Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, & the Battle for the Low Block

Darius Soriano —  August 12, 2013

What we have is a player that in 4 of the past 5 years has posted better PER’s as a C while also being one of the best post up players in the league. Yet, the running notion is that he’s better off playing a different position. It seems, what we’ve done is mistaken Pau’s versatility to play PF as an indicator that he’sbetter playing that position. We’ve overvalued his height advantage, overplayed his strength deficiency, and concluded that his best fit is one that explores the facets of his game that aren’t as strong (his mid-range shooting) as the ones he’s used to his advantage his entire career in both the NBA and internationally (his post up game). The reality is, though, what we’ve really done is not looked closely enough at the advantages of him playing C.

That’s an excerpt from a post written last summer. At the time, Gasol was clearly on the trade block and the argument was pretty simple: Pau Gasol, to be at his best, needs to play more Center and whether he stayed in Los Angeles or was shipped to another team, he needed to get back to playing more in that spot in order to get back to being the player we knew him to be.

Well, we all know what happened next. The Lakers traded Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard and, with that acquisition, Pau spent another season playing a lot of PF and saw his offensive numbers and efficiency once again slip. It didn’t help that Pau battled numerous injuries, nor did it help that Mike D’Antoni initially jerked around his role by turning him into a sixth man where he clearly wasn’t as comfortable (or happy). But, ultimately, Pau’s struggles can mostly be linked to him spending more time away from the basket, roaming around the perimeter and becoming a stretch-y PF who didn’t spend enough time as a scoring option from his preferred spots at the elbow and the low block.

Heading into next season, however, that can all change. Dwight Howard is in Houston and Andrew Bynum is in Cleveland. There is no younger player to appease with touches or to feed the ball to encourage his growth. Pau is, once again, the clear cut best big man post option on the team and should see the majority of the touches on his preferred spot on the left block.

Of course, what should happen isn’t always what will happen. Especially not after the team signed Chris Kaman this summer nor with Mike D’Antoni hinting that those two may be on the floor together a fair amount. Per a conversation D’Antoni had with Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA:

“I think they’re very complimentary to each other in the sense of both of them can play 15-feet and in, both of them can post up, both of them move the ball real well, they can pass. So, I think their games will be kind of easily put together and I think sometimes, depending on the mismatches, who has the better back-to-the-basket opportunities and who needs to space a little bit. So, I feel a lot of things can happen and both of them can pass the ball real well, so, I just see them kind of blending in together pretty easily. A lot easier than it was last year (with Dwight Howard), let’s put it that way.”

It’s not like D’Antoni is off-base here. Kaman and Pau do have more complimentary offensive games, simply because Kaman is a more versatile offensive player than Dwight through his ability to hit the mid-range jumper. Theoretically, Kaman could play at the elbow or slide to the short corner along the baseline and act as a release valve on offense and still be a threat to score. Plus, picking on the opposition’s lesser big man defender by attacking him with either Pau or Kaman on the block sounds like a good strategy and could have its benefits by creating deep post touches that lead to easy baskets or quick kick-out passes to open shooters.

That said, my hope is that even if Pau and Kaman do spend time together on the floor, that Pau is still the featured post player on most possessions regardless of match ups. Gasol is the better player from the block (while Kaman, at least based off last year’s numbers, is the far superior mid-range shooter) and he should be dictating the flow of the game from the post rather than floating around the perimeter. In season’s past Pau has shown that when he’s encouraged to spend time on the wing, he’ll embrace that role and won’t always force his way to the block where he’s more of a threat to create his own shot. Drilling him that he needs to be in the post more should, hopefully, get him to readjust his game back to being more of a low post oriented one.

This doesn’t mean that Pau can’t play at the high post. He can do damage from the elbows out of the team’s HORNS sets and those options should not be abandoned; they open up options for multiple players (including Kobe and Nash) and give Pau the chance to be a playmaker from a spot on the floor where he can see the entire defense. Taking advantage of his elite passing skill is an excellent way to keep the defense off balance while also involving the rest of the team with motion based sets.

However, in the end, if the Lakers are looking to get the most out of Pau, his first priority should be trying to establish deep position and work to get the ball 12 feet and in. There are several ways to accomplish this — straight post ups, HORNS actions where he’s the screener rather than the passer, pick and roll plays where he dives into the lane looking for a secondary post up rather than a traditional roll — but the goal should be to make this happen as often as possible, regardless of who his big man partner is.

