Pau Gasol's consistency rewarded with All-NBA second team selection


Pau Gasol's consistency rewarded with All-NBA second team selection

Tom Thibodeau routinely sang the praises of Pau Gasol, saying the Spaniard was a godsend and believing Gasol was the player he could most depend on.

And Gasol was rewarded for his consistency with his fourth All-NBA selection, being named as a member of the second team, along with Russell Westbrook (OKC), Chris Paul (LAC), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento) and LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland).

LeBron James (Cleveland), MVP Stephen Curry (Golden State), James Harden (Houston), Anthony Davis (New Orleans) and Gasol’s younger brother, Marc (Memphis), headlines the first team.

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Gasol received 15 first place votes and a total of 242 total points based on a voting scale presented to media. Gasol averaged 18.5 points and a career-high 11.8 rebounds in his 14th season, resulting in his fourth All-Star appearance.

Other than San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, who made the third team, Gasol is the oldest member of the All-NBA teams at 34 years old.

Gasol made the third team in 2008-09 and 2009-10 before making the second team in 2010-11. The first two were in seasons the Lakers won NBA championships after he was acquired from Memphis in 2008.

Coming to Chicago after the Bulls lost out in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, he was believed to be a complementary piece after two struggling seasons with the Lakers where he and former coach Mike D’Antoni disagreed on how Gasol was to be used.

The Bulls beat out the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs for Gasol’s services, likely because they could offer more than a mid-level exception and also because the Bulls could feature Gasol in the offense.

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And Gasol proved night after night he still had more to offer as a focal point offensively, helping the Bulls absorb injury-induced losses to Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler as well as the health decline of frontcourt mate Joakim Noah.

Gasol gave the Bulls an offensive hub from the block and low post, often starting games off as the first option to get the Bulls to early leads, helping the Bulls to their best offensive season in years.

Intangibly, Gasol spoke out against the Bulls’ lack of urgency, repeatedly saying they couldn’t flip a switch to turn into the team they had visions on being.

Unfortunately, he was right as the Bulls fell short of their goal of getting to the Finals, but Gasol seemed to do his part.

His offensive rating of 112 pointers per 100 possessions was 10 points higher than last season, and his highest rating since 2012. Integrating himself into Thibodeau’s defense-first system resulted in his second-best defensive rating of allowing 101 points per 100 possessions, a marked improvement from giving up 108 and 106 the last two seasons.

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Who knows if Gasol’s 34.4 minutes per game played a part in his hamstring injury slowing him down early in the second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers, as he put together a 21-point, 10-rebound, four-assist masterpiece in the series opening win in Cleveland.

He began to feel tightness in the next game while playing just 21 minutes in their buzzer-beating Game 3 win before missing Games 4 and 5. Gasol returned for Game 6, giving the Bulls an emotional lift early that they couldn’t sustain.

But in a season full of change that will likely lead to more of it in the offseason, Gasol’s steadiness, should he sustain it at age 35 next season, could help stabilize the team next fall.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”