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What is up, guys? So, it’s been a minute – hopefully this look ahead to Game 5 of what promises to be yet another oddity (different flavor, at least)of a Laker season finds you in good health.

When we last crossed paths, overstating the disarray that surrounded the Lakers would have posed quite the challenge. Wrapping up a season defined by tumult – the passing of a patriarch, upheaval and uncertainty on the bench, devastating injuries, the Next Great Laker eyeing the exit seemingly on arrival and cupboard shockingly devoid of youth, athleticism and, frankly, NBA talent – with Kobe Bryant shelved indefinitely and without a trump card to pull from their perpetually stacked deck, Mitch Kupchak and Co were staffed with the task of assembling transitional roster (I’ve gotta get diplomatic immunity for that, right?), on the cheap, without hamstringing their ability to go shopping next summer.

While acknowledging the myriad challenge that lay before the Lakers’ front office – the aforementioned financial constraints, an ascendant contender down the hall (still owned by a racist slumlord – never forget) also equipped with the “hey, ____, wouldn’t be cool to live and play in L.A.?” sales pitch – what emerged from the summer’s personnel machinations read like an obituary for optimism:

Chris Kaman, huh?… Hey, apparently Jordan Farmar’s back – Ok… Xavier Henry… at least he was a lotto pick?… Wes Johnson?! Isn’t that just English for Nikoloz Tskitishvili?… NICK YOUNG?!?! Really? Swaggy @$%4%$ P?!?!

It was dark.

On the other hand…

Though I’m not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season, I’m not not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season. And hell, if you’re ever going do it, this is supposedly the year… And man, if you’re in, might as well only do it once, and be the freaking Lakers of tanking.

Yeah, about that…

One week ago, the NBA’s island of misfit toys, err, the Lakers, opened the season with a matchup against their noisy neighbors, under the watchful eyes of a triumphant legacy, a legacy that, well… the hell with it – Oh, Doc. Shrouding the achievements of Baylor, West, Magic and Kareem so that giant Jared Dudley can watch over your squad? C’mon man! That’s just sad. Just slap a Pacific Division banner and Loy Vaught’s #35 on one of the other walls and be done with it.

Whew! That felt good. Sorry. Where were we? Oh yeah…

Last Tuesday evening, the Lakers’ curious collection kicked off its season as a near-double-digit underdog against the Clippers – and frankly my specs were not sufficiently rosy to allow me to expect what was to come. Unencumbered by the expectations that typically accompany the arrival of November in Lakerland, behind an early spark provided by Pau Gasol and fueled spectacularly by the desire and tireless effort of the Gallows Humor All-Stars, the Lakers took the fight to L.A.’s presumed contender. Not only did the Lakers dominate the offensive glass (15 off the bench – 11 from Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman), attack the paint and unleash an awesome 3-point barrage en route to 76 bench points (!!; That’s like a week’s work for your average Laker bench!) and a 13-point win, the backdrop against which they did so made for one of the most enjoyable victories in recent memory. For the first time in a long time, a Lakers win brought with it exuberance, and not relief. The Lakers as plucky upstarts.

With all due respect to the individual and collective abilities of the men comprising the 2013-14 Lakers’ roster, in an unaltered state it’s difficult to examine this crew and – in the absence of heroism the likes of which we’ve never seen from a still-rehabbing Kobe – concoct a scenario in which the accomplishments of this squad outstrip those of its 2012-13 predecessor. What we do have, however, is a collection of largely useful basketball players, without long-term financial commitments, looking to revive an NBA career, pen a successful final chapter, audition for a supporting role with a contender, capitalize on an opportunity to justify lofty draft status, or some combination thereof. And Nick Young.

And the opportunity to watch these guys work like hell to reclaim, reroute and resuscitate their NBA careers. And Nick Young.

The first stanza of the Lakers’ 2013-14 season has run the gamut. The euphoric haze of the shocking dismissal of the Clippers dissipating in Oakland, as the Lakers were rolled, lit up by Klay Thompson. Two nights later they once again flirted with an upset, challenging the (admittedly Duncan-less) defending Western Conference champion Spurs before coming up just short. And on Sunday, clinging to victory against the Atlanta Hawks after surrendering a double-digit lead they’d held throughout the game.

