Gasol Continues to Improve
Until Kobe Bryant's eventual return, the most important factor in how well the Lakers play basketball revolves around the health of the team's 7-foot Spaniard.
Through five days of training camp, it's been a "so far, so good" scenario for Pau Gasol.
"I feel better, getting better, getting a better rhythm and better touch," explained Gasol after Wednesday's practice. "My legs are feeling better. So far, so good, five days into camp and (I feel) positive."
Gasol was given a 12-week recovery diagnosis after a FAST Technique procedure on both of his knees last May, and spent the entire offseason in rehabilitation. The procedure was a direct result of painful tendinosis in those knees that limited his mobility not just in 2012-13, but in the previous few seasons as well.
Not feeling like himself in terms of movement, Gasol had also been moving further and further from the basket, trying to use his varied skill to produce around the more direct, internal games of Andrew Bynum and then Dwight Howard. "Accommodation" was a word Gasol focused upon, and while he found success in various stages (17.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.3 blocks in April of 2013), he wasn't the focus of the offense as Mike D'Antoni expects him to be to start this season.
"Pau is way ahead of where I thought he’d be coming back from (that procedure)," said D'Antoni. "He’s played really well and he looks good. Just coming off of injury, I thought he’d sit down half a practice or skip a practice, but he’s done everything all the time and been sharp. He didn’t play this summer for the first summer in about 10 years. He’s been really sharp."
Gasol will start at center, with either Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill or even someone like Shawne Williams seeing time next to him in small line ups. He'll get plenty of post up opportunities, but will also be asked to facilitate from the high post, run screen/roll and, in short, do a bit of everything to maximize individual - and thus team - success.
And so, the question remains, how is he doing physically? Gasol addressed the topic - and others - at length on Wednesday:
Q: On being surprised at how much progress he's made at this point:
Gasol: Yeah, I thought I would be a little more limited. I basically started running on the court three weeks ago. Up until this point, I hadn’t done any basketball stuff with other players or with contact. So far, it’s been good. The doctors are really encouraged that everything looks good.
Q: On how his knees feel:
Gasol: (At the start) of training camp, those were my first jumps. So, it’s a little bit of a different work there for my knees. Little by little, I’m trying to get to it and not to force too much. My goal is still to be 100 percent by opening night. But little by little, I think I’m making progress.
Q: On what’s next in terms of ramping up activity:
Gasol: Right now I’m doing everything. What I’m not going to do is the two-a-day sessions on the court. I’m doing other individual work in the weight room and stuff and conditioning. But I’m not going to pound my knees twice on the court because that’s what the doctors told me not to do. That’s the only limitation that I have right now that I’m having and just day by day seeing how the knees react to the new amount of work. I’m trying to pick it up every day, push myself a little harder, do a little more and see how it reacts.
Q: On if his rehab has exceeded his expectations:
Gasol: Yes, it has. So far it has, yes. I didn’t think I was going to be able to practice fully at this point. So, it’s been good.
Q: On how his body feels after taking the summer off from basketball:
It feels good, refreshed. Mentally and physically, both. I needed it. Both aspects are really important. Mentally, I’m fresher. I’m having fun with the guys out there. I’m encouraging to keep it moving, play together, keep the spacing. Just to play team basketball.
Q: On if he feels rusty:
Gasol: A little bit. For sure, for sure, I’m rusty. I still have to get a good feel for the ball and for the game. But everyday, I pick it up and improve, so I’m very excited about my progression.
Q: On how big a difference it is for Mike D’Antoni to have a full training camp:
Gasol: It makes a big difference to be able to implement a new system with his principles and everything. It makes a total difference to do it during training camp than to come in at the start of the season and everything is going on, and you have games to win.