By Argie Grigorakos
In team sports, clichés are mentioned as often as Steve Nash made free throws. When speaking about teams, Sportscasters abroad will make statements like, “They have unbelievable chemistry”, or “They have reached the mountain top”. On July 18th, the Chicago Bulls may have fulfilled a long lasting cliché, by adding 7 foot center and 2 time NBA Champion Pau Gasol. Number 16 may be in fact the missing piece to the Bulls championship puzzle. This past NBA free agency period may have presented more potent scorers like Carmelo Anthony, or an all-time great like LeBron James, but what Paul Gasol adds is not only championship pedigree, but a vast array of skills that would compliment any offensive set. Be it in the post, pick and roll situations, or helping teammates through pin downs, and clever passing, the Spaniard provides a unique set of tangibles that can get any contending team over the top.
For his career, Pau Gasol has averaged 18.3 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game. Throughout the years, Pau Gasol has shown that time and time again, he has brought an all around game that can influence the outcome of many contests, and impact playoff games. There are multiple ways Coach Tom Thibodeau can use Gasol in his offensive schemes starting this fall, that will leave most, or all Bulls fan confidentially smiling. This past season, Bulls enthusiasts saw their team run their offense through their center Joakim Noah, which proved to be successful in most circumstances. Noah would usually facilitate the offense from the free throw line, and Pau could ultimately do the same. Coach Thibbs will have the luxury of running the same plays for both Gasol and Noah at different times, and thus the high quality of decision making will essentially remain the same throughout the whole game. Joakim and Pau will also have the opportunity to run a lot of high and low action which may prove very affective with their creative passing. Pau Gasol poses a great threat to the opposition with his versatile post play, which will allow Noah to be involved in a lot of weak side action, as the defense would have to adjust to the Bulls new post threat. Noah and Gasol have the potential to be the best 2 bigs in the league in terms of passing the basketball, and come this season, they will both be wearing red jerseys. They are both universally recognized as 2 selfless bigs who have a knack for orchestrating a system that help their teammates be most effective. On July 13th Josh Planos of the Washington Post eloquently described both bigs, “for starters, Gasol is an incredible facilitator, and rarely garners credit for being so. Pairing the No.1 and No.3 power forward/center players in the league last season in the same front court. It’ll be the best passing tandem in recent memory”.
The Bulls offense will be more efficient, productive, fluid and stable with Gasol in the line up. Many NBA observers have seen the Chicago Bulls struggle to score the basketball the past 2 years, due mostly to the absence of their best player Derrick Rose, but what seems to also impact their struggles offensively is the lack of a second scorer. Pau Gasol can relieve some of the heavy burden placed on DRose through set isolation plays or a 2 man game with the former league MVP. No more would a secondary scorer be more needed than this up and coming season, as Rose seeks to smoothly transition back into action after missing almost 2 full seasons of play. Pau Gasol and his point guard will have plenty of options when working together on the hardwood floor that can give most opponents headaches. Adversaries will have a difficult time guarding Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol in pick and roll situations, as both players can beat their defenders in a variety of different ways. Be it through pick and roll action, or simple pick and pop situations, the Spanish big will make the defense pay if there is too much focus placed on Derrick Rose. If defenses rotate hard to Pau, DRose can use his elite speed to finish at the basket strong. The new dynamic Pau presents is intriguing, and a potential nightmare for the rest of the Association. John Wilmes of the Bleacher Report looked forward to the pairing by saying, “And Rose is sure to land many dimes into Gasol’s hands directly, too. A strong mid-range shooter and exceedingly clever roll man, he’ll (Gasol) be a great pick and pop partner. Rose will also be able to spot him on mismatches near the rim – be they either through height or I.Q.”. The examples mentioned clearly shows that Pau Gasol, if used properly, will help enhance the offensive efficiency of the Bulls, that was near dead last in the 2013-2014 season.
The Bulls will look to help rookies Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott become more productive and efficient as they will almost certainly see floor time with the Spanish big. Pau’s decision making out of the post will help the newcomers with their 3 point opportunities as his decision making is superb. Pau is very good at reading defenses and reacting to them in a timely fashion. If a double team approaches the big, he will not hesitate to find his teammates on the perimeter. Expect the Bulls 3 point shooting to also improve in the 2014-2015 campaign. Gasol will help the rookies on the floor tremendously, but what seems to go unmentioned is the impact that he will have on them off the floor, especially with newcomer Nikola Mirotic. Gasol will have an opportunity to help guide Nikola through the tough transition he will most likely encounter adjusting to the NBA and American life. Gasol played in the same Spanish league, over 13 years ago, that Nikola Mirotic is arriving from, so he is very familiar with the journey that the Montenegro star is about to embark. Also, there seems to be a bit of a language barrier for Nikola and Pau can help, as they both speak the Spanish language.
Surprisingly, one aspect that Pau Gasol can help Tom Thibodeau is on the defensive end. What really goes unnoticed is the fact the Pau Gasol can be an above average team defender. He was 11th in the league in blocks last year (1.5 bpg), slightly ahead of Joakim Noah. Pau’s length and height makes his presents felt, and shots are altered as opponents feel his presence. Josh Planos of the Washington Post confidently described the acquisition as, “The most noticeable improvement Gasol will bring to Chicago is on the defensive end. Gasol defends better just about everywhere on the court (when comparing him to Carlos Boozer), but is particularly instrumental in defensing beneath the rim”. Even though Pau Gasol is advanced in age compared to when he last hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy, he clearly showed the motivation and drive he possesses for ring number 3, as he signed for less than other teams offered to join a contending team like the Chicago Bulls. Since his rookie year, Pau Gasol has been complimented for his selfless play, and unique skill set, something that many current Bulls players have been showered with as well. He brings to the Bulls another player who craves an NBA championship, and the passion for ultimate team play. He was the final piece to the 2009 NBA Champions Los Angeles Lakers, will he be the same for the 2015 Chicago Bulls? Only time will tell.