Is Pau Gasol Worth Trading For?

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USA Today and Rotoworld have reported that, prior to the Joakim Noah injury, the Bulls had begun to shop Pau Gasol. The rationale is that Pau will be a free agent this summer, and it behooves the Bulls to attain something for his talent. In all likelihood, with the aforementioned injury, the Bulls do not trade Pau Gasol. He is now essential for them to be able to compete with the Cavaliers in the East. Nonetheless, assuming the Bulls do not feel Pau fits anymore and want to gather talent in exchange for him, what is the Spaniard’s value?

First, it is worth noting that Pau’s primary value will be to a contender. He is too old to have value to a rebuilding team. Moreover, a borderline contender will be unlikely to retain him this offseason.

Thus, you’re left with two categories of teams. First, those that with Pau, could become a title contender. And second, those that with Pau, become favorites to win the title. Most likely, the first category will not be able to trade for Pau. This is because the Bulls are unlikely to aid another title contender and gain the necessary push over the hump. Thus, Pau’s only potential value is to Cleveland, San Antonio, Golden State, Oklahoma City, and the Los Angeles Clippers. The teams that can win it all. Consequently, the rest of this analysis will focus on Pau’s possible contributions to those teams.

First, let’s examine the largest criticism of Gasol, his defense. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Pau Gasol and the five other contenders’ big men and their interior defense:

Figure 1 Stats via SportVU Tracking Data

 

What Figure 1 demonstrates is that opponents shoot worse against Pau Gasol than they do against every other contender’s big men sans Andrew Bogut. Now, a common critique of the SportVU tracking data on NBA.com’s stats page is that it does not focus on when said player is a primary, secondary, or tertiary defender. Thankfully, for 2014-15, Nylon Calculus let’s us look at a player’s defense when said player is the primary defender.

Nylon Calculus' Rim Protection for Gasol, Cavs, Warriors, and Spurs- 2014-15

Figure 2 Data via Nylon Calculus

 

Figure 2 substantiates Figure 1. Last year, Pau Gasol was firmly in the middle of Nylon Calculus’ “Opponent’s Field Goal Percentage At The Rim as a Primary Defender” statistic. Essentially, metrics show Pau is a very good interior defender.

Now, the biggest criticism of Pau Gasol is his pick-and-roll defense. And this is completely valid. Gasol is in the bottom-half of the NBA regarding his ability to defend the roll man.

Golden State attacks the roll defender the third least times in the association. Where they would attack Pau, therefore, is when the screen is switched to take a three point shot. Here, Pau is not as bad. He allows the 19th lowest eFG% off screens as a roll defender. What this means is that Pau Gasol is more than likely a better defender when he guards pick-and-pops — which are included in the aforementioned statistic — but a horrendous interior defender when he is guarding a driving roll man.

What this means is that the Clippers, Spurs, and Thunder — all who run a significant amount of screens that attack the roll man’s defender — are more of a threat to Pau’s defense because they generally attack the roll man as he moves inside. Essentially, these teams do not use the three-point shot on screens nearly as much as Cleveland and Golden State, and thus pose a greater risk to Pau Gasol’s defensive limitations.

Consequently, at worst, Pau Gasol’s holistic defense is a wash. When one examines advanced statistics, though, they all rank him highly. These stats include the fourth best Defensive Box Plus/Mins, defensive win shares, and defensive rating. Overall, he provides very good interior defense, however, is weak defending a driving roll man off of screens. When the advanced metrics are consulted, though, he is still a net positive on the defensive end.

Moving on to Pau’s offense, this is an area where, perhaps, he should be criticized more.

Starting with the good, he ranks tenth in points per possession on post-ups for big men. Let’s examine the stats below:

NBA Post-up leaders

Figure 3 Stats via Synergy

 

Therefore, Pau averages .83 points per possession on post-up opportunities, this is holistically pretty good, but not necessarily an efficient shot. Nevertheless, it is useful enough that Pau can’t attract defensive focus.

Unfortunately, per Synergy, even in that play type, Pau is not overall better than average. Let’s look at his rankings below:

Pau Gasol Offensive Play Rankings

Figure 4 Stats via Synergy

Essentially, Pau is simply not noticeably above average in any offensive play category. Nonetheless, he does shoot very high percentages from close and mid-range. But overall, Pau’s offense is just not good. In terms of offense generated per 100 possessions, he ranks 41st out of 45 league centers who have played substantial minutes. Regardless, because of his midrange, his mere presence allows him to serve as a floor spacer, which makes him a league average offensive player.

So what is Pau’s value to a contender? It depends. A team like Cleveland that needs an improvement in interior defense could see value in Pau. But the Bulls would likely charge a fortune to their Eastern Conference rivals, hence making a trade between these two teams highly improbable.

One mere addendum. Pau’s value may be most to the Bulls. Voices inside the Chicago locker-room feel that they can beat the Cavs in the East, and it is suggestible that the team’s fans and ownership feel the same way. Furthermore, the loss of Joakim Noah has resulted in the Bulls needing Pau to solidify their big man rotation. Consequently it is more than likely that the Bulls choose to hold onto the Spaniard. If a team offers the Bulls a combination of current talent, money, and future assets, though, it is foreseeable that the Bulls could engage in trade talks.

 

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