Talking Pau

Kurt —  February 27, 2008

There’s a discussion going on in the comments from last night’s game that I think deserves a little more space. That is, a breakdown of how Pau Gasol is fitting in with the Lakers 11 games in.

I think we’re all various degrees of ecstatic with Gasol — the Lakers are 10-1 with him in the lineup, and he’s averaging 21.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. But that doesn’t break down his game, so Reed started the conversation:

Now that I’ve seen Pau for a full 10 games, I thought I’d weigh in on my general impressions. I’m sure a lot of this has been said better elsewhere.

1. The best possible triangle big man. I honestly cannot think of another big whose skills better translate to the triangle, even if I can think of a few players I’d rather have for broader reasons (Garnett, Duncan, etc.). For the triangle to work at peak efficiency, the big must be able to do a number of different things at a high level — score on the block, make the midrange shot, score in isolation, pick and roll and pick and pop, attack from either block and with either hand, run the high pick and roll or baseline pick and roll, pass to cutters when isolating, pass after rolling, pass to the corner shooters, catch difficult passes, etc., etc. There are bigs who can do most of these things well, and a few who do some things better than Pau, but I’m not sure anyone does all of them collectively as well as he does. When put in the fluid triangle system with players who know the offense and are highly skilled, Pau becomes ridiculously efficient.

2. Since joining LA, his true shooting percentage is 67.4%. (eFG 63.2%) That would place him at number one on the season (slightly ahead of James Jones, Bynum, Amare, Nash, etc.). Is this sustainable? I think we’re bound to see some regression to the mean, but not as much as you might expect. With the triangle’s spacing, the team’s passing, and the attention Kobe demands, Pau is much more free to attack and find high % shots than ever before. Last year, his efg% was 54.1% (9% lower than with LA now), but 55% of his attempts were jump shots and 49% of his baskets were assisted. With LA, only 40% of his attempts are from the perimeter and a whopping 69% are assisted. This makes sense. He was the focal point of every defense in Memphis and surrounded by poor shooters (besides Miller) and undisciplined point guards. Now, he has Kobe commanding all the attention and shooters spacing the floor — so he is going to get a higher % of easy and assisted looks. Obviously, interior and assisted shots are much more likely to be high %, so it is reasonable to believe that he can sustain a blistering shooting rate, even if a step beyond his career norms.

3. An awful rebounder. He’s probably the worst rebounder of the elite big men. It’s been apparent the last 10 games that he simply does not get difficult rebounds in traffic. Ever. In fact, he never really gets any rebound that doesn’t fall to him uncontested. The numbers back this up. His rebound rate is 11.7 (the % of missed shots he rebounds when on the court) — good for 96th in the league and worse than heavyweights like Memo Okur, Juan Dixon, Yi, Darko, Kwame, etc. (and .1 better than Lebron). Elite rebounders are near a rate of 20 (Howard, Camby, Chandler, Kaman, Duncan, and Bynum are all above 19.0). Pau is not only worse, he’s a lot worse — rebounding at about 50% of their rate. I’m not sure if the problem is lack of strength, leaping ability, or some combination, but he’s clearly not a reliable presence on the boards. Thankfully, this weakness is almost totally masked by the presence of Bynum and Odom, who are both elite rebounders by any measure. They will get the tough, contested boards, allowing Pau to focus on scoring. Hopefully Odom finds a way to crash down and help out when he moves to the 3.

4. Defense. About as expected — just okay. He’s too thin to keep strong attacking bigs away from the basket, but is pretty crafty at denying position and drawing charges. He has length to affect some shots, but doesn’t have the leaping ability to be a real shotblocking presence (like Andrew) — Pau’s blocks are usually against a blind penetrator who didn’t see him coming and increase trajectory. I think he’ll be a solid, maybe even fantastic, secondary interior defender, but would be a real problem as our first line of defense against Duncan/Amare/Boozer if Bynum doesn’t come back.

Thankfully, his strengths (interior scoring in the triangle) are not redundant and his weaknesses are probably totally masked by Bynum/Odom — making him the perfect fit for our team. There are other bigs producing at similar rates (Amare, Boozer, etc.) but I don’t think any would fit so seamlessly into our system given our personnel.

One commenter, Drrayeye, has been on the “Lakers need Pau” wagon longer than any of us. He has put in his two cents that we have not yet seen everything Gasol can do.

He can be a chamelion–sometimes a rebounder, sometimes a passer, sometimes a shot blocker, sometimes someone who “shuts down” an opponents–and sometimes an important part of a fast strike offense.

One thing that he can’t be is everything all at once.

All he does for the Lakers is win.

I have been following Pau for over a year very carefully, and I learned a great deal about his exploits in Spain and Memphis. In Spain, he was sort of a Kobe Bryant figure–bigger than life–the guy who takes the winning shot–or makes the key block or steal. In Memphis, he was the Saviour who was mere mortal–and never forgiven for it by the fans. Although the “Shades of Blue” guys in Memphis all loved and admired Pau, many fans ultimately soured on him: for “reasons” like those you’ve expressed.

Pau Gasol is a fine rebounder, but he is currently valued for many other things as well. He, Kobe, and Lamar have somehow split up a whole host of responsibilities rather effectively in a teamsmanship framework. It’s made the whole team better. On offense, Pau is Kobe’s “get out of jail free” card, forcing the opposition to weaken their double teams, making extremely high percentage shots and great passes. On defense, he has been a jack of all trades–but not always totally aware of his team role. That will evolve.

Count me in with those not convinced Pau is a great rebounder and is a solid if unspectacular defender. But once paired with Bynum, it is a perfect blend.