Five things Pau Gasol needs for a successful season
This is the fourth post in a series focusing on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2012-13 season.
1. Pau Gasol should be prepared for a heavier workload. There are issues that I’ll note later on his exact role on the team. But the most immediate concern involves whether Gasol can play substantially heavier minutes to open the season. There’s a good chance Lakers center Dwight Howard will stay sidelined for the season opener Oct. 30 against Dallas and beyond. That means it’s possible Gasol will move over at center and play alongside either Antawn Jamison or Jordan Hill. Regardless of how that plays out, Gasol will have an opportunity to take early command of the offense. But it will also test whether Gasol can handle the added minutes.
Two years ago, Gasol went through what could be a similar scenario. Andrew Bynum missed the first 24 games while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. At first, it seemed seamless. An off-season filled with rest helped Gasol win Western Conference player of the month in November. But then the heavier minutes and the lack of a backup center caused a never-ending spiral where he began lacking consistent energy and aggressiveness.
Gasol enters this season with varying circumstances that make it hard to predict whether he could handle the heavier workload. He spent this past summer competing in the London Olympics, meaning he’ll be more conditioned yet less rested opening the season. Gasol also will have more front court depth to work with, including Jamison, Hill and maybe even Robert Sacre. Two years ago, the Lakers had an injured Theo Ratliff and an inexperienced Derrick Caracter. Regardless, Gasol faces both a good opportunity and a challenge.
2. Gasol should play with consistent aggressiveness. With no prospect of getting traded, Gasol won’t lack confidence as he did at times last season. But he still can’t let a possible limited offensive role frustrate him. As it turned out last season, Gasol’s reduced offensive responsibilities reflected an indictment more on the Lakers misusing his talent. Regardless, Gasol needs to center his focus on battling for rebounds, playing consistent defense and ensuring he and Dwight Howard complement each other in the post.
3. Gasol needs to use his smarts to maximize the Princeton offense. The Lakers plan to use part of that system, which emphasizes spacing and passing. Gasol’s versatility and strong basketball IQ makes him a great player for that system, and it’s one he’ll need to execute well. There’s no doubt he’s easily capable of doing that. Gasol spent all of last season mostly playing a facilitating role. Because of his unselfishness, Gasol seems most suited in making sure the offense on the front court runs smoothly. Doing so will ensure both maximum post touches and for teammates to receive the ball.
4. Gasol needs to be more assertive with his teammates. Every so often, Gasol will openly gripe about the Lakers’ stagnant offense. But rarely will he air those concerns with Kobe Bryant or with Coach Mike Brown directly. That reflects part of Gasol’s professionalism and desire to avoid problems. But it also contributes the Lakers to sweeping such issues under the rug. When there are times Bryant is shooting too much or everyone is passing to ball to everyone but him, Gasol needs to put his foot down. This isn’t about satisfying Gasol’s want for touches. That’s not going to be realistic for anyone on this team, considering its strong starting lineup. This is more about making sure Gasol isn’t left on an island as he sometimes seemed to be last season.
5. Gasol needs to have good chemistry with Howard. The Lakers offense appears so dangerous because of the overwhelming talent. For Howard and Gasol, they could become an unstoppable front court duo because of their pick-and-roll execution and unstoppable height advantage in the post. Yet, it’s going to be critical that the two establish a good rapport so that they’re complementing each other instead of stepping in each other’s way.
That could happen naturally since Howard is a back-to-the-basket center, while Gasol can operate both in the low and high post. But as far as receiving low-post touches and pick-and-rolls, Howard and Gasol will need to find a balance so that they’re running those sets with Nash in a seamless way. It would be unhealthy for both to expect they’d run an equal amount of pick-and-roll sets or receive a similar amount of entry passes. But as long as they approach these two principles in the interest of ensuring an open look for themselves or someone else, the dynamic should work out well.
Gasol’s team-first mentality should set a good example that Howard will need to adopt to fully accept a reduced role relative to what he had with the Orlando Magic.
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