Because while Pau is supremely talented and can play from multiple spots on the floor, the data doesn’t lie. He’s still one of the better post up players in the league and still has the ability to create shots for himself and his teammates when he’s working from the post. The Lakers can’t afford to make the same mistakes they’ve made in year’s past by mistaking Pau’s ability to play away from the hoop as the best strategy to maximize his game.

Darius Soriano

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33 responses to Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, & the Battle for the Low Block

  1. Pau is one of the best post players ever. Keep him in there.

    Kamen can shoot the rock in lotsa areas within the arc. Keep him in there.

    Both players are liabilities on defense. Don’t keep both of them in there.

  2. Based off what I’ve seen the past year is Pau is really struggling to score vs the bigger centers in the post. Something to watch for this year.

  3. With regard to Pau & Kaman, hope the coaching powers that be are listening..uuh, reading Darius!
    _____
    From the previous post,
    the only thing I´ll say is this:
    THANK THE B.BALL UNIVERSE THAT MAMBA IS A LAKER!

    that is all… ; )

  4. Pau is just tall as heck and people need to keep in mind that if they are not that tall they have no clue what they would feel like if their knees had to carry that type of height and weight.

  5. Since Pau is rehabing both knees,I`m waiting to see his physical condition in Oct. I think many of his problems last season can be traced to his physical condition. If he works as hard as Kobe in Aug and Sept,we should see an improved Pau at C. Still worry about his D.

  6. Pau: Let’s see what his condition is and then give him a role and then stick with it. Among the many things that MD did last year that I did not like, one of them was to mess with Pau’s head, and bench him at the end of games, not making clear what his role was, questioning the whole twin towers thing, and who knows what else.
    Purple: Saw Black Sabbath in Tampa, Godsmack in Atlantic City, and Metallica in San Diego. I need lots of angry music to get me ready for this coming season.

  7. Robert! hahahaha, you´re the man!
    & Ozzy is still `crazy´ as ever, & thank heavens!

  8. Good post.

    The problem with playing Pau and Kaman at teh same time will be more on D than on O, as everyone knows.

  9. Several people (including MDA) have talked about the efficacy of pairing Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman (although the benefits of playing them together are all on offense, not on defense).

    I actually believe that the most attractive pairing of big men for the Lakers will be Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill. If you think of it, these are perfectly complimentary players primarily because they are so very different.

    Gasol is skilled, elegant, and graceful. Hill is a dynamic rebounder and defender, high-energy, physical, and determined. Gasol (when healthy) excels at scoring in the post and brilliant, unparalleled passing for a big man. Hill is superb at defending the P&R and grabs every rebound in the building. Gasol is a 5. Hill is a 4.

    Hill’s numbers, furthermore are intriguing. In 15 minutes 47 seconds per game last year, he averaged 6.7 points on 49.7% shooting and 5.7 rebounds (2.8 of those on offense). If he were to double his minutes this coming year, his averages would increase (potentially) to 13.4 ppg and 11.4 rpg in only 31 minutes.

    Last year, there was some evidence that Gasol and Hill actually play well together. If given a full chance to work together harmoniously, they could actually provide a front court that could, to a degree, be surprisingly formidable. Of course, they need to remain completely healthy. But that is another topic.

  10. http://basketball.realgm.com/wiretap/229366/DAntoni-Assigns-Jordan-Hill-To-Become-Stretch-Four

    Jordan Hill has been assigned a role this year, something I’m hoping would work. If he could prove his offensive efficiency errr decency from this range, we’re in for a good surprise. I for one like his ability to defend (not because he likes to but because he can) … he has decent blocking numbers and insane rebounding rate. That said he could be the diamond in the rough all along.

    Its also important not to play Kaman and Pau together against a young, uptempo team. Unless we plan to be blown out by 30 and have a worse transition and perimeter defense than last season.

    Offensively, Kaman and Gasol are “interchangeable” to an extent. Both players have good to decent mid-range games as centers and legitimate 7-footers. I like our ability to remain versatile when one other center has to rest.

    My concern is the backup 3/4 position. This is where we could really use another wide-ish body with decent range. I don’t pertain to Lamar Odom because he will only compound our inability to run. This is where Steve Blake can be traded for someone who can fill this role.

  11. Not so sure how much burn Hill is going to get under dantoni – report

    Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni told Jordan Hill that he needed to work on his outside jump shot to stay on the floor this season.

