The Los Angeles Lakers are finally starting to pull things together despite the fact that three of their best players are dealing with some kind of an injury. Dwight Howard is still recovering from his back surgery, Steve Nash is out with a broken leg and Pau Gasol is dealing with a much less publicized bout with knee tendinitis.
Obviously the knee isn't that big of a problem. Gasol hasn't missed any actual games, but he has played in limited minutes while averaging career lows in terms of points per game at 13.4 and field goal percentage at just over 43 percent.
It's easy to watch Gasol and see that something is obviously off. He's not sinking many jump shots at all, he's struggling to move laterally at times to corral rebounds and he just looks to be an older, slower version of himself.
Gasol has been slowly declining over the past few seasons, but a drop-off this quick seems to be more an anomaly than anything else. Gasol is shooting more than 13 percent worse than his first full season with the Lakers and nearly seven percent worse than he shot last season.
Part of the problem is going to be attributed to age and natural declination, but at some point there's got to be something done in the Lakers offense to get him the best possible shots, and that's just not happening right now.
The most concerning thing is that Mike D'Antoni seems keen to keep Gasol shooting jumpers, which might not be the best case for him right now:
D'Antoni was unworried about Pau but said his post-ups won't be like they used to be next to Odom: "You got a guy like Dwight Howard there."
— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) November 25, 2012
48 percent of Gasol's shots are mid-range jumpers, most of the time coming a few feet outside of the paint. Of those shots he's hitting just 38 percent. Compare that to a season ago when Gasol took just 40 percent of his shots from mid-range, from where he was able to knock down 42 percent of his shots. So, while his average from outside the paint has dipped quite a bit, they're going to him a lot more for a jump shot.
Comparing Gasol from outside the paint to inside is like night and day. In the restricted zone right below the basket he makes 65 percent of his attempts, a number right in line with his rate from last season.
The only difference between this season and last is that Gasol is shooting from the restricted area less than 30 percent of the time compared to nearly 35 percent a season ago.
One of Gasol's strangest deficiencies so far this season has been his production inside the paint but outside of the restricted area. He's only taken 32 shots from there, but he's made an unimpressive eight of those. Gasol made 46 percent of his shots from that region last season, so a 21 percent drop-off seems to be a sign of some superseding problem.
Most of those shots seem to come in the form of hook shots or some sort of fade-away with a defender on him, something he's normally quite efficient with. A big part of that drop-off could be attributed to his knee tendinitis, so it seems feeding him until they start to fall would make sense early on.
The big difference between this year and last is, of course, that the Lakers have Dwight Howard in the post rather than Andrew Bynum. Howard has used 80 percent of his shot attempts in the restricted zone compared to Bynum's 60 percent from a year ago.
An obvious explanation for Gasol's meager shot attempts from the post is that Howard is simply clogging the lane. He is, after all, moderately useless from outside of the paint.
The difference is night and day with Gasol on the court and Howard on the bench. Roughly 27 percent of Gasol's playing time is on the court without Howard, yet he takes 40 percent of his shots in the restricted zone in that time with no difference in percentage.
In all, Gasol takes 67 percent of his shots from in the paint when Howard is off the court compared to just 41 percent when he's on the court.
So what's the solution to Gasol's problem of not getting to the hole? Just don't play the two of them as much together.
D'Antoni could find himself in a much better situation if he were to stagger each player's minutes so that Howard plays more with Antawn Jamison, a stretch-4 shooter, and Gasol plays more with Jordan Hill, an energy defender.
Once Gasol's tendinitis starts to heal and his shots from farther away from the basket start falling (assuming that's the problem), then give them more minutes together and create a ridiculous amount of space below the arc.