Pau Gasol and Mike D'Antoni Must Adapt Together to Save L.A. Lakers Season
It's hard to pinpoint a lowlight in the Los Angeles Lakers' 2012-13 season.
The most obvious would be the team's 1-4 start and subsequent firing of Mike Brown.
But the team's ensuing 7-5 play has hardly been the resurgent effort that front office members and analysts expected following the failed coaching experiment. What should have sparked a return to prominence has seen a new venture to mediocrity.
Sure, under new coach Mike D'Antoni, this Lakers team did manage victories over Brooklyn and Denver. But it also dropped games to cellar-dwellers Sacramento and Orlando. Even worse, the Lakers fell to the Magic and Kings (who are a combined 10-22) by a combined margin of 26 points. So these were hardly games that they let their lesser opponents steal in the final minute.
L.A. has looked lost on both ends of the floor. And no Laker player has looked more puzzled than Pau Gasol.
The four-time All-Star (and two-time NBA champion) has looked equal parts discombobulated and disengaged. He's been passive on offense and outworked on defense.
As a result, he's well on his way to his worst statistical season of his career. His shooting has reached a new low and has dragged his scoring down with it. His offensive issues have extended to the glass where he's corralled his fewest rebounds since 2007-08.
For L.A. to approach the realization of their lofty preseason expectations, they'll need Gasol to be at least an effective starter. So what's the best way to get him back on track?
Teammate Kobe Bryant said that Gasol simply needs to put on his "big-boy pants" (according to Joe McDonnell of FoxSportsWest.com). Bryant has never shied away from using the media to call out his teammates (a tactic he perhaps learned from former coach Phil Jackson), but it may take more than a colorful quip to re-engage the Spaniard.
Perhaps the biggest key solving the Lakers' biggest puzzle lies within D'Antoni's head. The noted offensive guru has to mend his coaching style to fit this unique roster—something that the former Suns and Knicks coach has been unwilling (or unable) to do in his career.
Bryant has thrived in his career when sharing the floor with a dominant low-post scorer. He filled three of his fingers with championship rings sharing the floor with Shaquille O'Neal. He then filled out the hand adding two more rings with Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
With Dwight Howard on board (and the player formerly known as Pau Gasol still on the roster), Bryant has all of the ingredients for another championship feast. Perhaps that was the real cause for his public backing (via USAToday.com) of returning Phil Jackson to the Lakers' sideline.
The Lakers, of course, opted to reunite D'Antoni and (injured) point guard Steve Nash. The pick-and-roll heavy offense may suit those two very well, but it's not a system that Gasol has a lot of experience in.
The Lakers' bigs need to adapt to D'Antoni's system, because the coach is the one calling the shots. The pick-and-rolls will continue to be an integral piece of this offense and both Gasol and Howard have the ability to finish plays attacking the basket.
But D'Antoni needs to adapt his own style to work with one of the most unique rosters assembled in league history. The league's shift away from big, physical lineups should be all the more reason to exploit L.A.'s growing size advantage with more post touches. Teams don't have the bodies to match up with a Howard-Gasol frontcourt, particularly when those two are paired with great drivers like Bryant and Nash.
It's a great problem to have. The Lakers have the talent to win multiple championships with this roster and a coach with the pedigree to lead them there.
But it's a problem nonetheless. And one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/3/2012.
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