Pau Gasol could prove most valuable for Lakers to start the season
It’s one of the few unspoken postscripts to the Lakers’ championship run last season, nothing short of a fallacy in some basketball circles.
Should Pau Gasol have been the MVP of the NBA Finals instead of Kobe Bryant?
Detractors of the facts — that Bryant won the award over Gasol because of a 7-2 vote by media members — point to Bryant’s six-for-24 effort in the Lakers’ Game 7 victory against Boston, while Bryant’s supporters eagerly present his overall stats in the Finals — 28.6 points, eight rebounds and 3.9 assists a game overshadowing his 40.5% shooting.
The past being what it is, unforgiving and unyielding, Gasol will have a chance to prove himself throughout this season, starting almost immediately as Andrew Bynum sits out because of off-season knee surgery and Bryant gradually returns to being Bryant while recovering from knee surgery of his own.
“It’s important that I deliver, that Lamar [Odom] delivers, pretty much everybody needs to step up,” Gasol said Sunday. " Theo [Ratliff] has got to be ready also. We understand the situation.”
Gasol thought he did the right thing during the off-season, which was nothing, a gap in an otherwise long line of summer work with the Spanish national team.
He finally said no to Spain, instead taking trips to India to teach basketball skills to teenagers and to South Africa to watch Spain win soccer’s World Cup.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, however, said Gasol was “still on vacation” last week … and that was after Gasol had 18 points and 12 rebounds against Sacramento.
Gasol is averaging 18 points and 7.8 rebounds in five exhibitions but is shooting only 46.9% from the court. He had 28 points and nine rebounds on eight-for-15 shooting Sunday in the Lakers’ 99-94 loss to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
“I’m getting better rhythm, feeling a little stronger,” he said.
He is still rounding into shape, his feel of the game understandably not what it was when he averaged 18.6 points and 11.6 rebounds in the Finals, including a 19-point, 18-rebound performance in Game 7.
On one play Sunday, he missed badly from three feet, throwing the ball surprisingly hard off the backboard. In fact, he started out two for eight before looking much sharper in the second half.
“He had close shots but he just didn’t have good shots. They were shots he didn’t have a good base on,” Jackson said. “He made free throws a little better tonight. He’s starting to get into game shape.”
Gasol made 12 of 14 free-throw attempts after entering with dreadful 60% accuracy from the stripe in exhibition play.
What about Bryant?
Like Gasol, Bryant rebounded from a slow start to score 19 points on seven-for-12 shooting.
He was scoreless in the first half, missing all four of his shots, and finally heated up in the third quarter, sinking seven of eight attempts mainly against Raja Bell. He did not play in the fourth quarter.
“His shot’s starting to come along,” Jackson said. “He’s starting to feel better.”
Jackson rarely hides his indifference, even disdain, for rookies, famously saying they were all “lower than whale … " earlier in his coaching career.
It didn’t sound like he envisioned much playing time in the future for Devin Ebanks or Derrick Caracter despite Ebanks’ 14-point, seven-rebound outburst Saturday against Denver.
“It’s not that they’re the scum of the earth, which they are, it’s the simple fact that they make silly mistakes,” he said of rookies in general.
“They just don’t know the game yet. It really takes experience to know how to eliminate those mistakes that you may avoid when you get some credence in this league.”
Ebanks had two points against Utah. Caracter did not play because of back spasms.
Ebanks and Caracter are in charge of collecting all the balls and picking up used beverage bottles after practice, typical chores for NBA rookies, but it could be worse.
“They’re not solo. It’s really tough if you’re all alone,” Jackson said. “Sun Yue was alone [in 2008-09]. He got dogged.”