Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol Is Injury-Free, Primed for Strong 2013-14 Season

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Pau Gasol is a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion.

COMMENTARY | Anyone who's covered Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol understands that he's a consummate professional off the floor and a highly intelligent person, let alone basketball player. The Spaniard's got an amiable disposition and exudes compassion.

In short, he's a likable guy who's easy to root for.

That's one big reason why last season was so difficult to watch for Lakers and NBA fans. The 2012-13 campaign featured a number of statistical anomalies for the four-time NBA All-Star and two-time champion. He averaged a career-worst 13.4 points per game and shot just 47 percent from the field, also a career worst. The obvious reasons are his health and having to adjust to a new system on the fly.

With those two roadblocks seemingly out of the way this season, Gasol is ready to get back to form and return to being one of the best centers in the game. Gasol will slide into the five position he plays naturally and will be a featured component of the offense once again after taking a back seat to Dwight Howard. With Howard out of the picture, Pau will be free to do what he does best, namely, score from the low post and find shooters on the perimeter or an open cutter.

A complement to the shooters

About those shooters -- Los Angeles added more players capable of knocking down open long-range looks. It's already apparent through a handful of preseason games that they have the green light to toss up shots from deep. That bodes well for both Gasol and the shooters, who will form a symbiotic relationship by complementing one another.

Pau is highly skilled, which means that he can make outstanding reads with the ball in his hands more often rather than forcing shots. The shooters will give the Lakers better floor spacing as a group, which will allow the Spaniard to have freedom to work where he does the most damage. Howard took up a lot of real estate in the middle and Gasol had to play without the ball often, which took him out of his comfort zone.

This season, he'll help to funnel the offense into taking more high-percentage hots, which in turn will make the Lakers more efficient. By definition, becoming more efficient means the Lakers will use less energy on offense, which will free them up to focus that on the defensive end of the floor where they sorely need it.

Los Angeles ranked 22nd among 30 teams in opponents' points allowed per game with 101.0 in 2012-13. As the already-aging nucleus of Gasol, Steve Nash and eventually Kobe Bryant continue to grow older and naturally, struggle more with on-ball defense, efficiency will be a major component of success.

On the same page with MDA

Head coach Mike D'Antoni's done a 180 when it comes to his outlook for Gasol. After benching him last season late in several games and doing nothing short of embarrassing him, this year he's said he expects big things from his 7-footer. For a mentally fragile player, that could be a difficult set of circumstances to overlook, but to reiterate, Gasol is mature and a true pro -- he'll approach the season with a workman-like attitude and be ready to perform at a high level. It's one of the reasons he's one of the greatest players and the world and why Bryant respects him. Now that D'Antoni's on board, things will improve.

In Gasol's case, that's precisely why he'll bounce back and have another season that'll place him among the upper echelon of NBA big men again.

"El Vino"?

Gasol's game relies less on athleticism than it does pure skill. His natural abilities in all fundamentals of the game -- shooting, passing, rebounding and defending -- will make up for any physical limitations, not that there are many as he's in good health heading into the season. But when things do begin to falter physically, he'll make up for it with good decision-making and natural ability.

In other words, Gasol is a Tim Duncan type of player who will be effective until he decides to hang up his jersey because of the way he plays. He'll contribute as long as he's on the floor. He's that good and that refined in terms of his fundamentals.

The combination of floor spacing, offensive balance and getting touches where he's most comfortable will all translate into Gasol returning to form this season. On the defensive end, the team being on the same page on rotations coupled with his improved health (should it remain that way) will allow him to affect the game more on that end as well.

The upcoming season is set up for Gasol to succeed, and it's just one reason why the Lakers will be a compelling story throughout the year -- even with less star power.

Want to get in touch with the author? Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.

Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was the 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and contributes to SB Nation.

Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.

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