78 to go. It’s time to settle in.

Two years into their own retool-not-rebuild amid the professional twilight of their own generational great, face of the franchise, the Dallas Mavericks’ attempts to find a running mate of comparable stature for Dirk Nowitzki – via the pursuits of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Dallas native Deron Williams – have anticlimactically yielded Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert and DeJuan Blair. Tonight in Texas, the Lakers kick off what is certain to be a challenging three-game trip against the Mavs, with matchups against the Rockets and Pelicans looming Thursday and Friday, before returning home for six of their next seven games. And with Dallas looking at three road games of their own in the next four nights, starting in OKC tomorrow, they’ll surely muster their best shot for the Lakers.

Offensively, Dallas will present the Lakers with a range of challenges. Like the Lakers, the Mavs prefer to play at a breakneck pace (fourth in the NBA in pace; the Lakers rank first), but, through three games, have managed to do so far more effectively than the Lakers, ranking third in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency (111.3 points/ 100 possessions), and rank in the top 12 leaguewide in each of the “Offensive Four Factors”: eFG% (12th), Offensive Rebound Rate (11th),Turnover Rate (10th lowest) and FTA/FGA (3rd). The strong defensive effort from Wes Johnson will be huge here, as will the Lakers’ work on the offensive boards. (Note: Jordan Hill and his stellar 23.2% ORB Rate are banged up, but will be in action)

Not terribly surprisingly, however, a squad on which the Dirk/Monta/Calderon trio is logs roughly 100 minutes per night does not hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor, ranking 23rd in the NBA. Despite a similarly pedestrian ranking offensively (20th in the NBA), the Lakers must exploit the Mavs’ shortcomings at the defensive end – namely by getting to the line, as the Mavs’ .352 opponents’ FTA/FGA ratio ranks last in the NBA, and perhaps easing up a bit on the gas, and emphasizing lineups featuring both Pau and Chris Kaman, a handful to begin with, but potentially a nightmare for the Mavs with Brendan Wright out of action and Dalembert and Bernard James their only active bigs.

Beyond this as has been the case through the season’s first week (and likely will be going forward), the most vital components to a Laker victory will at the offensive end be energy, aggressiveness and outside shooting. In other words, Xavier Henry must build on the best week of his NBA life.

Enjoy the game everyone!

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.

Continue Reading…

Building a team is as much about the assets you have as the ones you hope to obtain. You want more shooters? How about a lock down wing defender? What about a hustling big man who does all the dirty work or a shot creator from the back court who can generate offense when the shot clock is winding down?

Join the club, everyone wants more of those things. And with a high demand for players with those skill sets, getting them is easier than simply asking.

In order to get those types of players you need assets to obtain them. Be it trade pieces or the salary cap space (or exceptions as an over the cap team), you need to give something to get something. The Lakers, meanwhile, don’t have a lot of assets to work with to get the skill sets they’d like to add to the roster. That means the ones they do have need to be used carefully and maximized if the team hopes to take a step forward rather than simply treading water (or even taking another step back).

In an attempt to gauge how the Lakers will move forward this off-season, it’s best to look at some of their most valuable assets (while speculating how they might be deployed) and how they can contribute to building a viable contender next season. Let’s get to it…

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Sunday night marked the arrival of a new, long-term houseguest in Lakerland – the ghost of roster future.

In the absence of Kobe Bryant – a scenario initially not expected to come to fruition for handful of years – all eyes will be on Dwight Howard to recapture his MVP form of years past and anchor the team at the both ends of the floor. In short, after having the luxury to allow Howard to acclimate to his new surroundings and battle back from injuries at his own pace, the Lakers now need their franchise center to act the part. Sunday night marked Howard’s first game as the team’s long-term anchor, and Dwight delivered, devastating the Spurs to the tune of 26 points, 17 rebounds (6 offensive) and three blocks (plus a dubious goaltending call on a Tim Duncan hook I the lane), flashing his once-unrivaled speed and power in the post, and truly dominating on the glass. The result from a team perspective was no less encouraging, as the Lakers, in the maiden voyage without their superstar and leader, took a major step in sealing the postseason berth has at times seemed so elusive, with a 91-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

