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Breaking Down Pau Gasol's Ideal Role with the L.A. Lakers

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Breaking Down Pau Gasol's Ideal Role with the L.A. Lakers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Pau Gasol is obviously struggling with the new Mike D’Antoni pick-and-roll offense.  In certain situations, Gasol looks like he isn’t giving it his all and sometimes looks like he has given up.

Kobe Bryant has now called out Gasol twice in the past five games for failing to adjust to the new style of play.

D’Antoni has given Gasol a vote of confidence and expects things to change as Gasol will eventually adapt to the game plan.  It definitely doesn’t help that Gasol has been playing with tendinitis in both of his knees.

But even when Gasol returns to partial or full health, he is still out of place because the essence of D'Antoni's system is floor spacing, especially from the power forward slot.  D’Antoni is not going to revert his open strategy to a typical half-court offense just to appease Gasol.

As you can see from this shot chart, Pau is suffering with his shooting when he is positioned outside the key or not shooting within a couple of feet of the basket.

Gasol has been awful this season from above the restricted area, where he is shooting 9-40 (23 percent) and 36-92 (39 percent) from mid-range.  Last season, Gasol shot 46 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

Gasol’s has been deferring to the mid-range jumper, and he hasn’t been making them consistently.  Gasol has not been aggressive in looking for his shot, an attitude which has carried over to his defensive play. 

The two obvious reasons for the decline in his play are fatigue (playing in the London Olympics cut into his offseason break) and the changes caused by the addition of Dwight Howard.

Gasol has been rumored in a number of trades recently because of his inconsistent play.  The lack of bench talent makes it worse, because Antawn Jamison has to fill that role instead of helping out in other situations.

As you can see in last week’s game against the Indiana Pacers, they Pacers attacked Pau on the pick-and-roll for the winning basket.

Gasol looks lost as he tries to slow down the Pacers George Hill, who drives right by him and floats a teardrop before Dwight Howard can block the shot.

This has been a constant theme this season as Gasol has had to fight through numerous pick-and-rolls every night.  He doesn’t have the speed or quickness at this juncture of his career to defend effectively.

So what can Gasol do and what role should he have on this Laker team?  He is playing at a less than ideal level and he is receiving a lot fewer post-up opportunities than in seasons past.

The typical power forward position is evolving into a different breed with the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, who have the ability to shoot from long range and can also penetrate to the basket. 

Pau can force his way and disrupt D’Antoni’s proven offensive system or he can adapt and create his own spot in this offense.

In order for Pau to become relevant on this Lakers team, he needs to check his ego at the door and put in the hard time.  He needs to run more and be quicker in anticipating plays on both offense and defense.

In this highlight here, Gasol anticipates the transition basket and is far out ahead of everyone.

The result is an easy dunk at the other end of the court and definitely a confidence booster.  He needs to do this night in and night out.

It doesn’t help that the team is without its playmaking point guard, Steve Nash.  Nash will create many opportunities to feed Gasol and they can easily team up for the pick-and-roll, similar to John Stockton and Karl Malone.

In the meantime, Laker fans hope that Kobe has lit a fire under Gasol to perform at his best every night.

Instead of being benched for the later part of the fourth quarter, D’Antoni needs to play Gasol in spurts, especially when Howard is out of the game.  In order to give Gasol more shots in the restricted area, he needs to be teamed up with backup center Jordan Hill whenever possible.

D’Antoni needs to rest Gasol more of the game to keep him effective and productive during the time he is on the floor.  Gasol still needs to get in at least 25-30 minutes, but resting him at appropriate times will increase his productivity.

Gasol and Howard can coexist as shown by this video clip. 

Gasol runs without the ball to the middle of the lane, catches a pass from Metta World Peace and puts up a beautiful skyhook pass to Dwight Howard for an easy slam.

When he does have to share the court with Howard, Gasol needs to be proactive and be the first guy running out after defensive stops.  Gasol can therefore create mismatches with opposing team’s guards and get his necessary points in the restricted area.

D’Antoni will also have to adapt his system by running misdirection plays with Howard and Bryant so that Gasol can slip inside for a close bucket or allow him to post up with Howard running interference at the high post.

These changes don’t require the splitting of an atom.  These are small changes that can get Gasol more involved in the offense and stop the current free fall the Lakers are experiencing. 

The decision now lies in Gasol’s hands.  Is he willing to put in the extra work and adapt, or will he continue to fight the system? 

The Lakers need him to be a team player to turn this season around.

Follow me @ScottInTheBay

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