Thank You, Pau! pic.twitter.com/jOvBTK1ZV6— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) July 14, 2016
The last couple of months of Pau Gasol's time with the Chicago Bulls seemed like a countdown timer. We all knew Gasol wasn't likely coming back to Chicago after their horrendous season. Gasol, along with everyone else, knew the Bulls weren't going anywhere next season and was very likely to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. A few days before free agency began Gasol told the Bulls he was opting out of his deal and the vibe it gave was that is was more of a "see ya!" instead of an "I'll be back at the right price".
You don't blame Gasol for leaving but at the same time, it was sometimes tough watching him play for the Bulls. Let's take a look back at the good and the bad of Gasol's tenure with Chicago.
The big strengths in Gasol's game are his size, his basketball IQ, his passing, and his scoring ability. Those were the things that made Gasol a six-time All-Star, including making that team in both seasons as a Bull. This past season, Gasol averaged 16.4 points per game, seccond highest on the Bulls. He gave the Bulls a solid option on offense as he was able to step out of the paint and knock down jumpers at a good percentage. Gasol shot 45.9% from the mid-range and always gave defenses something to think about if they ever doubled on a pick and roll to leave him open near the free-throw line. But Pau also liked to play in the post as well. 20.7% of Gasol's offensive possessions where he was responsible for was in the post (0.80 PPP). Gasol was able to back some smaller players down but struggled against size. He was extremely at converting near the rim, making 57.2% of his shots that were in the restricted area.
Gasol is also a very good passer. Last season he averaged 4.1 assists, third on the Bulls and the best among their big men. Gasol reads the game very well and you can see the way he gets open in the post and when he spots up for a jumper.
Gasol put up impressive rebounding numbers (and the double-doubles that were often mentioned) that helped get his PER in both seasons as a Bull over 20.
Pau's flaws were too big and were bad enough to the point where you couldn't play him in some situations. I think everyone knows what that flaw was: his defense. Late in the season Hoiberg wouldn't play Gasol in the 4th quarter of games, something we saw happen to Carlos Boozer a few years prior.
Watching Gasol on defense was a struggle because of his apparent lack of effort on that end. While Gasol did collect boards when on the floor, we saw many possessions where Gasol let his defender outjump/outhustle him on rebounds, and a look into his lack of 'contested' boards reflect this. While you can find some sympathy with him not being able to defend guys one-one-one given his declining athleticism, with his height he should have been more active on the boards and as a rim protector.
As you see from the video, Gasol did a good job contesting at the rim and forcing a miss from Kyrie Irving. But then he immediately switches off and starts staring at the rim as if the ball is going to magically come right into his hands. While he is doing this, Irving just moves to his right and picks up the rebound. If Gasol was to box out Irving, who averages around 3 rebounds a game, this probably wouldn't have happened and would have stopped from giving Cleveland an extra possession. The same thing occurs later in that game when Gasol fails to box out Tristian Thompson despite Gasol having a better initial rebounding position. Some leeway can be given due to the fact that Thompson is one of the best offensive rebounders in the NBA. Thompson averaged around 3.3 offensive rebounds per game, which tied him for sixth highest in the NBA this regular season. Against a team with an explosive offense such as the Cavaliers, you can't give them any extra offensive possessions or they will make you pay.
Gasol's lack of effort for things that a big man should be good at, like boxing out, was extremely infuriating to watch and it was compounded by his inability to defend the pick-and-roll for Chicago. We all know Chicago was an absolute disaster on the defensive end and it certainly wasn't all of Gasol's fault, but he didn't help either.
What's next for Gasol?
With the new salary cap, it was almost certain that Gasol would still get a very solid salary even with this age. Teams including Chicago had reported interest in Gasol. But in the end, he ended up signing with the Spurs on a two-year $40 million deal.
After many days of a lot of thinking, I've decided to join the @spurs!Looking forward to this new chapter with the best aspirations!— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) July 5, 2016
Gasol effectively replaces the retiring Tim Duncan for San Antonio, but he will likely have to face reality and admit that he is no longer good enough to be a number one option offensively. Ricky O'Donell mentioned this in his Free agency preview with Jason Patt that the problem with the Bulls is that all the big guns (Pau, Jimmy, Derrick) all thought that they were the number one guy. That obvious piece of flawed thinking led to the Bulls looking like the team that they did offensively. Gasol has to understand that he can't be the guy anymore. That will go to superstar Kawhi Leonard, who is one of the top two-way players in the NBA. He won't even be the top option in the post, as that's LaMarcus Aldridge.
All told, I wish Gasol good luck with the Spurs and there is no denying the fact that he will probably make the NBA Hall of Fame.