However, Dwight was not alone in elevating his game in Kobe’s absence. Steve Blake turned in crowning performance as a Laker, connecting on four of eight 3-point attempts en route to 23 points, to which he added five rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Providing a much-needed spark off of the bench was Antawn Jamison, who kicked in 15 points, burying three of five 3-pointers himself, and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes of burn. Lending additional support were Jodie Meeks, who despite hitting just three of 11 shots, hit a massive pair of 4th quarter 3-pointers, as well as Pau Gasol, who simply could not get a thing to drop. However, despite a putrid 3-for-17 showing from the field, Pau left a positive mark on the game with 16 rebounds (5 offensive) and three blocked shots of his own.

It must be said that the Spurs were far from their best on Sunday night, with just two (Tim Duncan and Matt Bonner) of 10 players that took the floor making at least half of their shots. Duncan, though outquicked by Dwight in the early going and unable to keep him off of the glass, played a fantastic game, scoring 23 points on 11-of-22 shooting (including a pair of thunderous throwdowns in the second half), grabbing 10 rebounds, handing out four assists and swatting three shots. Of historical significance, with his final bucket of the night, the greatest power forward the league has ever seen ran his career tally to 23,759, good for 22nd on the NBA’s all-time list, two points ahead of the previous holder of that distinction, Charles Barkley. Unfortunately for Duncan, who, like pre-injury Kobe, is more than a decade and half in and still playing some of the best ball of his career (24.4 PER, 21.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes and career-best defensive rebound and block rates), he received little support from his normally reliable running mates.

Chief among the struggling Spurs were Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, who shot a combined 2-for-15 from the floor (1-for-10 for Parker, 1-for-5 for Leonard) and combined for just 12 points, though it worth noting that the duo combined for 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Also, despite managing a double-double of his own (11 and 10), Tiago Splitter missed eight of the 13 shots he attempted, more than a couple of which were seemingly easy layups. Danny Green managed an identical 5-for-13 from the field, hitting just two of seven 3-point attempts, while Nando de Colo, Cory Joseph and DeJuan Blair managed just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. Now, it’s clearly unreasonable to expect two of the Spurs’ top three starters to shoot worse than 15% from the field while one of their starting bigs blows numerous chances at the rim, but a fair amount of credit is owed to the Lakers’ perimeter defenders, who challenged the Spurs’ on their 3-point attempts, forced an inordinate number of long 2-point jump shots and, in perhaps the greatest testament to their performance, held the Spurs to a single unsuccessful corner 3-point attempt.

That the sustainability of some of the offensive efforts can be called into question, and the Spurs did little to help themselves in a game that was certainly winnable are true, but tonight, wholly irrelevant. With the playoffs in the balance, in the absence of their emotional talisman and offensive catalyst, the Lakers put forth excellent effort at both ends, and ultimately had enough to gut out a massive victory against an elite Spurs team playing for its own playoff positioning, setting the stage for a win-and-you’re-in showdown with the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at Staples.


Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  March 14, 2013

Last night’s game with the Hawks actually provided two losses — one from the game itself and one in the form of the Lakers’ superstar shooting guard to injury. Kobe’s ankle looks like it’s about nine months pregnant and the team says he’s out indefinitely with a severe ankle sprain. So, with plenty to discuss in Laker-land, here’s some fast break thoughts on the injury bug, the playoffs, and other general musings…

  • Was the play dirty? That’s the question of the day and that gets complicated rather quickly. On twitter I used that term, but would amend it to say, instead, that it was simply an unsafe play by Jones. There are plenty of ways to contest a fadeaway jump shot, but walking into and underneath an airborne player is one of the more dangerous ways to do so. Here’s a screen shot of Jones contesting Kobe’s shot:

