There were plenty of reasons to believe that Pau Gasol was past his prime when he was headed to the free agency last summer. For the past two years, Gasol had been the constant trade bait for the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, he was already traded to the Hornets for Chris Paul in 2011 until then Commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal. But despite having two frustrating final seasons in Los Angeles, there was still belief that the 34 year old Spanish big man had something left in the tank to offer a contender. That was the reason why the Chicago Bulls “settled” for him when they failed to grab Carmelo Anthony from the free agent market. On the other hand, the Bulls may have made the better choice by getting Pau instead of Melo.
The Fountain of Youth
The transfer of basketball residence has done wonders for Pau Gasol. It’s as if he’s discovered the fountain of youth in the Windy City. Aside from rising star Jimmy Butler, Gasol has been the Bulls’ most consistent performer and has eased the “in-and-out” season of the fragile Derrick Rose. Gasol is behind Butler in the Bulls’ scoring leaderboard, averaging 18.7 points per game. He also leads the team in rebounds (11.3 per game) and shot blocks (2.2 per game) while his .481 FG% is just next to Taj Gibson. However, none of these stats prove Gasol’s worth this season more than his PER of 22.4 which is tops among the Chicago Bulls’ players.
Because of Gasol’s efforts (and the emergence of Butler), the Bulls find themselves among the leaders in the Eastern conference with their 26-13 record. Chicago is currently number one in the Central Division, 4th in the East and tied for 8th in the entire league. But as if the past 34 games were not good enough to prove his worth, Gasol took it to the next level last Saturday during the Bulls’ 95-87 win over the surprising Milwaukee Bucks, who by the way are their chief Central Division rivals right now ( no, not the Cavs).
Performance For The Ages
The Bulls were without Derrick Rose (again) and so it was expected that Gasol and Butler would once again pick up the slack. Pau Gasol played the game of his life on Saturday night, scoring a career high 46 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. Sure, we’ve seen 40+ scoring games before and had just witnessed Klay Thompson drop 40 on the Pacers last Week. But this was 34 year old Pau Gasol, the player whom everyone (including me) believed was already past his prime after leaving the Lakers last season. And what player would get his career high at age 34?
Gasol’s 46-18 night was the first since Kevin Durant dropped 47 points and collected 18 rebounds in January 2011. That 46-18 performance were the first by a Chicago Bull since Michael Jordan’s career-high 69 point performance (MJ had 18 boards that night too) against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 28, 1990. Gasol also became the first player in 30 years to score at least 44 points and grab at least 15 rebounds at age 34 or older. Only Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon had posted 40-15 games at age 34 in the last 30 years. Gasol only had two other 40 point games in his NBA career and those were when he was still with the Memphis Grizzlies. The last of those games happened exactly seven years ago on Sunday, that’s what makes it more impressive.
A Family Affair
After the second wave of ballots for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game starters were revealed the other week, Pau Gasol was one of the top three frontline players in the Eastern Conference. Pau was behind LeBron James and was slightly ahead of #3 Carmelo Anthony. But that is not the big NBA news because out in the West, his younger brother Marc is third in the front-line votes behind Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin. Should the brothers hold on to their current positions, they will make history by being the first brothers in NBA history to start in the same All-Star game. While Marc still has to battle for his spot, Pau’s 46 point Saturday may have clinched his fifth All-Star game appearance. If that does happen, it will be another feather in the cap for one of the most bemedaled European players to ever step foot in the NBA.
34 is supposed to be the age when a player’s fiercest rival is no longer on the opposite team but the imaginary foe called father time. Pau Gasol turned back the hands of time last Saturday with a performance for the ages. At this point in his career, that’s got to be very special.