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This week in the Bulls: One month with Pau Gasol

Thinking big picture with the Bulls' 34-year-old big man.

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Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This Week in the Bulls: Derrick Rose wore an "I Can't Breathe" shirt and every other basketball player followed his lead; the Bulls got run of the gym by the Warriors, just like everyone else; Chicago out-scored the Nets 54-29 in the second half to blowout Brooklyn; Taj Gibson came back but Doug McDermott went out.

We need to talk about Pau Gasol.

Gasol has been more productive than even the most optimistic fans would have thought when the Bulls quickly pivoted from Carmelo Anthony to make him Plan B in free agency. Though 18 games, Gasol's numbers are pretty incredible: he's No. 16 in the league in scoring (19.8 points per game), No. 2 in rebounding (12.2 boards per game), No. 7 in blocks (1.94 per game). He's tied with Anthony Davis, John Wall, Chris Paul and Nikola Vucevic as the NBA leader in double-doubles at 13.

That's undeniably great production for a player only making $7.1 million this year, not to mention for a 34-year-old who has played 923 regular season games and 105 playoff games over the course of his career.

I love Pau. You love Pau. Everyone loves Pau. His positive vibes alone are justify his contract.

Word to Mick Jaegger and Kevin Spacey.

When the Bulls are facing a traditional two-post team, there's no matchup Gasol and Noah won't win. Only the Trail Blazers' can match the size of the Bulls' starting front line. No team can match their passing prowess or length at the rim. The ability to go to Gasol for a good look in the post is the perfect bail out option when Derrick doesn't want to drive, Jimmy gets tired from playing his ass off every minute of every game and the three-point shots just aren't falling.

With that being said, I'm starting to wonder if Gasol will really be this much of an asset when things matter for real in the playoffs.

For as good as Pau is, his weaknesses have been exposed on the defensive end by certain matchups. When the Bulls face teams that go four-out, they look lost defensively. A lot of this is because of Gasol's 500-pound legs being unable to cover ground the way we're used to seeing Noah and Taj do it.

I was at the Mavs game and the Warriors game recently, and while Gasol put up huge numbers, I'm really not sure he was a net positive on the floor. That probably sounds crazy when he posted 29 and 14 against Dallas and 22 and 20 against the Warriors, but it's no coincidence each of those teams play stretch fours and the Bulls lost both games.

With Gasol on the floor against a stretch four, Noah just has too much responsibility. Thibodeau is asking him to defend the rim and run shooters off the three-point line. It's an impossible assignment for anyone, even the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. You could combine peak Scottie Pippen and peak Tim Duncan into one player and they wouldn't be able to properly defend this:

Meanwhile, Gasol isn't giving him a lot of help:

The Bulls' gameplan against Golden State was essentially "let's hope Draymond misses". It didn't go so well. Green hit seven three-pointers and the Bulls were blown out at home. That's an extreme example of how a stretch four can mess with the Bulls' defense, but there's been plenty of others this year.

Jared Sullinger hit 4-of-9 threes against the Bulls this season. Channing Frye hit 3-of-4. The Raptors bigs hit a couple too in a game the Bulls would eventually win.

Gasol isn't the only reason the Bulls' defense is just No. 9 this season after placing in the top five every other year under Thibodeau. Injuries to Noah and Taj play a big role in that, too. So does introducing so many new pieces into the rotation this early in the season.

When you look at the best teams in the Eastern Conference, though, it's easy to get worried about how the defense might hold up in the playoffs. The Cavaliers have been up and down, but that Kevin Love matchup isn't going to be easy. The Hawks spread the floor with shooters and move the ball better than any team this side of San Antonio. The Raptors have Patrick Patterson, the Heat have Chris Bosh, the Wizards have ... Rasual Butler?

Especially when you factor in the rising cap, Gasol is looking like a tremendous signing either way. Moving forward into next season and the final year of his deal, I'm hoping Gibson and Mirotic take most of the minutes at the four and relegate Pau to a backup center for Noah. The Bulls will still be getting a pretty good value on his contract just for that.

For this season, though, Gasol's work load is really scary. He's already No. 10 in the league in minutes per game (No. 1 is, of course, Jimmy Butler). If the defense is getting burned by mobile power forward who can shoot and put the ball on the floor already, what's going to happen in the playoffs after those tired legs log another 60 games?

Fortunately, having Taj and Mirotic on the roster is an easy adjustment. Hopefully Thibs isn't too stubborn to make it.

Pau knows the stats

He really is the best.

Instagram of the Week


Taj immediately booked a reservation at the Dorsia after this one.

Everyone loves the Bulls' holiday card, but ....

Bulls sing the '80s from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.

Let's be real, it's nothing compared to "The Bulls sing the '80s". Luol Deng's rendition of "Fame" might be the franchise's No. 1 moment since Jordan retired. So much White Panther in that video, as well.

Thumbs up

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