Kobe Ankle

  • The reason why I’d say “unsafe” rather than “dirty” is because the latter implies intent. I’ve no clue what Jones’ intent was and prefer not to get into that at all. This in’t the real world where we get to go into a court room, hear testimony, and make a determination. There’s no “you can’t handle the truth” moment coming here. So, I see no need to get into that. Instead, let’s focus on the act and that act was Jones walking underneath a player in the air. That’s an unsafe play no matter how you slice it. I’m not out to disparage Jones or judge his actions through the prism of what I thought he meant to do. What he meant to do isn’t as important as what he actually did. And, in this case, the pictures and video show what he did.
  • What’s done is done, though. Arguing over it is less important than what happens next. The Lakers, simply based off their press release, imply Kobe will miss time. And, while there’s a train of thought that Kobe won’t miss any time (he is Kobe after all), I think he’ll miss at least a game and maybe more.
  • If that ends up being the case, the Lakers’ lack of depth on the wing will be a big challenge to overcome. Forget for a second that it’s Kobe missing time and simply focus on the fact that he’s currently the team’s starting shooting guard and its backup small forward. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s first substitutions are typically for Jamison to come in for Clark and for Meeks to replace Ron. That latter substitution slides Kobe up to SF where he’s a fixture of a small ball lineup. If Kobe can’t play any SF, who will?
  • Meeks and Blake are undersized for SG, much less SF. Ron has actually been playing PF more than SF if you look at who he defends on a nightly basis. Does this mean more minutes for Clark? He’s seen a decline in his minutes and production over the last month and isn’t exactly 100% healthy either (he’s had ankle, knee, and finger issues lately). Ebanks is glued to the bench and has played exactly 11 minutes since the turn of the calendar year. I don’t see this going well if Kobe is out for a prolonged period.
  • That said, knowing what we do of Kobe, he’ll get treatment on his ankle 24/7 until he can get back on the floor, though. He’s really not human in that regard.
  • In better injury news, Pau Gasol says he hopes to be back next week and it’s being reported he’ll return to the lineup as a starter. This is good news on both fronts. Yes, on both fronts. Before Pau got hurt, we were already starting to see a trend where Clark’s value as a starter was slipping from a team performance standpoint. The starting lineup that included Clark was essentially playing even basketball, their plus/minus numbers flat and their efficiency differentials hovering near zero. Meanwhile, when Clark was replaced by Pau, those numbers were beginning to trend up in a way that reinforced all the preseason belief that these players actually could perform well together as complementary pieces. Yes the sample was small and there were issues to work out defensively, but the numbers and the eye test support the “Big four plus Ron” lineup was starting to make headway as a cohesive unit.
  • Even though Pau will return as a starter, his biggest value should still come as an anchor for the 2nd unit. The bench has really struggled to create consistent offense outside of some good chemistry between Steve Blake and Jamison in the P&R. With Pau back, he can be the man in the middle whose passing and ability to score from all over the floor serve as a ballast for the bench.
  • Furthermore, his defense should also be quite useful. The Lakers’ defense is actually 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Pau is on the floor versus when he sits, per the NBA’s stats database. It’s often easy to forget that even though Pau isn’t the best option to cover perimeter oriented bigs, he still can protect the rim with his length and do so without fouling. Don’t get me wrong, teams will still attack the paint when Dwight sits, but I’d much rather have Pau back at the basket than a combination of Jamison and Clark.
  • How the rotation shakes out when Pau is back will remain to be seen (and we’ll cover this in detail when he does return), but I would not be surprised to see Clark become more of a SF backing up Ron with Jamison taking the majority of the PF minutes when Pau is out of the game or playing C. Simply based off recent trends and how this coaching staff has deployed lineups in the past, I could see a bench lineup of Blake, Meeks, Clark, Jamison, and Pau starting the 2nd quarter, for example. But, I could also see Clark on the bench with a Dwight, Jamison, Ron trio next to Kobe (or Meeks) and Nash (or Blake) getting big minutes with Clark the odd man out due to Jamison’s greater ability to stretch the floor.
  • Getting away from Laker stuff for a second, show of hands (or, in the comments below) of who would want to do a FB&G March Madness bracket challenge. We didn’t do one last year but I’m considering doing one again this year, but only if the demand is high. We’d figure out a prize for the winner.
  • Also, I’m interested in reviving the FB&G mailbag, but only if there’s interest in it. If you have questions, you can email me by clicking that envelope on the right side of the banner at the top of the site. Just put “mailbag question” in the subject line and ask away.
  • Lastly, friend of FB&G and video maker extraordinaire LD2K has produced another gem that is worth your time. Here you go:


