LA Lakers: Breaking Down How Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard Will Co-Exist in Paint
The paint isn't usually big enough to fit two giants.
Not comfortably, anyway.
Unless, of course, both said giants happen to be All-Stars, as Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have been for some time. The interplay between these two new teammates could be the key to the Los Angeles Lakers' presumptive return to NBA title contention.
Luckily for the Purple and Gold, there may be no big man better suited to playing with others his size or bigger (as Howard is) than Gasol. The lanky Spaniard is arguably the most skilled seven-footer in the NBA, with Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki standing in as one of few who can so much as hold a candle to Gasol's frontcourt finesse.
More specifically, Gasol is an adept passer who runs the pick-and-roll far better than most men his size. He and Andrew Bynum—who joined the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the four-team Howard trade—formed a devastating duo up front during their time together in LA, with Gasol handling and passing the ball and Bynum screening, rolling and finishing:
It's no wonder, then, that Gasol averaged 1.7 assists per game leading to shots at the rim last season, per Hoopdata.
As dynamic as Bynum was as Pau's partner in crime, Dwight—who happens to be one of the premier roll men in The Association—should be even better. Bynum is longer and bulkier, but Howard can jump higher, is quicker and more agile on his feet, and (above all) puts forth the sort of consistently superb effort that seemed to escape Bynum far too often.
As such, Howard should be an even easier target for Gasol to hit with his pinpoint passes, lobs and bounces alike. Heck, if Jameer Nelson could do it:
And JJ Redick could do it:
And Vince Carter could do it:
Then why not Gasol, who might be a better passer than all three of Dwight's former Orlando Magic teammates combined?
That being said, the interplay between Gasol and Howard will be about much more than just pick-and-roll. Gasol, too, figures to get his fair share of looks at the basket, with Howard as the facilitator.
Howard's post-up game may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it is surprisingly effective, especially when delivering the ball to others. The Magic built their entire team around Howard's ability to command defensive attention and kick the rock out to wide-open shooters on the perimeter.
The Lakers don't have many such marksmen—Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks should help in that department—though that shouldn't deter Gasol as a target for Dwight's passes. Pau is adept at finding open spaces on the court while operating with a teammate on the low block—be it as a spot-up shooter, when he hit 58.8 percent of his shots, or as a cutter, wherein he shot 63.6 percent, both per Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti:
It certainly helps that Gasol is a solid mid-range shooter. According to Hoopdata, Gasol shot 46.4 percent between three and nine feet and 43.4 percent between 10 and 15 feet last season.
This, despite dealing with the daily distraction of trade rumors and spending most of the lockout-shortened campaign feeling his way through a new offense without much practice time. As such, those numbers figure to improve with the benefit of a full training camp as well as the peace of mind that comes with knowing he won't be uprooted any time soon.
Who's a better post partner for Pau Gasol?
Still, Gasol will likely have to sacrifice his game for Howard's sake, just as he did last season, when Mike Brown chose to feature Bynum in the Lakers' offense. It'll be up to Gasol to make Howard, the new centerpiece of LA's basketball universe, feel comfortable on the court.
Even if it means ceding space in the paint and settling for spot-ups and put-backs as the primary sources of his offensive touches.
Gasol will get the ball in the post when he's on the floor without Howard, though. He's still superb with his back to the basket and is more than capable of sliding down to center on occasion. The Lakers may need him to do so from the get-go this season if Howard's ailing back proves to be more problematic than originally expected.
Ultimately, though, Gasol shouldn't too much mind making way for Howard when the time comes. He's an unselfish player by nature who's shown a willingness to subvert his own desires for the good of the team in the past.
And if doing so again leads to another dynastic run in LaLa Land, Gasol would likely be among the last to complain, if there were to be any gripes at all.
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