The additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles are accompanied by championship aspirations, but if the Lakers hope to return to glory by winning the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2013, Pau Gasol will be the measuring stick of their success.
In order for the Lakers to be as good as they appear to be on paper, Gasol’s talents must be utilized in a way to maximize his effectiveness.
Last season, the Lakers’ coaching staff, headlined by former Coach of the Year Mike Brown, often played Gasol as a stretch 4. Instead of posting Pau down low in the paint where he’s most effective and comfortable, Gasol was out on the perimeter. This strategy diminished his skills and put added pressure on Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum to shoulder the offensive load.
As a result of playing out of position throughout the season, Gasol posted a field-goal percentage of 50.1 percent (the lowest total in his time with the Lakers and his worst percentage since 2004).
In addition, Gasol shot a career-high 27 three-pointers. That nearly doubled his previous career-high in three-point attempts over the course of a regular season, which is alarming considering the season was shortened by a lockout and Gasol played in just 65 games.
In the postseason, Gasol’s role as a perimeter player was more defined and he continued to struggle. He shot five three-pointers, the most in any postseason stretch of Gasol’s career despite playing just 12 games, and notched a field-goal percentage of 43.4 percent (well below his regular-season average).
For Gasol to get back on track, he needs to return to the post where he’s carved out a niche with an All-Star laden career.
In order for that transition to go smoothly, Steve Nash needs to orchestrate the offense through Gasol while Dwight Howard recovers from back surgery.
If Nash and Gasol can create on-court chemistry via the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game (as was the case with both Amar’e Stoudemire and Marcin Gortat while Nash was in Phoenix), then Gasol can jump out to a hot start next season, returning as one of the premier go-to scoring options.
Due to Bynum’s breakout season for the Lakers a season ago, Gasol had trouble finding his offensive rhythm as the team’s third option. Being played out of position in Mike Brown’s offense simply exacerbated the problem.
Gasol needs to be put in position to score easy baskets to restore his confidence, and Nash is the perfect candidate to make that a reality.
As a 23.2 percent three-point shooter for his career, diminishing his attempts from outside the arc and getting back to what made him a successful NBA player in the first place will maximize his many talents out on the basketball court.
Gasol’s success starts with how the coaching staff utilizes him in the offense, but the addition of Nash, one of the league’s most unselfish and teammate-oriented players in history, brings an offensive mastermind to the point guard spot who should pair extremely well with the Spaniard.
The Lakers may be among the favorites to win an NBA championship next season, but unless they get the very best out of all of their superstars (especially Gasol), they could see the 2013 season end in disappointment.