A Look At Pau Gasol And The Art of Passing

Pau Gasol is one of the game’s best passing big men. While most seven footers in the league are playing basketball because of their uncanny height, Gasol is one of the few players that doesn’t get by just because he is tall. Pau is one of the most skilled players to ever play the game of basketball at any position/height and the fact that he is seven feet tall is just an added bonus that makes his skillset that much more rare.

Gasol’s ability to see things develop on a basketball court and make smart decisions when moving the basketball adds an invaluable dimension to the Lakers’ offense and alleviates pressure from Kobe Bryant to be the only trigger point of the triangle offense. Additionally, Pau can make passes that Kobe, Derek Fisher and the rest of the Lakers’ guards cannot make simply because they are not as tall as Gasol and cannot see over the defense. We saw multiple examples of this during the post-season last year when Gasol found Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom multiple times when the Lakers’ perimeter players failed to make a sound entry pass into the post.

I’m going to take a look at Gasol’s ability to pass the basketball through video and play diagrams today to see how the Lakers utilize Pau’s skill and how often Gasol is able to save a lost possession simply by finding a cutter or making use of his height to make passes his teammates aren’t able to.

Play 1: Gasol finds Kobe Bryant for an easy two

Part 1

This is a very quick set that the Lakers used in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It doesn’t take time to set up and most of the work is done as Kobe brings the ball up in semi-transition. No less than two seconds after everyone is in place. Bryant gives the ball up to Pau Gasol in the high post.

Part 2

Gasol catches the ball, keeps it high and pivots so that he is setting a screen for Bryant to go around. Ray Allen gets caught up on the screen and Kevin Garnett is too busy focusing on his man, Gasol, will do next to notice Bryant sneaking right past him.

Part 3

Pau turns his body so that he is facing the basket directly and floats a perfect pass over the extended arms of Kevin Garnett. Pau’s other options on the play, had Ray Allen played it correctly and gotten back to Kobe were either to take a dribble and set up his own shot from the mid-range (where he shot 48% from last season) or hit Ron Artest (wide open at the top of the key) or Derek Fisher (semi-guarded by Rajon Rondo) for a three.

Part 4

Luckily, the most efficient option possible is available due to a defensive miscue and Pau picks apart the Celtics to produce the most efficient result: a wide open lay-up/short jumper for Kobe on the baseline.

In video:

Play 2: Gasol hits a cutting Bryant with a bounce pass

Part 1

As I mentioned in his scouting report, Luke Walton is a perfect triangle player and here the Lakers gave him the responsibility of setting up the offense. Walton starts off the offense on the left wring and the rest of the offense finds their place as he passes it in to Pau a foot or two above the free throw line.

Part 2

Gasol catches it as if he is going post-up while Kobe Bryant fakes one direction and cuts toward the basket. Pau delivers a no-look bounce pass to Bryant who is already on route to the basket.

Part 3

The result is an easy lay-up for Bryant. Kobe is no longer the player he once was when it comes to attacking the basket on his own off the dribble but because of the attention Gasol attracts and his ability to get Bryant the ball in a position to score, Kobe can still get some open looks when the Lakers run quick sets like this.

In video:

Play 3: Pau finds a cutting Shannon Brown

Part 1

Lamar Odom’s versatility has been well documented over the years and one of the many tools he possesses is the ability to initiate an offense. Though the lone responsibility he has on this play is to swing the ball across the perimeter, there aren’t a lot of power forwards in the league that you will find in a similar position.

Part 2

The Lakers run a lot of sets to get Kobe Bryant an open look in the mid-range area where he has a rather effective post game. At the start, that is exactly what this play looks like it is intended to do. Gasol sets a screen for Bryant as he cuts across the lane and gets into position to post up about 16 feet from the basket. Odom swings it to Brown and he passes it to Fisher. Normally, this is where we’d see Fisher toss it into Bryant and watch him go to work.

