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Pau Gasol's Struggles Against the Pick and Roll Hurting Lakers Defensively

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Pau Gasol's Struggles Against the Pick and Roll Hurting Lakers Defensively
Harry How/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers lost their eighth game of the season, dropping them back below .500, 15 games into the season.

The Tuesday night contest against the Pacers was an ugly one, with both teams shooting below 40 percent from the field and below 25 percent from range.

Both teams struggled to score, but down the stretch, the Pacers decided to attack Pau Gasol in the pick and roll. They scored on each of their last two possessions, including George Hill’s game-winning layup with .1 seconds left on the clock. 

Attacking Pau in P&R situations hasn’t been new to this Lakers team. As Pau has aged, he’s become more slow-footed and hasn’t been able to move his feet against opposing point guards.

This weakness has only been amplified by the fact that the Lakers perimeter defenders haven’t been able to fight through screens during Pau’s whole tenure in Los Angeles.

The result has been Pau isolated by a smaller, quicker guard after opposing offenses achieved the switch they intended to create in the 1-4 P&R. 

On Tuesday, the Pacers ran 16 P&R sets. They ran nine with Gasol on the floor and seven with him on the bench.

While Gasol was on the floor, seven of the nine P&Rs were run with his man setting the screen. The Pacers blatantly attacked Gasol’s inability to move laterally, and they had some success.

Keeping in mind that they shot 34 percent on the night, the Pacers shot 33 percent on all P&R sets and that was the second-highest they shot in all half-court situations (they found back-side cutters with regularity, which led to easy buckets).

It was the 1-4 P&R, however, that gave the Lakers fits and ultimately cost them the game. Let’s take a look at how the Pacers attacked Gasol. 

With Gasol on the floor in the last minute of a one-point game, the Pacers attacked Gasol with Hill and David West. Indiana started in a 1-4 high set and brought West up from the weak side.

As West comes up the line, Paul George and Lance Stephenson spot up in the corners. Knowing the screen is coming, Chris Duhon plays Hill to go to the strong side where most of his help should be. 

West slips the screen and pops to the top of the key with Gasol sagging a bit. As Hill beats Duhon, Gasol is in great position to step in front of Hill and slow him down.

Instead, either Gasol has no interest in moving away from West (who had a decent game) or he was too slow-footed to slide over. Whatever the case, Hill blows right by Gasol and puts in a floater over Dwight Howard, who had to slide away from Ian Mahinmi on the weak side. Check out the play in real time: 

For the game-winning layup, the Pacers went back to the same play. Kobe Bryant had just hit a three to tie the game, and the Pacers just needed a bucket for the win. Again, they started out in a 1-4 low and let Hill run down the clock with Metta World Peace guarding him this time around. 

This time, West actually comes up and sets the screen for Hill, which Metta is actually able to get around. However, Gasol doesn’t hedge hard enough and is already starting to retreat instead of attacking the ball-handler and trying to slow him down as he turns the corner.

Again, Stephenson and George are in the corners with Mahinmi on the weak side block. Things are just flipped around. 

Hill turns the corner and immediately blows by Gasol, who is absolutely trying to stay with him this time around. Howard slides over from the weak side and attempts to block the shot, but his efforts are futile, as Hill is able to kiss the ball high off the glass and watches the ball roll in for a Pacers win. Catch the play in real time here: 

You certainty can’t put the entire loss on Gasol’s inability to guard the pick and roll effectively (free-throw shooting immediately comes to mind), but the eye test and numbers suggest that attacking the Spaniard was the best option for the Pacers and will continue to be the best option for opposing offenses moving forward. 

There was one instance early in the fourth where Pau was able to play the P&R effectively. He hedged hard on the screen, slowed Hill down, recovered and allowed enough time for Howard to effectively slide over and prevent a shot attempt.

The result was Hill taking a desperation long two after driving baseline to the other side of the floor. Other than that one time, Gasol didn’t ever seem comfortable sliding his feet or recovering back to his man to contest jump shots.

It’ll be interesting to see if and how the Lakers are able to remedy this problem moving forward, but for now, it continues to be their most glaring issue on the defensive side of the ball. 

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