Gasol on top of the (rest) of the world
By Chad Ford
Send an Email to Chad Ford Monday, September 15
Updated: September 15
9:20 AM ET
Dirk Nowitzki may be the NBA's best international player. Tony Parker is already sporting a championship ring. And veterans like Peja Stojakovic play on the (reigning) best national team in the world at the moment.
But as the smoke cleared at the 2003 European Championships in Stockholm, Sweden on Sunday, the guy everyone was buzzing about was a tall, skinny dude on the Memphis Grizzlies
Pau Gasol led Spain to an improbable second-place finish in Sweden. With it comes a 2004 Olympic berth for Spain and a whole lot of newfound respect from NBA scouts around the league.
"Pau was unbelievable," one NBA GM told Insider. "He dominated amid constant double and triple teams on offense, and on defense he was just as impressive. I've never seen him so physical and aggressive. If he plays like that next season, the Grizzlies will start going places."
Physical? Aggressive? Defense? Are we talking about the same Pau Gasol?
Gasol finished the tournament averaging 25.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg on 64.7 percent shooting from the field in 31 minutes a night. In Sunday's game, which Spain lost to Lithuania 93-84, Gasol scored 36 points on 12-for-18 shooting and grabbed 12 boards. But it was a scuffle with Marko Jaric toward the end of Spain's victory over Serbia earlier in the week that had everyone talking. According to witnesses at the tournament, Jaric delivered a hard foul on Gasol after the outcome of the game had already been decided. Gasol retaliated with a quick shove to the chest.
Pau Gasol has worked hard this offseason to become a bigger force in the paint.
Benches cleared. Fists were flying. Somewhere, Jerry West had to be smiling.
The knock on Gasol during his first two seasons with the Grizzlies was his super soft middle. Despite his superior footwork and knack for scoring in the paint, the team couldn't afford to play Gasol at center because of lackluster defense and a fragile frame. Gasol has always been a top-notch scorer, but his penchant for getting pushed around has made him something less than a star.
Gasol never ran the floor -- he sashayed.
When coach Hubie Brown came to Memphis, Gasol's production plummeted. He averaged 16.2 ppg and was shooting under 50 percent from the field his first two months under Brown.
Brown's job was to give the Grizzlies an identity -- a soul if you will. Brown's style was based on toughness and hard work, qualities that Gasol still lacked. Before Brown, the offense ran through Gasol. Once Brown came into the picture, he asked his 7-foot star to do more than just shoot the basketball.
It was a hard adjustment.
By January, Gasol was back on track averaging 22.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg and 2.5 bpg on 56 percent shooting from the field. Despite Gasol's big improvements, he was often taken out of games offensively by better forwards like Kevin Garnett and his defense still needed big improvements.
At the end of the season, Gasol vowed to be stronger this season.
"I'm going to play tougher," Gasol told the Memphis Commercial Appeal earlier this summer. "I know I'm going to play tough. I've never been scared of anybody. But I know I'm going to have to be more physical with those guys."
He also vowed to step it up defensively. "I have to be more intense, more aggressive on defense. I have to guard. I'm going to really focus on that in the offseason."
Gasol began working out every day in the offseason. Gasol's decision drove some of his Spanish handlers crazy. European players rarely lift weights. Gasol's wiry frame, soft shooting touch and finesse game is the European ideal.
One coach close to Gasol cringed at the thought that Gasol would have to turn into a physical brute to continue to have success in the NBA.
"I know the Grizzlies want him to do it," the coach told Insider last spring in Barcelona. "But I believe it will ruin his game. We've already seen the fundamentals slip a bit since Pau left for the NBA. If he puts on too much weight, he won't be able to do the things he used to do."
Perhaps those fears were unwarranted. According to scouts who have been watching him closely in Sweden, Gasol looks stronger but hasn't gained too much weight.
"He's still quick and plays very smooth," one NBA scout told Insider. "I really think the added strength will only help his games. There are ways to get stronger without losing your quickness."
Gasol really has no other choice. Despite a flurry of trade talks this summer, West was unable to land a true, physical center to do the dirty work in the paint in Memphis. Unless something happens in the next six weeks, the Grizzlies will go back to doing what they did last season, platooning Lorenzen Wright, Stromile Swift and Gasol in the middle.
If Gasol can turn his newfound strength into defensive stops in the paint, while keeping it going offensively, the Grizzlies could be that sleeper team in the West this season.
Around the World
Gasol wasn't the only NBA player who impressed in Sweden. The Jazz's Andre Kirilenko was second to Gasol in scoring at the European Championships. Kirilenko averaged 23.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 spg and 2.8 apg while shooting 46 percent from the field.
2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
80 12.0 5.3 1.7 .491 .800
"I think this is the year Kirilenko really blows up," one NBA scout said. "Utah is going to need a scorer with [Karl] Malone and [John] Stockton gone. I think Kirilenko could be that guy. He's special. If he could just get a little stronger, I think he could be an all-star soon."
Another standout was the Pistons' Mehmet Okur. Okur was the star of the Turkish team this summer, making it pretty clear that he, not Hidayet Turkoglu, is the best Turkish player in the NBA right now. Okur averaged 18.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 1.8 bpg on 58 percent shooting from the field while Turkoglu struggled scoring just 11 ppg on 37.8 percent shooting from the field.