    “I just want to be a stretch 4,” Hill said. “Just try to spread the floor a little bit, just show a little range.” Hill made 33.3 percent of his jump shots, but was sixth in the league in rebounds per 36 minutes and shot 64.7 percent at the rim. If he stays healthy and his shooting improves, which he says it has, he could have value on a Lakers team with very little depth.

    Now I hope its not just me, and while Hill can shoot those elbow jumpers … he is not a stretch 4 and with his offensive rebounding ability why would we want him to be …. Dantoni already up to his old idiot tricks

  12. I’ve been screaming from the rafters for many many threads about the Jordan Hill problem. He is talented enough but his skill set won’t let him play on the court much on this roster with this coach’s system.

    Lakers really need a true stretch 4. Kaman and Gasol while interesting on offense are a nightmare on defense. Currently I am praying Kelly manages to play adequate D to get into the line-up.

    I’m a big fan of Gasol and I do think playing at center hes going have a big year if he can remain healthy.

  13. I like the Pau/Hill pairing. I basically like any of the available pairings w/Pau at the 5. The issues with Pau away from the basket on offense are not a big concern, as long as that is not his main base of operation. He needs to be the cog in the post. All that said, on defense I think the Lakers’ weakness these last seasons since PJ’s last one, has been covered well in this article. The one problem with Hill is that his man D is not very good. That said, I prefer seeing him on the fleeter footed big men than either Pau or Kamen. Lets hope he stays healthy. One more key component is with quick footed perimeter players we may actually see the big men better supported on penetration, not needing to scramble so much, and instead to shift within the designed scheme.

  14. There are a few obvious reasons Pau has posted better numbers when playing center 4 of the last 5 seasons.

    *He has started at PF for the majority of those seasons so when he is playing Center he is mostly playing against back ups.

    *Centers are very bad in today’s NBA. Especially back up centers. So playing against weaker compitition will always result in better production.

    *Playing at Center (closer to the basket) will always improve a big mans individual production. They take higher percentage shots closer to the basket.

    Basketball is not played in a vacuum. It doesnt matter if Pau puts up better offensive numbers while playing back up Center. What matters is if the team is better with the slight of frame Pau at Center. The answer is of course no. He can’t play defense. And at Center that weakness is even more devastating as his job is to be the last line of defense. Even last year Kaman put up better numbers offensivley than Pau Gasol. So if I had a choice of starting Gasol at Center or Kaman at Center it’s an easy choice.

  15. Asking Jordan Hill to, all of a sudden, become a ‘stretch 4′ is the equivalent to asking Nash to, all of a sudden, finish a fast break with a 2-handed backwards dunk .. It’s just not going to happen.

    Sounds to me as if D’Antoni is already planting the seed for an excuse as to the question, ‘why isn’t Hill getting more playing time?’

  16. Taking Hill away from the basket.where he is most effective on both ends? Why try to remake Hill into something he`s not,instead of having him improve on the things he does. Great rebounder.,fair shot blocker and D, fair mid range jumper,zero 3pt shot.

  17. I agree with other posters on Hill. The last thing anyone would call him is a stretch 4. They are better off trading him. This basically means one of the team’s best rebounders is either a) going to be moved away from the hoop where he is most effective or b) become a permanent bench warmer.

    Why doesn’t D’Antoni just run five guards and get it over with?

  18. Pau can play both positions but when he’s at the 4 he becomes less aggressive and settles for jumpers. I think playing Pau with Hill would be perfect in a different system, but I think the versatility of Kaman and Pau will be the best combination in a D’antoni offense. I’m just wondering what the starting lineup will be without Kobe.

  19. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni told Jordan Hill that he needed to work on his outside jump shot to stay on the floor this season.

    If D’Antoni actually believes this is a good idea and sees it as an accurate assessment of where Hill fits on this team, then MDA has a very limited understanding of the team’s current frontcourt personnel.

  20. what the heck is wrong with Hill working on his shot?
    he doesn’t have a bad shot, why not work on it?

  21. In reference to Mike D wanting to make Hill a jump shooter I can only quote Forest Gump.

    “Stupid is what stupid does”

  22. Nothing is wrong with Hill working on his shot. But if D’Antoni is actually going to

    a) Try to make Hill into a Stretch 4 and play him away from the basket
    b) Not play him much due to his outside shooting not fitting what D’Antoni wants on a team with a roster this weak

    Then D’Antoni is being foolish.

