Now that it’s a foregone conclusion that Pau Gasol joins the Bulls — though nothing has been officially announced, Gasol himself tweeted Saturday — an examination of how the veteran big man will fit fit in Chicago is warranted.
Gasol is best known for his blend of an upper-echelon low-post game and uncanny ball skills for a man of his size, as he’s been regarded as one of the NBA’s best passing big men throughout his career. That trait in particular makes his potential pairing with Joakim Noah especially intriguing, as the Bulls’ All-Star center is arguably the league’s best playmaker at his position, with Gasol’s younger brother Marc of the Grizzlies a close second.
While Gasol is also capable of stepping out to the perimeter and knocking down mid-range jumpers and even deeper shots, his offensive preference is playing on the block, something that wasn’t always the strategy of ex-Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni and caused them to butt heads. Again, when paired with Noah, who isn’t known to excel as a back-to-the-basket scorer, Gasol’s game would prove complementary and when on the court with Sixth Man of the Year award runner-up Taj Gibson, who made major strides in his post-up game last season, his versatility would allow him to operate in the high post.
Speaking of Gibson, Gasol’s presence likely means a move back to the bench, something he experienced back in 2010, upon Carlos Boozer’s arrival — after Boozer returned from a training-camp injury — following a surprising rookie campaign in which he took over Tyrus Thomas’ starting spot at power forward. It’s safe to say that the selfless Gibson, 29, expected to continue expanding his role next season, though he’s earned a well-deserved reputation for being willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team.
Besides, even as a reserve, Gibson has typically finished games for the Bulls as a defensive upgrade to Boozer, a trend that would probably continue with Gasol. Gasol is more of a shot-blocking threat than Boozer but also has serious defensive issues that have become more pronounced as the 34-year-old’s career has progressed.
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The Bulls have until July 16 to use the amnesty provision on Boozer, and while it has become an open secret around the league that they prefer to trade him and the nearly $17 million on the final year of his contract, it can be assumed they haven’t found any takers yet. Still, with Gasol’s looming acquisition, it’s a near-guarantee that Boozer won’t be playing in Chicago next season.
Gasol’s countryman, Spanish forward Nikola Mirotic, is another likely addition to the Bulls roster for next season, and though the 2011 first-round draft pick’s game differs from Noah, Gibson and Gasol, the 6-foot-10 23-year-old is another player who will be in the mix for minutes in the team’s big-man rotation. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t known for playing rookies heavy minutes, but Mirotic’s talent and professional experience is worthy of playing time, so Gasol could see a reduction in minutes to help him maintain his effectiveness as he ages, while Noah’s health will also be benefited by the additional depth.
Gasol is no longer the No. 1 option he was in Memphis or even the second scorer he was with the Lakers, but he’s an established low-post threat capable of drawing a double team down low — one could argue that Gibson did that toward the end of last season — and has a championship pedigree. The Bulls have long coveted his services, and though this offseason won’t make the desired big splash of a Carmelo Anthony, the value of bringing in Gasol won’t be known until the playoffs in a wide-open Eastern Conference.
The Bulls still need to settle on a backup point guard (likely Kirk Hinrich) and could shore up the wing position with a free-agent veteran, but during a summer dominated by Anthony and LeBron James, getting an impact player like Gasol can’t be disregarded.