Pistons president Joe Dumars flew to Sweden for several days to check out Okur. No wonder he's trying to move a big chunk of his team to get far enough under the cap to re-sign Okur next season.
Dirk Nowitzki (22.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 45 percent shooting) and Peja Stojakovic (18.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 42.4 percent shooting) put up decent numbers but scouts claimed that both players were just so-so in Sweden. Neither dominated the way scouts expected them to.
Serbia's other NBA players fared OK Clips point guard Marko Jaric averaged 13.6 ppg, 6 rpg and 4 apg. He generally outplayed Knicks second-round draft pick Milos Vujanic. Vujanic averaged just 9 ppg and 1.7 apg on 41 percent shooting. Restricted free agent Predrag Drobnjak averaged 1.3 ppg and 6.9 rpg.
Tony Parker averaged 18 ppg and 3.2 apg but played to somewhat mixed reviews. "He tried to do too much," one scout said. Parker shot just 41.9 percent from the field and averaged more turnovers than assists. "I think Parker is a hell of a player, but he's not exactly the type that takes his team on his shoulders and carries them. When he tries to do too much, the mistakes can be costly."
Juan Carlos Navarro, the Wizards' 2002 second-round pick, was OK. He averaged 16.2 ppg, but shot just 40.2 percent from the field. Rockets forward Bostjan Nachbar averaged 11.8 ppg for Slovenia.
There weren't a lot of top draft prospects in Sweden this year. Most of the national teams use older, more experienced players in tournaments like these. However, Russia actually gave two potential first-round prospects, Viktor Khriapa and Sergei Monia, big minutes this year. Scouts have been split on Khriapa and Monia for the past year. Both players play for CSKA Moscow and are often platooned for each other. Khriapa is bigger, smoother and a better perimeter shooter. Monia, is strong, physical, more aggressive and a better athlete.
For the tournament, Monia averaged 11.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg on 45 percent shooting. Khriapa averaged 10.3 ppg, 6 rpg on 44.8 percent shooting.
Who's the better prospect? "I think Monia has the chance to be really good," one international scout said. "He plays the game at the right intensity. Khriapa may be a little more skilled offensively, but he doesn't always play hard and is a little soft. I think they're both mid to late first rounders, but I think Monia's the better prospect."
Ironically, both Monia and Khriapa are represented by the same American agent, Marc Fleisher. Fleisher, as it turns out, also happens to represent Kirilenko.
Serbia's Kosta Perovic is considered a lottery prospect in the 2004 NBA draft, but the skinny 7-foot-2 forward/center got just three minutes of playing time in the tournament.
Gonzaga forward Ronnie Turiaf played for the French national team, but saw just 14 minutes of action. Many scouts believe Turiaf will be a first-round selection in 2004.
Around the League
Word leaked this weekend that the Jazz's offer sheet to Jason Terry was for three years, $22.5 million with an additional $1.5 million in up-front bonuses.
Terry's contract will likely pay him $9 million in year one, and $7.5 million per year over the last two, according to one league source. The Hawks reportedly offered Terry a seven-year deal for $50 million. Terry's starting salary under the Hawks' offer would've been $5.5 million.
The big first-year number was an attempt to scare off the Hawks. Terry's contract would put them closer to the luxury-tax threshold. However, since Terrell Brandon's $11.1 million contract will likely come off the books this year when he retires, it wouldn't be enough to make them tax payers.
Hawks GM Billy Knight told ESPN's David Aldridge this weekend that he would match the Jazz's offer.
If the Hawks do match the Jazz's offer for Terry, what is Utah going to do now. The best free agents left on the board are Stephen Jackson, Tyrone Hill, Predrag Drobnjak, Jim Jackson and Vladimir Stepania.
The Jazz are currently four million below the minimum cap number required by the league. In other words, they're going to have to sign someone.
There were more rumblings this weekend that a trade might be brewing between the Raptors and Nets. The Boston Globe reported that Dikembe Mutombo has been telling friends that he believes he'll be traded to the Raptors. According to the Globe, Mutombo has a poor relationship with Nets head coach Byron Scott.
The other interesting tidbit came from the Toronto Star. The Star reported that talks between the Blazers, Raptors and Nets on a three-way that would send Antonio Davis to Portland and Mutombo to Toronto had been dead for a week. However, the Star claims that the whispers in Toronto are that Davis is done as a Raptor and may have already sold his home.
GM Glen Grunwald told the Star he expected Davis to be in training camp, but then added the caveat that he's always looking for ways to improve his team.
By Terry Brown
Monday, September 15
Updated: September 15
8:31 AM ET
Miami Heat: Lamar Odom has played for several high schools, continued his travels while a collegiate and is about to play for his second NBA team. But former Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick hasn't given up on him. "I think every young kid has got to have a chance to grow up," Harrick said in the Miami Herald. "I think Miami will reap the benefits of the growing years that the Clippers had with him. It's kind of like the guy coming to your school, and then two years after you take him he transfers, and the other school is reaping the benefits of what you sowed. There are no guarantees. Hopefully, the light switch will go on."
Atlanta Hawks: It has been 137 days since David McDavid signed a letter of intent to buy the Hawks and he's choosing his words carefully. "It has been a roller coaster ride," McDavid said in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I can't tell you how much anxiety there has been. But at the same time, I don't think I've ever felt like the deal wouldn't happen. Even when [a part] would blow up in our face, we always felt it would get put back together."