Pau Gasol’s MRI results are in and the results are not good. Per Mike Trudell from, Pau is out indefinitely with a partially torn plantar fascia:

Earlier reports from Ken Berger have Pau missing at least 6 weeks if he decides to let the tear heal on its own, or 12 weeks if surgery is the decided course of action. However, as Trudell reports, the Lakers aren’t yet putting a timetable on Pau’s recovery until he can meet with team doctors and a foot specialist. That said, in any event, Pau will be out for a some time and that, of course, is bad news for the Lakers.

Gasol was just starting to find his stride in Mike D’Antoni’s offense both as a replacement for Dwight Howard and in playing next to him. As we noted, Gasol’s shooting efficiency has been up in recent weeks and his individual defense, while not elite, was better than it had been all season. When you add those things to the constants in his game — the passing, rebounding, the general feel of where to be and when — Gasol was a difference maker for the team. Especially with Dwight missing games due to his shoulder injury.

It’s this total skill set that makes “replacing” Pau Gasol impossible. His skill set is too varied and unique for any one player to come in and adequately give the Lakers what they miss with him absent. Not to by hyperbolic, but not even Dwight’s return replaces what Gasol gives the team.

So, seeking another player on the open market is complicated. There are names out there — Kenyon Martin, Troy Murphy, Brian Cook, Sean Williams — who are free agents and could be useful, but to think that any of them should even be considered good options is overselling their abilities at this point.

If I were making decisions, I’d rather play Robert Sacre more until Dwight is ready to return and potentially add a wing so that Ron could slide up to play PF for the majority of his minutes. Since Earl Clark’s emergence, Ron has been more of a SF on offense but he’s still guarded most PF’s the Lakers have faced while Clark has chased players around the perimeter. A more full time shift of Ron to PF with the Lakers exploring options in the wing (where capable 10-15 minute players are easier to find) is the much more reasonable option, rather than combing through the incredibly slim pickings in the FA bigs market.

All that said, it needs to be restated that whatever decision is made, there’s really not a “solution” out there. Losing Gasol is a major blow to the Lakers’ season and finding a way to stay afloat and still make a push for  the playoffs will be incredibly difficult. Even when Dwight returns, the rest of the roster will need to step up a great deal and perform at levels they may not be capable of — at least not consistently.

So, at this point, all the Lakers can do is hope that Howard returns soon, that Pau’s timeline is on the shorter end of the estimates out there, and that the current roster raises their games enough to fill in the gaps the best that they can.

We’re going to play a little guessing game. Are you ready? Good. Let’s go.

Below are the stats of four players, all adjusted per 36 minutes of production:

  • Player A: 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 50.9% shooting
  • Player B: 12.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 41.7% shooting
  • Player C: 16.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 51.4% shooting
  • Player D: 17.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 60.5% shooting

All four players are pretty productive in their own way. Players A, B, and C are all good scorers who shoot a high percentage and grab rebounds at a very good rate. Player B isn’t a great scorer (mostly due to his poor shooting percentage), but he’s a very good passer who still rebounds well. Any of these four players would help a team win games and would likely be a welcomed addition to any team looking for a strong big man option to anchor them in the pivot.

Ready to find out who’s who?

Player A is Pau Gasol when Dwight Howard is out of the game. Player B is Pau when he shares the floor with Dwight. Player C is Dwight Howard when Pau is out of the game. And player D is Dwight when he shares the floor with Pau. To some, these numbers probably reflect exactly what we’ve seen with our eyes for most of this season. They also reflect a certain dilemma the Lakers face this season. Namely, that getting the most out of their big men isn’t as easy as it may seem.

First, let’s look at Dwight Howard since his production is mostly consistent. For all the talk that Dwight is having a poor season, I’d claim that those conclusions are a bit off base. Dwight has not been the dominant player he was before his back surgery. You see it in how he moves around the floor, how active he is on defense, and (especially) in how he’s been turning the ball over when he’s swarmed inside.

