AT&T CENTER – During his rookie season in the NBA two years ago in the 2013-14 season, Atlanta Hawks forward Ryan Kelly was on the Los Angeles Lakers’ roster. One of Kelly’s teammates that season is now a current Spur – center Pau Gasol. In playing 59 games in 2014, Kelly got to share the court with Gasol in Los Angeles and watch Gasol operate as well from the bench.
With Kelly and the Hawks visiting San Antonio Saturday evening, I was intrigued to see if Kelly could provide some information on how Gasol might fit in with the Spurs, and after speaking with Kelly, it’s clear Gasol will be a helpful addition to San Antonio.
One area where Gasol can help space the floor is by standing out on the 3-point arc during the spread pick-and-roll. When I asked Kelly if Gasol would be comfortable going beyond the arc even though he’s a 7-footer, Kelly said it wouldn’t be a problem for Gasol.
“Absolutely,” said Kelly of Gasol stretching the floor. “When I played with him, what he showed and what he continues to show is he’s really ball friendly. He can make plays for other people and also he can shoot the ball. I think that’s huge.”
Already in his first preseason game with the Spurs, Gasol almost took a 3-pointer, but his foot was on the line, so the box score calculated it as a deep two. It came off sideline pick and roll action and when the point guard got into the teeth of the defense, he kicked to an open Gasol on the left wing three, but the shot didn’t go in.
Over his career, Gasol has averaged 3.3 assists per game. He has the ability to post-up and find cutters or open teammates with his size and length, or Gasol can hold the ball at the elbow or at the top of the key and facilitate from those areas as well. I asked Kelly about Gasol’s passing ability, and he said that will be another area where Gasol will help the Spurs.
“Absolutely, both he and his brother have that ability, they’re almost like point centers,” said Kelly of Gasol’s passing. “They can control the game with their vision and also ability to score.”
Saturday against the Hawks, even though he looked a little tentative and lost on offense, Gasol still managed to find teammates for baskets, as he tallied three assists either out of the low block, or from the elbow.
Gasol over his career grabs 9.5 rebounds per game. When it comes to offensive rebounds, he has a career average of 2.7 per game. With all the attention Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge will draw on their shot attempts, there might be some areas where Gasol can squeeze in for a few offensive rebounds per game. Kelly also agreed that’s another area Gasol can impact when I asked him about it.
“I think so,” said Kelly of Gasol’s ability to grab offensive boards. “He’s a guy who tends to mold to his environment and fit in wherever is necessary and I think that’ll be an area he can take advantage of for sure.”
While it was just one preseason game Saturday, Gasol was able to show how he can do exactly what Kelly mentioned – mold to his environment. The Spurs won’t be asking Gasol to be one of their go-to scorers every night like he had to be with the Memphis Grizzlies, Lakers and Chicago Bulls, but instead, they’ll just need him to try to be as productive as possible in his role – posting up a few times, setting picks and either spacing the floor by popping out, or rolling to the rim, or throwing passes from the elbow, low block or top of the arc. Once Gasol starts to get more consistency and playing time with his new teammates, he should bring an added dimension to the team and another weapon they can go to on offense.