Why Dwight Howard's Back Injury Will Allow Pau Gasol to Thrive

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIISeptember 24, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the fourth quarter while taking on the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Although Dwight Howard’s early season absence while he recovers from back surgery is a negative for the Los Angeles Lakers, some positives can be salvaged from the unavoidable situation. The Lakers will sorely miss Howard’s post presence on offense and defense, but with D12 sidelined, Pau Gasol has a chance to flourish.

According to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, Howard has said he may not be ready to play in the team’s season opener on Oct. 30. The Lakers are expected to move Gasol to the center position, while Jordan Hill will fill in for the injured Howard and start at power forward.

Unless the Lakers re-sign Howard long term, he could have a one-and-done season in Los Angeles. But even though Howard is only under contract for the 2012-13 season with the Lakers, caution regarding the big man’s back injury will likely win out. Waiting until the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner is back at 100 percent (or as close as he can be following surgery) would be in the best interest of both parties involved.

Because of this, Gasol will have to embrace a bigger role, but that’s precisely why the 32-year-old Spaniard will thrive with Howard sidelined.

Throughout last season and the playoffs, Gasol was utilized outside of his comfort zone. The Lakers’ coaching staff had Gasol play a more perimeter-oriented role as Andrew Bynum had a breakout season in the post. As a result, Gasol attempted nearly double the amount of three-pointers (27) as he had in any season prior (15 attempts was his previous career-high). Keep in mind that Gasol hoisted up 27 three-point shots in just 65 games played due to the lockout-shortened season.

This is not Gasol’s game. His career three-point percentage of 23.2 percent is evidence of that fact. The leader of Spain’s Olympic basketball team carved a niche in the NBA with his skilled offensive post game, not by playing away from the painted area and shooting threes like Dirk Nowitzki or Andrea Bargnani.

As Gasol moves to the center position to fill the void of Howard, the coaching staff will have no choice but to return him to a more post-oriented offensive role. Not only that, but Gasol will essentially have free reign in the post now that a hulking center (whether it’s Bynum or Howard) won’t be there to clog his work space.

This is reason enough to believe that Gasol will return to the stellar form he showed during the Lakers’ two recent championship runs (when he and Kobe Bryant were the go-to offensive options). But another key factor, and someone who will contribute to Gasol’s level of comfort out on the court, is Steve Nash.

The former two-time MVP award winner, and one of the best distributing point guards to ever play the game of basketball, will be ready to play from day one. In his prestigious career, Nash has made Boris Diaw and Marcin Gortat All-Star caliber players (not to mention he improved Amar’e Stoudemire’s already impressive offensive prowess).

Nash and Gasol will be two of the Lakers’ veteran leaders next season. If they can establish an on-court chemistry at the level of Nash/Stoudemire or even Nash/Gortat, the Lakers and Gasol will have no trouble winning games without D12.