Rediscovering Pau Gasol
Perhaps the key question this year for the Lakers is whether or not Pau Gasol can fit into Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and play alongside fellow big man Dwight Howard.
Gasol’s best years were alongside Lamar Odom but Gasol has gradually been pushed further and further from the basket with the emergence of Andrew Bynum (and now Howard).
In the Lakers’ 118-115 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, the first game under D’Antoni with Steve Nash in the lineup, the team went often to Gasol in the high post. The forward/center would watch for cutting players, looking first for the pass and then the shot (six assists total).
“It feels good. From the elbow, from the post, there’s some movement. There’s some action,” said Gasol. “I will try to find the open guy and get easy looks from those positions.”
It’s a role similar to the one Chris Webber played in Sacramento when paired with center Vlade Divac. With Howard more likely to be in the low post, it could be the way D’Antoni gets the most out of Gasol.
“That’s a way,” said Gasol. “It’s a good way for us to have good spacing, to have movement and to find easy looks or good looks at least on offense.”
Kobe Bryant is confident in Gasol helping to quarterback the offense.
“Oh, he’s great at it. He’s the best big in the league at it,” said Bryant. “We run the offense through him a lot and he makes plays for a lot of people, makes a lot of guys better because of that. Dwight can feast off of that.”
Gasol looked uncomfortable earlier in the season. Some of that had to do with tendinitis in both knees but he was admittedly searching in his initial role, trying to play as a stretch four. It’s still a work in progress but some rest (and the return of Nash) may help rejuvenate Gasol’s season.
D’Antoni was happy with how his offense ran late in the game against the Warriors, despite Howard’s foul trouble.
“A little bit better, better, much better,” said D’Antoni. “We’re going to have some bumps. We’re still not there. We’re running better. Again, Steve’s the best at running any offense you can design. It had to get better.”
Bryant said he’s happy to shift to a role of scorer/finisher instead of the team’s primary offensive initiator, a role he had to take on while Nash sat out seven weeks with a leg injury.
“You saw me and Steve in the last game, I just slid right off the ball and let Steve do what he does best,” said Bryant.
The Lakers have resisted the urge to trade Gasol, instead opting to give this team’s core a chance to prove itself. Nash is another fan of what Gasol brings to the floor.
“I think that’s something that should become a huge part of our team,” said Nash of Gasol’s play in the high post. “His size, his ability to pass and shoot should be deadly in the elbows and at the foul lines. Hopefully we can find a rhythm and timing together where he can really exploit that position where he’s catching the ball with people trying to recover to him.”
So far much of the Lakers’ 13-14 record was the result playing through injuries. Now that the team is nearer to full strength, D’Antoni has the opportunity to mix together a talented squad of players.
It’s still not clear if the Lakers have the perfect combination of players. Gasol is still playing far from the basket and will be relied on to hit jump shots instead of playing in the low post.
Defensively the Lakers have size but lack in speed and quickness, even if Howard is far more agile than Bynum ever was. D’Antoni is still searching for a rotation to offset the team’s flaws.
The answer isn’t clear yet but the Lakers should be a lot better than what they showed through the first 26 games before Nash’s return on Saturday.
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