What To Expect With Gasol Back

Kurt —  November 18, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets Game 1 NBA Western Conference finals in Los Angeles
That Handel’s Messiah’s chorus you hear is Lakers fans rejoicing at the return of Pau Gasol, which will happen Thursday night against the Bulls.

It’s easy to say the Lakers will be better with their second best player back — but it’s how they will be better that could fix a lot of the Lakers issues so far this season.

There’s been a lot of focus about Kobe’s newfound post game this year, and how with it he has been a more efficient scorer. First off, that’s not really true —when you count getting to the line and three point shooting, as the true shooting percentage stat does (think of it as points per shot attempt), his numbers are basically the same as last year 55.9% to 56.1%. He is scoring more just because he is shooting more — four more shots and 1.5 more free throws per game. He is taking on more of the offense.

But with the Lakers relying on Kobe in the post, the offense has gotten stagnant. Reed emphasizes that point:

But I feel that we have been looking too hard to get him the ball, recognizing his advantage down there. This has resulted in less effective movement off the ball and cutting, and more standing around and watching Kobe isolate (although isolate in a more effective spot). Having him down there also creates an imbalance, as we lack the same perimeter/slashing/penetrating force that he created. Instead, it’s all post ups and kickouts. That’s not necessarily bad, but I think we could have more balance and flow if Kobe spent more of the game outside when Gasol returns.

Last night against Detroit, it was once again the Kobe show — a show we have seen and needed a lot this early season. But for the Lakers to really get going, they need to return to a balanced offense. With Gasol (and how well he passes) players work hard off the ball, something we have seen little of this season. It’s different than how Kobe has been getting his shots

With Gasol back Kobe will get his shots in a different way, but as Darius explains he can still get to the spots he likes on the floor.

He’ll set up more at the top of the key and the wing. He’ll be forced to take more jumpers and it’s very possible we’ll see an uptick in his 3pt FG attempts. That said, he seems very intent on getting shots closer to the basket so I think Pau’s return will mean that Kobe will likely use the other motions of the offense to still get the shots that he likes at the elbow, mid post, and at the free throw line area. I mean he can still utilize the curl from the weakside to get his middle lane jumper. He can still get to the mid post on the weak side off of the rub cut/hand off after the post man flashes to the elbow and the passer circles off him. And with Pau back, these chances will be more easily executed from a spacing and passing perspective because of Pau’s ability to pass out of the post and draw defenders attention when he’s on the floor.

Bynum has also been a force this early season, and the Lakers can’t go away from him. However, the number of touches he gets likely will drop, and the question becomes how he deals with that. For Bynum, and Kobe, it’s all mental, a point Zephid makes.

We know that both of these are simply mental adjustments by Bynum and Kobe; it’s not as if they’re not physically capable of adjusting to off-ball roles. It’s whether they’re willing to accept the reality that Gasol is simply a better focal point of our offense that will affect whether our offense goes stagnant or not.

Bynum should still be on the block plenty, which means more of Gasol away from the basket, something we saw parts of last year before Bynum was injured. Darius recalls what we saw last year.

We may actually see the expansion to Pau’s game that we anticipated and got glimpses of last season. Remember, when last season started, Pau had just come off the Olympics and he was really flashing his mid range jumpshot. He was making that shot from the baseline and the elbow extended all the way out to 18 feet. Then, Bynum went down and Pau went back to playing Center and playing off of Odom. This lead to Pau spending more time on the block and by the end of the season he did not seem to have the same touch (or confidence) on that shot.

Simply put, the Lakers are 17th in the Association right now in offensive efficiency, a sign not of their talent but the execution of the offense to get the shots they want. The return of Pau should start to return some spacing and movement to the offense that has been lacking. And when that happens, better shots will follow. And when that happens, suddenly we may start to see the Lakers we remember from last season.