Tom Thibodeau: Pau Gasol can be a “great” defender

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Tom Thibodeau expects a lot from his players defensively. The Chicago Bulls have built their identity since he took over in 2010 on punishing defense, posting a top-five mark in the NBA in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) each of the past four years. When it comes to the Bulls’ headlining offseason acquisition, veteran big man Pau Gasol, Thibodeau likes what he sees so far but thinks he’s capable of better. From ESPNChicago.com:

“He could do better,” Thibodeau said. “He’s done well, but I think he could be great. That’s what I want him to be. He’s got great length, he’s got great timing. He’s smart. He can anticipate. He’s still not communicating as well as he’s capable of, but he’s done well thus far.”

Gasol is a terrific offensive compliment to the Bulls’ front line, but “great” is probably a bit optimistic when it comes to the 34-year-old’s defensive contributions at this point. He had a terrific defensive showing Saturday night in the Bulls’ preseason win over the Milwaukee Bucks, blocking Jabari Parker’s shot and generally doing a good job protecting the rim. But the Bucks are one of the worst teams in the league, and Gasol had trouble with Detroit’s Greg Monroe on Tuesday during Chicago’s overtime loss to the Pistons.

Gasol is far past his peak as a defender at this point, given his age and various injuries he’s dealt with in recent years. But against certain undersized opponents, he can be useful as a rim protector alongside Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson. He’s the closest thing the Bulls have to one, and having a seven-footer in the paint allows Noah to guard stretch-fours on the perimeter, which gives the Bulls added versatility on the defensive end. But, again, the consistency isn’t there for Gasol. Not yet.