Hopes are rising as the 2019-20 NBA regular season approaches for the Portland Trail Blazers. Fresh off a Western Conference Finals appearance, armed with new veterans, the Blazers hope to sail smoothly into another deep run. Nothing in the NBA is guaranteed, though, so this week we’re looking at nine questions the Blazers will have to answer if they’re going to be successful in the coming campaign.
Question #9: How Much Can Pau Gasol Provide?
The Blazers traded for Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore, signed Anthony Tolliver, and re-signed Rodney Hood this off-season. The acquisition that raised the most eyebrows—eliciting a fair amount of happy buzz—came far after those moves, at the tail end of the free agency period. On July 25th, 2019 the Blazers signed long-coveted forward Pau Gasol, arguably a bigger name than all four of their other “big gets” combined.
The buzz is not without merit. Gasol’s all-around game and court sense are a coach’s dream. It’s hard to think of a situation in which including him would not make a five-man lineup better. He carries career averages of 51% from the field, 37% from the arc, 18 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes. The 18-year veteran boasts 6 All-Star appearances and 4 All-NBA Team nominations. He also passes the true basketball aficionado test as one of the default selections on the Player’s Page at basketball-reference. You don’t have to click twice to find his career stats; he’s one of the best to ever lace them up.
Blazers fans also know that they aren’t getting that Pau Gasol. That Pau Gasol would not have been available for the minimum contract Portland had to offer. They’re getting a 39-year-old who played just 30 games last season, averaging 4 points per game on career-low shooting. Injury recovery will play as big of a role in his performances as talent, especially early.
As we chronicled last week, Portland’s depth chart gets pretty sketchy after you get past the top end, particularly at the bigger positions. The Blazers will hope Zach Collins steps into the breach, but after him, Gasol may be the best hope for a boost from the lower part of the roster. He has the most upward wiggle room at the positions of greatest need for his team.
Signings like this are a crap shoot. Sometimes the veteran becomes the secret sauce, pulling the burger together. It’s easy to imagine 15 minutes a game from Gasol making a huge difference to Portland’s bench, particularly in the playoffs. Sometimes the move falls flat, with the veteran never getting healthy or never able to conjure the old magic. It’s just as easy to imagine Gasol being too slow on defense, too ground-bound on offense, or too injured to make a difference beyond the locker room.
This much is sure: the Blazers could use the better version of Gasol if they want to make a move in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. His ability to perform could be the difference between a good season and a great one.
Stay with us over the next few days as we march to the #1 question facing the Trail Blazers this year!