    Here is a recent Tweet by one DS on the subject:

    Not sure I’m feeling Jordan Hill as a stretch 4, btw. I’m all for him taking his jumper w/ confidence, but he’s much better near the rim.

  23. ESPN is running some early projections:

    ESPN Summer Forecast, No. 12 in West: Los Angeles Lakers (36-46). #ESPNForecast

    http://t.co/XX4UXLYP7L

  24. Hill, like most players, need to work on several aspects of his game. But, as I tweeted, Hill mustn’t be forced into any sort of role that doesn’t maximize his strengths. Him taking a couple (or more) mid-range shots a game, isn’t ideal, but it also isn’t the end of the world *if* it also doesn’t interfere with his ability to hit the offensive glass hard or be a finisher near the basket. And, as rr implied, if Hill not being able to stretch the floor limits his ability to see floor time when he’s clearly one of the better defenders/rebounders in the front court, then that is a problem in terms of maximizing this roster. That said, we’re a long way from seeing how this plays out and we’re pretty much commenting about a player’s role in August, which, in and of itself, isn’t that productive considering we haven’t seen any games yet.

  25. Well, that is why I started my post with the words If D’Antoni actually believes. Coaches say a lot of stuff in August, so we will just have to see what MDA does. But I don’t see this as a good sign.

  26. I would add that D’Antoni’s history with Hill makes this worth noting. It may be that MDA has no intention at this point of keeping Hill off the floor, but he has done so in the past.

  27. Whether it is August, November, or April, it seems we are always talking about how a particular player doesn’t quite fit in MD’s system, or doesn’t quite do things the way MD wants them to. This happened with Pau, Dwight, AJ, and this is Hill’s second time in the barrel. The fact that the words “better fit for our roster” were uttered both in the press and on this board, is beyond comical at this point.

  28. The fact that the words “better fit for our roster” were uttered both in the press and on this board, are beyond comical at this point.

    I explained in that email in detail why I backed the hire originally–short version: Nash is here, Nash is supposed to be fun to play with, Howard and Nash seemed to be a great PnR combo, Howard likes to have fun, and I thought MDA would get that going.

    Note that all the guys you are talking about except Howard play the 4. D’Antoni obviously wants a 4 who can shoot the 3; that is why they drafted Kelly. But, at the time of the hire, I said that I thought MDA would adjust to his players. He did, a bit, but not as much IMO as some have said. So, in that vein, the fact is that Hill is the best 4 on the team; indeed, he is the only 4 on the team who has proved he can play in the NBA, if we assume Pau is a 5. Regardless of what Hill can or can’t do, or what MDA thinks of him, he should be playing serious minutes. If MDA doesn’t want to play him, they should, as noted, trade him.

  29. Lakers have ran with 3 bigs for some time now. Knowing Pau and Kaman are fragile players at this stage of their career, the need for a 3rd big is necessary. Huge possibility Hill won’t shoot mid to high 30s on 3s to stay on the floor. I wonder who those minutes go to. Sacre? Kelly? Harris?

  30. rr: The comment was not directed at you specifically, it merely appeared after yours : ) That said. The point about matching the roster is a sore point with me, because I felt strongly at the time that we had lost our minds in not choosing Phil, and the most frequent reason given for that was the “roster match”. The fact that MD turned out to be a poor match for our 2nd and 3rd most important players (Howard and Pau), and our 2 top bench players (AJ + Hill), is a little ironic – given the original reasoning. You are making a good point about the 4 position. It is like a football coach who doesn’t like full backs or blocking tight ends, because he wants to play all wide receivers. With regard to trading him: Why would we do that when we can mess with his head, bench him, and make his value decrease significantly? In other words – repeat what we did with Pau.

  31. To add to the frustration, if Hill were to become a competent outside shooter it would guarantee that he will no longer be a Laker after next season. The Lakers will have to renounce all players not named Kobe to make room under the cap for their big free agent signings. Just enjoy whatever Hill does next season, he is fun to watch.

  32. Charles Bourgault August 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I dont see either player as a center post player or a great defender. I have been a laker fan for 20 years and I dont see it this year with this line up.

  33. By Hill working on his jump shot I see it as ploy for his defender to stick with him instead of lagging off him. Otherwise the defense would create more trouble for Gasol.