L.A. Lakers Must Change Pau Gasol's Role for Star to Deliver
It's hard to fault Pau Gasol for his 2011-12 performance for the Los Angeles Lakers.
He didn't score quite as much, nor did he score quite as efficiently as he had throughout his previous three-and-a-half seasons wearing Purple and Gold. The slight decline seems worse than it was on account of the fact that Gasol wasn't named to his fourth consecutive All-Star game.
However, none of this is a sign the 32-year-old is on the wrong side of his career.
He may only have a handful of good years left in him, but they have the potential to be very good years—especially with Steve Nash around.
Gasol spent much of his time patrolling the post or popping out on the perimeter last season. In an attempt to spread the floor, he proved his value as one of Los Angeles' most consistent perimeter shooters.
Those typically didn't involve three-point buckets, but Gasol excels at hitting the long two.
He'll almost certainly be asked to do more of the same next time around, but the Lakers will have an opportunity to use the Spaniard more effectively and more often.
That will be thanks in large part to Nash facilitating pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops as well as any floor general can.
The 38-year-old point guard's floor vision, passing accuracy and decision-making are second-to-none, and that makes him lethal when a big man sets a strong screen for him. If there's a sliver of space for Nash to then get that big man the ball, he'll make it happen.
The rest is up to Gasol.
The veteran seven-footer still moves incredibly well for a man his size, and he has the soft hands needed to grab passes in the lane.
His versatility also makes him a threat to either roll to the basket or pop out for a mid-range jumper depending on how the defense reacts. Gasol is nearly automatic from 15-feet out and his wiry strength allows him to finish in traffic or otherwise draw a foul.
Given that opposing centers have the most difficulty moving their feet in pick-and-roll situations, it may also behoove head coach Mike Brown to give Gasol more minutes at the 5-spot.
That could pose a few issues for Andrew Bynum's playing time, but there should be more than enough minutes to ensure everyone stays happy.
The addition of Antawn Jamison makes the strategy all the more appealing. The Lakers will have another power forward to free Gasol up for minutes at center, and that power forward is one of the best at spotting up for the three.
If the defense collapses and clogs the paint when Gasol rolls to the basket, expect Jamison to be in the clear and expect Nash to get him the ball.
Gasol may not look exponentially younger next season, but Lakers fans will be reminded just how much a difference he can make.
So will the rest of the NBA.
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