However, what’ also true is that Dwight’s been a pretty productive player when he’s been on the floor. He’s shooting a high percentage, is one of the best rebounders in the league, and is still an intimidator in the paint. Furthermore, what we see is that Dwight is productive whether he’s sharing the floor with Pau or not. His numbers are mostly flat and it’s clear that he’s able to do what he does best whether Pau is flanking him or on the pine.

What we also see, however, is that Dwight does benefit from having Pau on the floor with him. Dwight’s scoring is slightly better and his field goal percentage is much better. This should not be a surprise. When they share the floor, Gasol is consistently looking for Dwight inside to try and set him up for easy baskets. When both bigs share the floor, the Lakers play a lot of high-low with Pau at the elbow and Dwight carving out space in the paint. This action develops in the Lakers HORNS sets and when Pau acts as a release valve in the P&R where, after Dwight rolls to the hoop, Pau gets a pass and then floats up a lob that Dwight snatches from orbit and flushes through the basket. There is definite chemistry between the two, even if it’s a one way chemistry (where Pau is setting up Dwight).

Pau, on the other hand, has not had the same success next to Howard. From the list above, player B is the least productive of the bunch and, based off his shooting efficiency, could even be described as a liability on offense (though that’d be a stretch and wouldn’t be a term I’d use). We’ve been over this multiple times and the reasons are clear why. Pau, when next to Howard, isn’t as aggressive as a player in terms of his shot locations. Pau trades shots inside for those further away from the hoop and his efficiency suffers because of it.

The Pau we see when Howard is out, however, is a different player. He shoots nine percentage points higher and is better from every spot on the floor except for the 10-14 foot range and shots behind the arc. When Howard is not in the game, 60% of Pau’s shots come inside of 9 feet with 38% of those coming in the restricted area. Basically, Pau becomes the player that Kobe described as “they guy who helped us win back to back championships”.

The issue, of course, is finding a way to get the most out of both players over the course of an entire game. And, namely, getting more out of Gasol when he shares the floor with Dwight. After all, Dwight’s already a slightly better offensive player when Pau is in the game. The problem is that Pau’s production falls off a cliff when they play together.

The running narrative, of course, is that Pau needs to play more in the post. But I’d posit it is actually much more complicated than that. While the numbers I posted above are true (Pau does shoot closer to the basket when Howard is on the bench), Pau will always be a player who plays an all court game offensively. Even with Howard on the bench, 35% of Pau’s shots come between 10 and 24 feet. We see this play out in games all the time when Pau still floats around the perimeter even though he’s the only big man in the game.

So, I’d argue the key is less about finding more ways to get Pau closer to the hoop, but instead finding more ways to utilize him as more than a release valve who is put in position to be a scorer so far from the hoop. Too often, Pau becomes the player who receives the first pass out of the P&R even when he’s not the player who set the screen. When the defense takes away the roll, it’s Pau who gets the ball and he usually gets it without a defender near him, giving him a chance to shoot a wide open jumper. In D’Antoni’s offense, when in that position, you’re supposed to shoot the ball. More often than not, Pau obliges even though it’s not a shot he should be taking so often.

How to fix this isn’t that easy, but there are ways to do so. One way is to use Gasol more as a screener while Dwight camps along the baseline. This can be a very effective action and has proven a real weapon for the Lakers this season (and last) and for other teams that have the ability to run the P&R with one big man while the other occupies defenders waiting for a secondary pass around the rim. Another is to have a secondary action available after the initial P&R to run with Pau after he acts as a release valve. The Spurs often run a secondary hand off action on the weak side between Duncan and Ginobili after Parker runs a P&R on the strong side that doesn’t yield a quick basket.

Pau can also get more aggressive by working off the dribble after making the catch rather than just settling for the jumper. That would require Howard to vacate the lane so Pau has time to use his dribble to maneuver closer to the rim, but that’s a minor adjustment that can come with better chemistry as both guys start to read each other better.

