Five things that ensure Pau Gasol a successful 2011-12 season
This is the second part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).
1. Keep conditioning sharp. Beyond wanting to win the 2010 FIBA World Championship for his native Spain, Pau Gasol saw the venture helping with maintaining his conditioning. Conditioning's going to be critical because he needs to anticipate the possible scenario of Andrew Bynum falling to injury once again. Absorbing Bynum's heavy minutes eventually took a toll on Gasol last season, and he never fully recovered from it.
2. Maintain confidence. It's very unfair and reactionary for some Lakers fans to think Gasol's poor 2011 playoff showing would have big-picture implications. His track record in immediately helping the Lakers to three consecutive Finals appearances and two titles suggests otherwise. But he's going to face plenty of tests from opposing teams wondering if they can reopen the fragile psyche that hampered Gasol during last season's playoffs. It's essential that Gasol positively use his postseason shortcomings as motivation to ensure he remains the same efficient player that makes him one of the league's top power forwards.
3. Sharpen communication with Kobe Bryant. They've always enjoyed a fruitful on-court relationship because of their basketball intelligence and opposite personalities. But Gasol needs to stop being passive-aggressive when he feels Bryant ball-hogs too much. Bryant has never publicly taken offense when Gasol calls him out, and Gasol has constructively embraced Bryant's criticisms when he feels he's not playing aggressively enough. There's no reason direct dialogue during those times would hurt given the nature of their relationship.
4. Stay aggressive. Gasol isn't soft like many like to say he is when he plays poorly. But when his confidence waned, Gasol often lacked the necessary aggressiveness to give the Lakers a true one-two punch between him and Bryant. That led to Gasol having poor post positioning, Bryant shouldering more of the burden and the Lakers' poor outside shooting becoming more exposed.
5. Help Andrew Bynum on rebounding. The numbers aren't exactly eyeball raising. Gasol averaged 10.4 rebounds before the All-Star break and 9.6 after it. Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum's rebounding numbers improved from 7.4 to 12.3. But during Bynum's growth in embracing a defensive role and owning the glass, Gasol appeared more than happy to just delegate that responsibility completely over to him. Sometimes it worked, as indicated by Bynum's presence. Sometimes it didn't, leading to teams crushing the Lakers in transition. Just because that appears to be Bynum's speciality doesn't mean Gasol is absolved from having to box out and fight for post position.
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Photo credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011