In February of 2008 the Los Angeles Lakers seemingly got away with murder, at least in the eyes of every non-Lakers fan. Los Angeles traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and 2 future first round picks (2008 and 2010) for Pau Gasol.
This immediately catapulted the Lakers from a mid-level playoff team to a perennial favorite. At the time, people around the NBA knew the sky was the limit for the Lakers when you combined Gasol with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. Even looking back now, the Lakers managed 2 championships in 4 years despite Andrew Bynum seemingly getting injured as often as a Kevin James movie bombed.
Over the past few years, Gasol’s role has seemed to be constantly changing. When he is asked to run a high screen pick and roll, he is one of the best big men in the game. However when he is asked to provide muscle down low, he hasn’t been able to hold his own. Asking Gasol to be a team enforcer is unfair, just like asking Seth Rogen to play an attractive male role in a movie. They both need to be put in the right situation to excel.
These Gasol limitations are what made the Dwight Howard acquisition seem perfect. While Gasol looks like he just emerged from sleeping in a van for the past week, Howard looks more like a professional wrestler than a basketball player. Howard could play down low, blocking shots at will and grabbing any rebound that came his way. This would free Gasol up and allow him to roam a bit further from the basket, perhaps to set screens for a cutting Bryant or even to roll off screens for open jumpers. He should be living 6 -9 feet from the basket.
With the Lakers barely clinging to a 8-8 record as we now enter December, Laker fans are left to wonder “What is wrong with Gasol?”
Based on what I have seen of Gasol in the last few years, it looks like he has been asked to fit into too many different roles for the Lakers. This consistent changing of expectations has seemed to have sapped Gasol of any confidence he has in his ability and game. Prior to the famous 2008 trade, Gasol was averaging 20.8 points a game in Memphis. Every year since has seen a steady decline in that average until he has now landed at 13.1 points per game this season (a career low). Some of this decline is expected as he went from being the only real basketball player on a team to joining forces with one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history but the severity is alarming.
“. . . the only way for this to change, for any progress to be achieved, is to get Gasol – and the rest of the Lakers for that matter – back to playing to his strengths. I’m talking about additional post-ups, utilizing him off more pick-and-rolls; I’m talking about playing him within nine feet of the basket more.”
Lately Pau has wandered further and further away from the basket for his shots, including some 3 point shots. That isn’t how he is going to help the Lakers. He needs to let our perimeter and bench players take care of the outside, while he re-discovers his short-range dominance.
Of course some consistently good free-throw shooting wouldn’t hurt either.