Ultimately, though, we do need to start to see more from this duo when they share the floor. To be fair, the Lakers have already started to play better as a group when Pau and Dwight share the floor. In their last 5 games together, Dwight and Pau have shared the floor for 64 minutes and the team is a plus-11 in those minutes. And Pau, individually, has been putting up much better numbers of 16.3 points on 59% shooting (per 36 minutes) when on the floor with Dwight in that stretch. But, for the season this has not been a positive pairing and is one reason that Pau moving to the bench was a supportable decision. The recent trend will need to be a long term shift for the Lakers to really succeed.

Recent games tell us that Gasol is far from in decline as a player. Against a good, young Pistons’ front line Pau more than held his own while playing heavy minutes. His offensive game is just as refined as it has been throughout most of his career. And while his defense needs work, he’s worlds better than what he was earlier in the season when he suffered from knee tendonitis.  They key, now, is to get something close to this level of production when both share the floor. The recent numbers are encouraging, but the team needs more of it.

If they get it, watch out. The team will be  ready to make a run.

*Stats for this post courtesy of

One of the key developments from Tuesday’s win over the Bobcats was that Mike D’Antoni went all-in with his move of MWP to power forward. What at first looked to be a temporary move to off-set Pau Gasol’s absence from the lineup has now (seemingly) become permanent strategy.

If we flashback to June of this year, playing Ron at power forward was something I thought should happen. Here’s (some of) what I said at the time:

Once upon a time, Ron was one of the best two way players in the league and while his decreased athleticism has made him less effective, he’s still got all the facets of his game. He has a good handle, can create off the dribble for himself or teammates, is a decent shooter from the outside, and can post up and finish in the paint. Defensively, we know that Ron can still play well even though his foot speed isn’t quite what it was when he first came to the Lakers. But, overall, these are skills that could translate well to playing some PF if the Lakers decide they want to go small…

…Simply by having Ron space the floor against traditional PF’s the Lakers could open up their offense more. His ability to knock down open shots or drive past slower closeouts could also boost his effectiveness as a play maker. He still shows good instincts when moving into open space, bodying up his man, and in chasing loose balls, which would aid him when rebounding on both sides of the ball. Defensively he has the foot speed to keep up with most PF’s and has the strength to battle anyone in the post. In the past two seasons the Lakers have switched Ron onto Blake Griffin and Kevin Love on key possessions late in games to get the stops they sought. He held his own against both players and they happen to be two of the better players at that position.

As the league moves forward there will be a greater emphasis on lineup versatility. We’re seeing it right now in the Finals with LeBron and Durant both staples of traditional and small lineups their teams deploy. And while Ron isn’t in those players class as elite talents, his skill set is varied enough and his tenacity more than enough that a part time role as a PF could be worth exploring more in the future.

Well, the future is here. Ron is the Lakers’ back up PF and with tectonic plates of this lineup shift comes a myriad of aftershocks that will be felt across the landscape of the Lakers’ roster.

Below are some of my initial thoughts on what this move means:

*The Lakers’ roster is now woefully unbalanced. Ron’s move means that he joins Pau, Dwight, Jamison, Hill, Earl Clark and Sacre as players who could be classified as either power forwards or centers in D’Antoni’s system. Ron’s move away from the wing means that the only “small forward” on the roster is Devin Ebanks and the only shooting guards are Kobe and Jodie Meeks. At point guard, the Lakers have Nash, Steve Blake, Darius Morris, and Chris Duhon. When looking at that list of players, the wing positions are extremely shallow while the PG, PF, and C positions are overloaded. There simply aren’t enough minutes for the all the Lakers’ big men to play and once Nash and Blake are healthy, there won’t be enough minute at point guard either. At this point, the only way to re-balance the roster is to either make a trade or to shift players (like Ron or Jamison) back to small forward in order to lessen the burden on the wings. Because if that doesn’t happen…

*Kobe and Meeks are about to play a ton of minutes. This has already been true so, in one respect, this wouldn’t be a change from recent trends. However, with Ebanks’ utility as a contributor limited, coach D’Antoni has already hinted that Jodie Meeks will start at SG with Kobe sliding up to Ron’s old position. This creates an entirely new set of questions that will need to be answered over time.

