With Kevin Durant committed to Golden State, Pau Gasol, the best remaining free agent, has agreed to a two-year $30 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs.
While both of these signings dramatically impact the power structure in the NBA, the focus here is on Gasol and the Spurs.
It makes perfect sense that Gasol’s arrival should finally lead to the honorable and lamented departure of Tim Duncan. By exchanging a 40-year-old once-upon-a-time superstar–who’s way past his prime yet remains the most respected player in the NBA-for a 36-year-old who’s been a six-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection, and still has plenty of gas in his tank–the Spurs won’t miss a beat.
Neither TD nor Gasol were top-notch man-to-man defenders but, for lo these many years, Duncan’s anticipation, instincts, underrated strength, fearlessness, and incredibly efficient interior rotations made him the lynchpin of San Antonio’s smothering defense. If Gasol lacks TD’s power, he has the length and the savvy to still keep the Spurs defense functioning at a championship level.
Both players have great hands, but Duncan was an appreciably better rebounder.
Still, in addition to his relative youth, there are several aspects of Gasol’s game that are far superior to what Duncan could muster in his declining seasons.
Gasol is a much better shooter with legitimate three-point range. He also has a better handle, is a slicker passer, and possesses a larger arsenal of left-and-right post-up moves than Duncan ever had. As a result, Gasol is much more of a scoring threat than Duncan ever was when stationed on the high-post.
Since LaMarcus Aldridge is another excellent inside-outside scorer, the Spurs can present defenses with a wide variety of big men alignments.
Moreover, Gasol’s dive-cuts may not be the equal of Durant’s in screen/role situation but, like Aldridge, PG will shoot a multitude of open mid-range jumpers when he flares instead of rolls.
Gasol’s passwork and perimeter shooting also mean that defenses cannot sag off him as they did with Duncan when he played above the stripe. Subsequently, there will be much less traffic in the paint when the likes of Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard drive to the hoop.
What else does San Antonio need to challenge the super-nova-power Golden State Warriors? Not much more than encouraging David West to re-up, and having Boris Diaw leave his belly home when he reports for training camp. Oh, and also having Tony Parker and Ginobili take daily dips in the Fountain of Youth.
Even if NOW the Warriors are absolutely, definitely, and positively the greatest team in the history of the NBA, don’t underestimate the chances of the semi-refurbished Spurs to overcome them.
Overall, the addition of Pau Gasol more than makes up for the presumed subtraction of the ghost of the once-superb Tim Duncan.
In fact, considering today’s incredibly bloated salaries, Gasol is an incredible bargain.
GRADE = A+