The boots of retiring legends are always big ones to fill. Particularly so if the legend is Tim Duncan. His individual greatness helped San Antonio to lift five Larry O'Brien trophies, but he was also consistently elite, making 15 All-NBA teams (tied for most all-time). This year's edition of the Spurs, powered by a historically great defense, recorded a franchise-best 67 wins, however, were upset in the second round of the playoffs by the OKC Thunder. In the offseason, the Spurs said goodbye to Duncan and backup big Boris Diaw and replaced them with NBA champions Pau Gasol and David Lee. With these additions, they are a big threat for Golden State Warriors super team. The 35-year-old Gasol, however, has his own problem the Spurs will need to deal with.
The well-oiled Spurs machine has never failed to make playoffs in the Tim Duncan era. While the 2013 and 2014 Finals-edition of the Spurs were praised for their motion offense and smart defense, the 2015-16 regular season was their most impressive to date - though it was overshadowed by the rampant Golden State Warriors' record-breaking year. Even as they were attempting to integrate newly acquired free agent LaMarcus Aldridge into the system, the Spurs flew out of the gates to a 38-6 record, thanks in large part to a stingy defense that allowed 100-plus points just 7 times.
In fact, by the end of the season, San Antonio had a record of 56-6 in the 62 games where they conceded 100 points or less. By flying under the radar, they hoped to do some serious damage in the playoffs, and fresh off a 4-0 sweep vs the injury-hit Memphis, they matched up against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Aldridge scored 79 points combined in the first 2 games, and save for a wild finish to game 2, they may have gone 2-0 up. The loss would prove to be crucial, as the Spurs were eliminated in 6 games.
Pau Gasol left Kobe Bryant and the super-team Lakers in 2014 to go to Chicago to join up with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and a young Jimmy Butler. It was a success, as the team won 50 games and advanced to the East Conference Semi-Finals where they squared off with LeBron James and the Cavaliers. A Derrick Rose game winner put the Bulls up 2-1, and they could have been up 3-1 if LeBron James didn't make a tough contested fadeaway at the end of Game 4.
There continued to be high expectations of the Bulls the next season, but the firing of Tom Thibodeau coincided with a huge fall down the East Conference standings and out of the playoffs. In the offseason, Pau Gasol walked away from the Bulls and signed a two-year deal with San Antonio for at least 30 million dollars. In doing so, he joined stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard and established San Antonio as the number one free agency hotspot for ring-chasing NBA veterans.
Pau Gasol last season had a stat line of 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists as the third option offensively, but with a poor .529 TS% that ranks similar to bad shooters and/or volume scorers like Ricky Rubio and Jamal Crawford. It's unlikely he will be the first or second option in San Antonio, so it would be wrong to expect a dramatic change in this stat line. The area in which Gasol will provide the most value to the Spurs in his passing ability.
Combined with the Spurs' great off-ball movement, you can imagine that Gregg Popovich will often use Pau in the low-post, kicking to wide 3pt shooters or slipping passes to backdoor cutters. He can also space the floor well - though not as well as LaMarcus Aldridge - which is always an asset. It will undoubtedly take him time to integrate into the Spurs system, but eventually he should bring more to the table than Tim Duncan did last season, at least on one end of the floor.
During the Bulls' disappointing season last year, Pau Gasol often lacked the effort and mobility to be able to stop the pick and roll. He also struggled when switched onto a guard, allowing blow-bys or open jumpers. This could hurt San Antonio, particularly against explosive guards like Russell Westbrook and elite shooters like Steph Curry.
Forcing contested midrange shots is at the core of the Spurs' defense, and Tim Duncan was a good defender of the midrange shot, ranking in the 70th percentile for fg% differential of player averages outside of 15 feet amongst big men. Pau Gasol, however, ranked in just the 26th percentile for his impact, as players shot an average of 3% better when guarded by him from beyond 15 feet.
While these stats are quite dependent on the team defensive system, Chicago was the 14th best team at defending these shots, with an impact of -0.3%. The San Antonio defense thrives when a big man can switch and force a contest, ranking 4th in defensive fg% from beyond 15 feet. This tells us that Gregg Popovich will need to find a way to elicit maximum effort from the big men, or the Spurs risk a dramatic fall from defensive dominance.
While Pau Gasol seeming wipes the glass at a good rate, ranking 4th in the NBA in total rebounds, he also concedes the most 2nd chance points amongst centers, with 10.2 a game. The all-professional Spurs roster conceded just 10.7 2nd chance points per game, the best mark in the NBA last season. Duncan conceded 4.9 2nd chance points less than Gasol, and if Pau conceded the same number of 2nd chance points, the Spurs' historic defense would slide to 2nd in opponent points per game.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for Pau defensively, as he dominated players from inside 10 feet with a -9.7% impact on their FG%. Even more surprising is he ranks 1st in that stat amongst qualifying centers*. Factor in the impact Gasol has offensively and you can quickly see that it was the right move for San Antonio to make.
Pau Gasol is undeniably one of the best passing bigs ever. Even last season, Gasol was the second-best passing center, generating 7.5 potential assists and finishing behind his brother, Marc. In the modern NBA, good passing big men are a necessity - Warriors have Green, West and now Pachulia, Clippers have Blake, Spurs had Diaw and even LeBron is really a PF in his own right. Pau works best when he receives touches 15-18 feet out, or at the high and low posts.
Gasol has become known for terrific alley-oop passes from the high posts, and Popovich would be wise to use some similar actions. His midrange shooting is one of the best in the league, making opponents stick to him. If Gasol can continue to draw out rim protectors, huge gaps in the defense are sure to open up. Once he gets in his groove and is able to feel the tendencies of his teammates, it can translate into some easy buckets.
The best thing Gasol could bring to San Antonio is consistent effort on defense. He needs to use his size to his advantage, and be quick on his feet. If Pau Gasol can be serviceable on defense - and not be overwhelmed by the pick-and-rolls the Warriors, Cavaliers and Clippers are sure to throw at him - then Gasol could be a huge steal for the Spurs, and they could be gunning for a sixth NBA title. It's certainly a gamble, but it's one the Spurs are willing to take.
Gasol is obviously not as good of a defender as Duncan, but he was great defending inside 10 feet where he can use his size and hide his lack of mobility. He is a great passer and should fit right into the Spurs' system, but Gregg Popovich needs to find a way to elicit maximum effort from the big man.
This article was copied from Reddit: LINK
The article was a little modified by our writer and presented with some multimedia to give visitors better picture of Pau Gasol's impact.
Again, thanks to Reddit user TJonny15.