First, who plays back up SG if Meeks starts? Ebanks is not a SG (this has been proven pretty well over the past two seasons) so he doesn’t seem like a good candidate. Darius Morris has okay size, but he’s not ideal either. Darius Johnson-Odom is a natural shooting guard, but he’s also a rookie and seems better suited to a D-League assignment in order to get experience, not playing key minutes for the big team. How this gets sorted out will be key because playing Kobe and Meeks together for long stretches (something that Nash coming back doesn’t really change) means the wing depth will be severely tested in a way that, as of now, would seemingly produce poor results.

Who guards the elite small forwards if Ron is on the bench to start games? Ever since Ron has joined the team he’s taken the more difficult defensive wing assignment whether he’s been a shooting guard or a small forward. But if Meeks starts instead of Ron, Kobe will no longer have the option of playing the lesser wing. Instead, defensive assignments will be dictated more by position. Does that mean Kobe has to guard Durant? Carmelo? LeBron? What about non-superstar, but still quality SF’s like Nic Batum, Kirilenko, Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace, or Caron Butler. Will he have to guard the better offensive option regardless of position (James Harden when the Rockets visit, for example)? Playing bigger players each night while still carrying a heavy offensive load and playing heavy minutes is a concern here.

*Does Ron playing PF make Pau the new Bynum? Under Phil Jackson, the Lakers often played Odom with one either Gasol or Bynum to form the foundation of their most effective lineups. To close games, Gasol would slide up to center and Odom would play in Bynum’s place. This lineup created versatility on both ends of the floor and was the key front court tandem that helped win back to back titles. As mentioned in the cited post from June, Ron offers many of the same qualities that Odom did as a PF in terms of offensive and defensive versatility. Against the Bobcats, Ron closed the game playing defense against a perimeter oriented big man and spacing the floor offensively. This left Pau on the bench while Dwight manned the pivot.

In the future, will we see more of this? Will Pau only occasionally close games? Can the Lakers afford to have one of their best 4 players on the bench down the stretch of close games? The answers to these questions aren’t yet known but Pau has already expressed his desire to be in the game late when the score is tight. Furthermore, the Lakers’ potential ceiling was always built around the idea that all four of the Lakers big players would be able to thrive on the floor together. Getting the most out of them is important not only when lineups are staggered, but when they all play together. How D’Antoni manages this will be very important as the season progresses.

*What happens to Jamison and Hill? After the Bobcats game D’Antoni said “to no fault of their own” both players would be out of the rotation for now. From a practical standpoint, this makes some sense. Jamison is a reserve PF who is best as a floor spacer. Jordan Hill, though a good PF in Mike Brown’s system, is a C in D’Antoni’s spread attack. Ron has taken Jamison’s spot and with Pau back, he’s the natural fit as a five-man when Dwight is on the bench. With only 96 minutes of game time to split between PF and C, a three man rotation is easiest to deploy and that leaves Hill and Jamison out in the cold.

That said, both players bring useful qualities to a shallow Lakers’ roster. Hill’s rebounding and ability to hedge/recover are valuable to a team that sees countless P&R’s ran at them every game. Jamison’s ability to score points in bunches have already helped the Lakers win more than one game this season. They’re also two of the Lakers best 10 players and removing them from the rotation entirely weakens a team that doesn’t have a lot of useful depth. There’s no easy answer here. I think both players will be needed over the course of the rest of the season. Will they be ready when called upon? Is there a risk of losing them to disinterest and dissatisfaction? Both have proven to be professionals and hard workers for the Lakers. I’d think that remains true regardless of circumstances. That said, it must be disappointing to be demoted in the manner that they have been.

Ultimately, I like having Ron play more PF. I think it helps the Lakers in a variety of ways by diversifying what they can do on both sides of the ball. The fact that Ron is having a resurgent season makes it so the Lakers are playing to some of their strengths in ways that they weren’t earlier in the year. That said, it’s clear this change exposes other stress points on the team that weren’t necessarily there before. Getting Nash back will help in some ways, but not all of them. And we’ll know more about this team over the course of the next month when everyone is healthy enough to play.

Hopefully, in that stretch, we get some answers to these lingering questions.