When the Chicago Bulls signed Pau Gasol this summer, many fans saw it as a consolation prize.
At the time, the mascara of many Bulls fans was still running. Carmelo Anthony ran forever out of our sights, far-off the horizon into a future of perpetual mediocrity and ungodly bank statements.
In Cleveland, fans desperately tried to un-burn their Lebron James jerseys. Billboards were erected. Skylar Grey’s “I’m Coming Home” reverberated from stereos across the city.
With all that commotion, it’s understandable that Bulls fans were disappointed with the Pau Gasol signing.
Since the 2010-11 season, the 34-year-old Spaniard had missed 72 games with a variety of nagging injuries, the type that can often be slow-death for veteran centers. In 2012-13, Gasol posted career lows in rebounding and scoring—a direct consequence of groin and foot injuries that sidelined him for much of the season.
The Bulls’ offseason was declared an abject disappointment, with the McDermott and Mirotic signings being the saving grace for many fans. Seriously—a friend of mine actually said there was no point in watching the team this year because of the Gasol signing (if you’re reading this, Trevor, know that I still think you’re an idiot).
Gasol has been an absolute beast in Chicago, not so much a consolation prize.
In six monster games this year, Gasol has been reminiscent of the four-time All Star who helped bring two more championships to the already-decorated rafters of the Staples Center.
Thus far, Gasol has been a double-double machine, averaging a ridiculous 18.6 ppg and 10.6 rebounds.
Keep in mind that Pau Gasol is doing this on a team where at least seven different players are averaging double-digit point totals. Keep in mind he’s performing in an offense that was miserable before he landed in the Windy City, and is almost entirely new to every one of his teammates.
And keep in mind he’s done this almost entirely in the absence of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, both sidelined with nagging injuries.
Once Rose and Noah return to the squad, it’s entirely unrealistic to think Gasol will continue to put up such gaudy numbers. Because of that, it seems inevitable that many of the fans currently clawing their way back atop the Bulls Bandwagon will eventually sour on Gasol.
However, what those people fail to realize is the impact that Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose will have on Gasol, both for better and for worse. It means less touches for Gasol, sure. But it also means much better ball movement; which will flow through Gasol & Noah’s high-low post game and Jimmy Butler’s backdoor, baseline cuts.
Thus, it’s important to realize that while Gasol might not always be the one dishing the assist or pounding the low-block, his presence is every bit as integral to the process. It’s something that can’t really be quantified in a box score, but it’s something avid fans can understand.
We keep using last year’s Spurs as a good comparison for this (2014-15) Bulls squad, and for good reason. Much like the reigning champions, this Bulls team is capable of winning heaps of games behind a balanced offensive approach—a free-flowing system wherein players distribute at an unprecedented clip, and shot attempts are relatively balanced.
This Bulls squad has the propensity to win in that manner, scrapping the star-studded Miami Model of play for a team-oriented system approach. And with that in mind, Gasol is even more integral to the team, as his veteran leadership serves as a guide to younger players who might otherwise find themselves frustrated in such a pass-heavy system.
Gasol’s impacts are hard to quantify. They exist outside the box score or fantasy leagues. But even after his numbers inevitably drop this year, Gasol will still fill two much-needed roles for Chicago – both in the locker room and on the court.
And come playoff time, Gasol will hardly seem like a consolation prize.
(Featured Image courtesy of the Bulls)