The Lakers followed their 3 game road losing streak with a 3 game road winning streak, and a very important feature of this lovely little 3 game jaunt around the Pacific Division has been the re-emergence of Pau Gasol's game. Check out the Spaniard's last three box scores; it's guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Over the last three, Gasol is averaging 23 pts, a shade under 10 rebs, 2 blocks, and just 1 turnover per game. Oh, and he's shooting 76% FROM FIELD!! The only thing Pau has not done well in the past three is make free throws.
This is the Pau Gasol that had a few experts pegging him as 1st team All NBA last year, and possibly the best pivot player in the league. This is the Gasol that might be considered the most talented 7 footer in the game. He's been gone for a while, and I guess there's no guarantee he's back to stay. But this is the Pau Gasol that we all fell in love with (strictly in a basketball sense, I swear), and this is the Gasol that's earned the right to say whatever he wants.
There's been plenty of talk amongst others about the talk coming from Pau Gasol. Pau has been quite willing to provide the media with quotes about how the offense should be run. His comments have sparked plenty of debate, but the debate hasn't neccesarily centered on the content. Pau's opinion is that the offense needs to move the ball better, which means the ball needs to make a lot more trips inside. Truthfully, that's damn near fact. In order for the Lakers to win, considering the talent they have on their roster, the offense has to work from the inside out, and everyone on the team knows it. So what's the big problem so many Laker fans have had with Pau's comments? Depsite the validity of his argument, Pau's play the past couple of months (as he's been doing the talking) hasn't exactly justified the commentary.
A look at Gasol's February statistics explains things more clearly. How can Gasol claim the ball should run through him when he's shooting less than 50% from the post (nearly 10% less than his normal percentage)? How can it be a good thing to give Gasol more possessions when he's already turning the ball over 2.7 times/game, despite a relatively low usage? How can he be trusted with the keys to the offense when his hands seem to have developed an inability to hold onto the ball, especially in key moments? These are all of the questions which spawned from Pau Gasol's assertions. Gasol wasn't wrong in his evaluation of the Lakers offensive struggles, but his timing was not good.
Instead of taking his commentary at face value, the general opinion amongst us Laker fans is that Pau needed to put up or shut up. People once again started complaining about how "soft" Gasol is. They clamored for Pau to take it to the rim. "You're 7 feet tall, dunk the damn ball!" became the battle cry for the anti-Gasol movement. To those people, I have just one thing to say. Pau Gasol is still "soft", at least in the way you are thinking of. Wonderfully, beautifully, efficiently soft.
In the past few games, we haven't seen an increase in Gasol power moves. He hasn't been going to the bucket hard, throwing down monster dunks. That's not who Gasol is, he's a finesse player. The issue with Gasol's recent play isn't that he's been soft, it's that his soft play hasn't been successful. The hooks have been rimming out, the 15 foot jumpers haven't been falling. This isn't about aggression or strength. It was just a slump, one that lasted a long time. In fact, I think that Gasol was so bothered by the slump that he actually tried to up his aggression. He started trying to go hard to the bucket, and he wasn't successful because he was trying to play a power game with a finesse body.
Now, we are once again seeing the full Gasol arsenal, and its a joy to watch. He's got the hooks with either hand. He's got the 15 foot jumpers. He's got the fade aways. I won't say that his slump is officially over until he starts doing this against a team with a more formidable front line than you can find in the Pacific division, but he's certainly on his way to re-capturing the magic that we so desparately need him to find. And that magic isn't an extra 20 pounds of muscle.
And now, if the Lakers continue to struggle to feed Gasol (and Bynum, who's play of late has also been quite good) in the post, Gasol has every right to say something about it. The past few games, the Lakers have done a much better job of forcing it inside, but better does not equal good. With Bynum and Gasol both playing well for the first time in memory, the ball should start inside on every possession. Gasol's started putting up, so he's earned the right to not shut up.