Part 3

Instead, Gasol pops out to the left wing and Fisher gets him the ball. Meanwhile, both Tony and Ray Allen are still paying attention to Bryant so Brown uses Kobe to set a screen while he cuts backdoor. Because Gasol is at the three-point line with the ball, where the defender must respect his ability to put the ball on the floor, and Odom is 23 feet from the rim on the right baseline, where he can occasionally connect from as well as drive to the lane, there are no defenders in the paint and Brown has no traffic on his way to the left block.

Part 4

Pau extends his arms and makes the easy pass over Rasheed Wallace and Brown has no trouble making the catch.

Part 5

The result is an easy lay-up for Brown and another successful assist for Pau Gasol.

In video:

Play 4: Gasol entry pass to Bynum

Part 1

You’ll notice that this set is very similar to the first play I diagrammed other than the position of Derek Fisher who is now on the left side of the floor with the rest of the team instead of the right side. Artest gives it off to Kobe where again, a similar motion will take place.

Part 2

Bryant gives it off to Gasol on the right side of the free throw line and uses Pau as a screener as he cuts behind him looking for an easy lane to the basket. And with Fisher now on the left side, Ron sets a down screen for him and it allows Derek to pop-up on the left wing should Pau decide to kick it out to him for a three.

Part 3

This is where the main difference between this play and the first one occurs. Unlike the fist play, Kobe’s man does not lose track of him, making him covered. And just in case Pau was thinking about giving it to Bryant anyway, and conceivably he could have made a move to beat Allen to the rim, Kendrick Perkins also makes a defensive slide over to make sure Kobe wasn’t getting the ball on the low block.

Part 4

However, because Perkins decided to move over for just a second in order to discourage a pass to Bryant, Gasol is able to shift his vision to Andrew Bynum and Gasol makes a sound entry pass from the high post for Bynum. Had Gasol not seen Perkins move or had Kendrick stayed at home, Fisher was open, but given how good Rondo is at picking off passes, I’d say Gasol made the best pass possible.

Part 5

The result is deep post position for Bynum allowing him to turn over his right shoulder and score on Perkins.

In video:

Play 5: Gasol alley-oop to Bynum

Part 1

After seeing a few sets with Kobe Bryant at the top of the key, you’ll notice that during this play Bryant and Gasol switch places on the floor. Gasol will initiate the offense from the top of the key here.

Part 2

Again, as we’ve seen before, only reversed, as Gasol passes it to Bryant near the free throw line. Bryant is in the exact same position in a post-up spot with his back to the basket.

Part 3

And just like we saw in the second play I diagrammed, a bounce pass between Bryant and Gasol takes place only this time Pau is the recipient. Another difference is that instead of bouncing it to the Bryant as he slices on the outside of the key, Kobe gives it to the Gasol as he cuts to the heart of the lane.

Part 4

Thus, the Boston defense is ready to send a couple of guys at him. Well, because Gasol can accurately hit that shot (48% from that range last season), pretty much every Celtic defender collapses on Gasol expecting him to shoot the basketball. As you can see, that wasn’t a smart decision. Andrew Bynum finds himself a free path to the rim thanks to Perkins’ departure from the lane to contest a shot he thought Pau would take and Gasol tosses up a lob.

Part 5

The result is an easy flush for Gasol.

In video:

Conclusion

A big man that can pass the basketball is something that is very hard to find in today’s game. No matter what David Kahn thinks of Darko Milicic, there are only handful of guys in the league that can pass the ball like Gasol while also being seven feet tall. And when you consider Gasol’s ability to score with either hand around the basket, spin past his defender on the block, hit jump shots from anywhere within the arc, rebound the basketball, and defend the basket well with his long limbs, his passing skills are just the icing on the cake for one of the most talented players in the entire world.

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Author: (2422 Articles)

Mark is an 18-year old sports fanatic that founded this website back in October of 2008. He is the lead contributor for this site and a credentialed member of the media for several sports leagues and organizations. Mark's main focus is the NBA, though he also covers MLB, NFL, and International events like the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Follow Mark on Twitter: @Mark_Travis

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