It’s A Good Day To Be A Lakers Fan

Kurt —  February 2, 2008

How often have we looked at one of those seemingly lopsided trades — ones that would be protested in any fantasy league — and say, “Why can’t our GM pull one of those off?”

Well, now he has, and Mitch Kupchak deserves a lot of credit. He’s taken an unworldly amount of heat from fans and media, but note what commenter kwame a. pointed out:

every player on this team except Kobe has been acquired or drafted by Mitch.

And that is a very deep and very versatile roster. That’s what Gasol brings that will fit so well on this team and in this offense — the Lakers can be a matchup problem for just about anyone. I’ll let Reed break it down:

We also have the most flexible team in the league, with so many possible combinations.

Pure talent: Farmar, Kobe, Odom, Gasol, Bynum

Passing and intelligence: Fisher, Kobe, Walton, Odom, Gasol; or: Fisher, Kobe, Walton, Gasol, Bynum

Speed/energy: Farmar, Sasha, Ariza, Odom, Turiaf; or: Farmar, Sasha, Kobe, Ariza, Turiaf

Defense: Fisher, Kobe, Ariza, Turiaf/Odom, Bynum

Shooting: Fisher, Sasha, Kobe, Radmanovic, Turiaf

Big: Kobe, Ariza, Odom, Gasol, Bynum

Small: Fisher, Farmar, Kobe, Ariza/Walton, Odom

The possibilities go on and on. This smells like a title team.

I asked the guys from the very good Three Shades of Blue blog that covers the Grizzlies for some insights into Pau. Chip sent in this:

Pau Gasol is one of the most talented big men in the game. He can score with either hand and is nearly unstoppable when aggressive against single coverage. He is also unselfish with the ball and when outnumbered is extremely good at finding the open man. His passes are usually on target which can lead to a lot of open shots for teammates. His range is almost out to the three-point line but he is most effective when his back is to the basket within a few feet of the paint. He has a quick first step that can beat most bigs to the hoop as well.

The problem for Memphis has been not having that second scorer that can keep Gasol from being constantly double teamed. Gasol is extremely weak. He is a turnover waiting to happen when holding the ball as it is easily slapped out of his hand and can easily be knocked off the post by stronger players. Most teams defend Gasol with their center because Pau wears out quickly from being leaned on and that has made him ineffective late in games. His free throw shooting has dramatically improved this season but not unlike Shaq, you don’t want him on the line when the game is in doubt.

Pau’s weaknesses on defense are well known but also somewhat exaggerated. He is adequate defending big men but struggles denying drives into the lane. In Memphis this often made him look out of place defensively since he struggled denying lay-ups from slashers in the lane and when he was able to stop the drive it was rare that someone rotated to cover his man. Gasol’s blocks usually are off the ball helping out teammates instead of in someone’s face. This gives him the reputation of being a poor defender. He isn’t great but he is better than it appeared in Memphis.

Rebounds come to Gasol because of his size but he struggles when forced to muscle a board in a crowd. His numbers usually come from long rebounds and situations when the defense is retreating on defense. He is not someone to count on getting the important boards in crunch time.

What I (and many commenters here) have noted is that the things that are weaknesses in Pau’s game are things he will not be asked to do a ton of in LA, once Bynum returns. It is Bynum that blocks shots in the paint, Bynum that grabs all those boards, Bynum that can body the big center on the other team. What I’ve seen of him, particularly in international ball where he is surrounded by good talent, is that he understands the team game. He’s got a great basketball IQ. And those things will help him thrive in Phil Jackson’s system.

Josh from Three Shades of Blue added a few quirky things to look for:

Checking for blood. He hasn’t done it much this season, but it is a Gasol staple move after getting smacked in the face and not receiving a call.

The Jersey Pop. He busted that one out this year and often does it at seemingly strange moments, like he’s not entirely sure when to use it. It is high comedy.

The way he offsets his lower jaw while shooting free throws.

On the flip side of this trade, I really hope for the best for Javaris Crittenton, I think he is very talented and when he learns to get his game under control he is going to be very good. I hope Kwame is happy wherever he ends up.

And I hope, for the sake of the fans in Memphis, that their ownership (whoever it might be by next year) and their GM really do have a good plan. As regular readers here know, I believe that organizations win – there’s a reason the Lakers win so much under Buss, that the Spurs have been so good for so long, that Detroit has done what it has done. These are organizations with a top-down plan. Memphis, if it really has one of those, is in a position with some smart drafts and signings to do what Portland had done in recent years. This kind of rebuilding chance is somewhat rare. We’ll see what they do with it.

As for me, I’m going to open some really good scotch and soak this all in for a little while longer. It’s a good day to be a Lakers fan.