The Bucks’ Addition of Pau Gasol Continues Their Blueprint Around Giannis

Pau Gasol is the latest addition to a Bucks team that sports the NBA's best record and is loaded with floor spacers who can open things up for Giannis Antetokounmpo.
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The Bucks continued to stockpile assets ahead of their upcoming playoff run on Friday, agreeing to a deal with Pau Gasol following his buyout with the Spurs. Friday’s deal comes three weeks after Milwaukee acquired Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline, and the move to bring in Gasol signals a continuation of the team’s roster construction dating back to July 2018: surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with spacers and shooters, allowing the Greek Freak to fly into the lane unabated.

Milwaukee’s strategy has been sound thus far. The Bucks are first in the East entering Thursday night’s road matchup with the Lakers, on pace for the team’s first 60-plus win season since 1980-81. With Gasol now in tow, another weapon is in place as the Bucks gun for the Eastern Conference crown.

We should temper any significant expectations regarding the Gasol addition, though. The 7’0” Spaniard is sporting career lows in points, rebounds and minutes in 2018-19, effectively buried in San Antonio’s rotation as we enter the home stretch of the regular season. The six-time All-Star is far closer to retirement than his Lakers heyday, or even his effective two-year stint with Chicago. Gasol could very well fail to find the fountain of youth in Milwaukee, shifting his value from the hardwood to the locker room. But his championship pedigree could serve Milwaukee well, even without a significant on-court impact.

Gasol could become an asset in Milwaukee if he reverts to his 2017-18 form. He averaged 10.1 points in 23.5 minutes per game last season, shooting 35.8% from three on a career-high 120 attempts. Even a serviceable output from beyond the arc would benefit the Bucks, who have thrived with four-out lineups surrounding Antetokounmpo. Mirotic is No. 13 in the NBA in threes made per game. Brook Lopez has canned 144 triples, making more threes than Joe Harris, Luka Doncic and Eric Gordon, to put it in perspective. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has reformed Milwaukee into the league’s best three-point shooting team outside of Houston. Expect Gasol to join the party.

The Bucks sported one of the league’s most regressive offenses last season, making the fourth-least threes while ranking 20th in pace. Budenholzer’s changes have worked wonders. Milwaukee is second in points, fourth in offensive rating and fifth in pace this season, sprinting to the league’s best record through 61 games. The Bucks also have the sixth-best assist rate in the NBA, an eight-spot jump from last year’s middling attack.

Milwaukee moves the ball like a classic Spurs team on its best nights, albeit buoyed by the league’s premier physical specimen. Gasol fits right in with the Bucks’ ethos. He can still stretch the floor and share the ball in his advanced age, and will likely add a dose of veteran advice after 12 previous trips to the postseason. The Bucks will likely enter the East playoffs as the top seed, and they continue to stockpile assets around Antetokounmpo. Gasol won’t match the impact of his brother Marc in Toronto, but he should still be a valuable piece, capable of providing quality minutes when called upon.