think you should enjoy Aurbachs record while it lasts, and no way you guys have more rings than us when your 75, unless your 73 now. You guys got a ridiculous head start in the 60′s, but look at the track record since then. It doesn’t look good for you guys. Seeing as how this is the most civilized posting I’ve ever left on your site, I’m feeling a little out of sorts. SO SUCK IT!!!!!!!!!!! (aaahhh I feel much better)

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    It’s amazing that I write a piece praising the Lakers and it STILL draws comments like this.

  • Felix

    Classy (and accurate) post. Never understood why people can’t root hard against their opponents while simultaneously giving them respect when warranted. Not only is is the fair thing to do, it also magnifies the accomplishment when you vanquish the adversary. The 80′s Celtics and Lakers can brag not only about their titles, but also about the fact that they defeated all-time great teams on their way to the championship. If you keep irrationally saying your opponent stinks then its hard to make that argument.

  • hicks

    Another Lakers fan here. Wonderful piece, I’ve also enjoyed watching Gasol play since the trade (probably a little more than you have ;) ), and it is frustrating to only see them put together this sort of game only every few weeks, when they could be carving up the league on a nightly basis.

    I’m intrigued about this Finals matchup, as the Lakers match up significantly better to the Magic than the Cavs did–the Magic had mismatches all over the floor, and a relatively good neutralizing defender of LeBron in Pietrus’ tough defense. He still got his points, but had to work a lot harder for them–shades of Kobe vs. Tayshaun Prince in the ’04 Finals (although Kobe worked hard and still didn’t score, LeBron is a mutant freak who will get his regardless).

    If Orlando’s shooters get hot, all bets are off, but as long as Odom and Ariza are 80% or better (and 6 days off should help both of them out), I like the Lakers’ chances.

    What I’m most happy about is not seeing Anderson Varejao in the Finals, against anyone. He is perhaps my least favorite player to watch in that he gets away with TONS of contact on the defensive end and on the glass, and rarely gets whistled for it. Apparently it was decided he’s an “energy” player, which means that playing wildly is normal and accepted for him. Game 6 was a rare exception in that he picked up 2 quick ones, which altered the game significantly in Orlando’s favor.

  • perkisabeast

    You should quietly fall on a sword. Never compliment the Fakers and their band of frontrunning d-bags. I wouldn’t urinate on Phil Jackson if he was on fire. They can go suck it and their fans can burn in that pit they call a city.

    If they do manage to not choke this one away it will merely be sauce for our ultimate revenge. And if I ever run into the gutless puke who spoke that way about Phil Jackson I will make sure to run over him repeatedly with my car.

  • http://with-malice.com/ Don (With Malice)

    Amazing, such a dignified and eloquent piece – from a fan of the eternal enemy no less, yet there still exist blights upon the NBA like the moron who commented immediately prior to this.
    perkisabeast – really? Perhaps posts like this are just a cover for some inadequacies you’re facing in your life.
    I pity you.

  • nbalogo

    Celtic fans I wanted the Lakers and Celtics in the finals
    again just to shut some of you haters your team prior to last year was a joke for 20+ years. The Lakers were always in the mix and continue to be the most successful NBA team in the league, so stop your hate AND RESPECT the LOGO that’s right is a LAKER
    peace!!!!

  • Robert

    Mr. Lowe writes like a true fan of basketball, rather than a mere fanboy of one team or another. I’m on the opposite side of the court, a Laker fan from the old days. Paul Pierce is the craftiest player alive. Russell is a giant. Larry Bird one of my favorite players. I “hate” them all, and admire them even more. The highlights of my basketball life occurred watching the Lakers-Celtics games in the 80′s. Great opponent, great games, great victories, great defeats. I can barely remember who the Shaq-Kobe Lakers beat for their championships. Any victory over the Celtics is unforgettable. I’m sure Celtics fans feel the same way about the Lakers; you’d rather beat them than anybody else.

  • http://nbaroundtable.wordpress.com/ Dave

    I think Gasol is worthy of being named the best passing big man in the NBA. His offensive game is a true joy to watch.

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