When free agency began last summer and the chances of Carmelo Anthony coming to Chicago was a real possibility, I didn’t pay attention to the other quality free agents Chicago could possibly pick up.
As we all know, Carmelo didn’t come to Chicago and the Bulls opted to sign power forward Pau Gasol. At first I was skeptical, thinking we already had big men in Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. What do we need Pau for? Looking back now, I believe that was the best move for Chicago in more ways than one.
Pau has been excellent this season, having a career resurgence at the age of 34 with averages of 18.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Pau has been arguably their best performing and most consistent player this year. But for all he has displayed in the regular season, his real value will be evident during the playoffs. Chicago’s offense has been much improved this year, with the 11th best offensive rating compared to 30th last year.
Along with the offensive leap Jimmy Butler has made, Pau Gasol’s excellent post scoring has done wonders for the Bulls offense and that will be even more critical to their post season success. The playoffs are a whole different atmosphere and shots won’t come as easy the way they did in the regular season.
Not only are the defenses better in the playoffs, you can believe no one is taking a night off on the less glamorous end of the court. Room to operate on offense will be limited and players are going to be more physical. I have my worries that the Bulls offense may become stagnant at times in the playoffs. We can only guess how Derrick Rose will play in the postseason or if he can even stay on the court the whole time. I also expect the hot handed rookie Nikola Mirotic will have a much harder time scoring in the playoffs then he has during the season.
This is where Pau Gasol comes in.
Pau won 2 titles with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers so he knows what it takes to get to the Promised Land. A premium will be put on post scoring and that is Gasol’s specialty. His moves on the low block are a work of art, and he can use his size to get position around the rim or draw fouls. He is also automatic on close to midrange jump shots; if you leave him open within 12-15 feet, he WILL drain it. This season he has channeled his inner Chris Bosh and has ventured out to the 3 point line on occasion and has made shots out there. In late game situations when the game is close, Pau Gasol can be trusted to get you a basket when you need it. Some coaches my opt to double team him in the post, in which case Pau can use his excellent passing to kick it out to the arc for an open 3. His passing is just as brilliant as his scoring.
Not only will Gasol be a factor on the court, but off the court as well. Playing on talented Lakers teams has given Pau multiple chances to go deep into the playoffs. He knows the work needed to be put in to win a title and will not be intimidated if the team is backed up against the wall. He can be the guy the Bulls rally around when things get tough and he will have seen scenarios play out that other players on the roster may not know how to deal with. He can be the shoulder to lean on when things get tough. Of the last 10 NBA teams to win the finals, 9 of them have had at least 1 key player with previous finals experience. Pau Gasol is that player for this Chicago Bulls team.
Although I believe Derrick Rose has to play closer to an all-star level for them to have a realistic chance at winning it all, Pau Gasol will be the offensive engine that keeps them chugging along.