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Has Pau Gasol Ever Really Fit in with L.A. Lakers?

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Has Pau Gasol Ever Really Fit in with L.A. Lakers?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There was a time when Pau Gasol was a perfect fit with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Los Angeles' towering big man wasn't always knocking down a career-low 42 percent of shots, averaging a career-worst 12.6 points or posting a career-crippling PER of 15. 

Watching Gasol struggle to grasp essentially four different offenses over the last three years hasn't been easy, and his ongoing bout with tendinitis—as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com—is just the spoiled cherry on top of his garbage-flavored sundae.

Yet as we watch Gasol attempt to navigate the rigors of age while adjusting to an array of offensive sets that render him a misfit, we must never forget that that it wasn't always like this.

There was actually a time when a Lakers head coach wasn't actively acknowledging Gasol wasn't the perfect fit for his system, like Mike D'Antoni (via Howard Beck of The New York Times) recently admitted:

D’Antoni acknowledged that Gasol did not fit the prototype for his offense, but said: “He’s probably the most skilled big guy in the league. So if you can’t figure out what to do with him, then you need to change your philosophy.” He added: “Things might look a little different. But he adds things that a quick guy can’t add, or a little guy.”

Whether or not D'Antoni believes in Gasol is irrelevant at this point, because he's already noted he isn't the "prototypical" forward for his offense.

Again, though, it wasn't always like this.

There was actually a time when Gasol mattered, when the Lakers offense was tailored to meet his needs and strengths, and when Kobe Bryant wasn't demanding he change his pants.

But when was that? When was it that Gasol finally lost his way? Or are we to believe that he's never been a palpable fit in Tinseltown?

Let's journey back through the past five-plus years and find out.

 

The Phil Jackson Era (2008-2011)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Gasol was at his best under Phil.

Gasol played within Phil Jackson's Triangle offense for more than three years after coming to the Lakers via the Memphis Grizzlies.

During that time, Gasol averaged 18.3 points on 54.8 percent shooting from the field per 36 minutes, marks that made him Los Angeles' second-leading scorer behind Kobe Bryant and ahead of Andrew Bynum. He also never averaged more than 2.8 field-goal attempts outside of 16 feet, preferring instead to operate closer to the post.

In fact, while under Jackson, just 26 percent of Gasol's shots came from outside the paint.

The result?

Gasol and the Lakers laid claim to two NBA titles and three straight finals appearances. The forward also saw himself selected to three consecutive All-Star games throughout that span as well.

It was during this time that Pau was officially heralded as a star. Even next to the polarizing presence of Bryant and the captivating potential of Bynum, he was able to establish himself as his own player.

But would it last?

 

And Then There Was Mike Brown (2011-12)

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Gasol looked out of place under Brown as well.

As it is with all good things, Jackson's tenure in Los Angeles came to end, and Mike Brown was ushered in. He lasted a little more than a year before being canned for attempting to institute a point guard-optional Princeton offense when the Lakers boasted the likes of Nash.

But before the five games Brown coached this season, there was last season. It was a campaign in which Gasol struggled, and it was one that saw him miss the All-Star Game for the first time in three years.

From a statistical standpoint, Gasol's season was anything but atrocious. He averaged 16.7 points on 50.1 percent shooting per 36 minutes.

Shot chart for 2011-12 via NBA.com.

At the same time, however, those 16.7 points per 36 minutes of burn were his lowest ever, and he was attempting a career-high 4.5 shots from 16 feet and beyond a night as well. And by the time Brown was terminated, 43 percent of his shot attempts were coming outside the paint.

Clearly his game, the way in which he was being used and encouraged to play, had changed.

All it takes is one look at the 12.5 points on 43.4 percent shooting per 36 minutes he averaged during the 2012 playoffs to see that it wasn't for the better.

 

Magic Mike D'Antoni/Bernie Bickerstaff (2012-present)

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Gasol has been disastrous under D'Antoni.

The post-Mike Brown era has been anything but kind to Gasol.

Sure, his tendinitis is acting up, but he has been asked to play even further out of his comfort zone.

Shot chart for 2012-13 via NBA.com.

In the combined Bernie Bickerstaff and Mike D'Antoni eras, 57 percent of Gasol's shot attempts have come from outside the paint.

For those stat gurus at home, that's nearly 15 percent more than he took under Brown and more than double his figure playing for Jackson.

And that's proved to be a problem. 

Gasol's current marks of 13 points on 42 percent shooting per 36 minutes are officially the worst of his career. He's attempting a career-high 5.5 shot attempts outside of 16 feet per game and converting on a combined 34.8 percent of them.

What's more is he has found himself benched numerous times down the stretch and continues to be plagued by incessant trade rumors, leading many to believe he has hit rock bottom.

As well as completely fallen out of favor within the Lakers organization.

 

Did He Ever Fit In?

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Gasol did fit in, when he was under Jackson

As I stated before, there was a time Gasol fit in with the Lakers, when he wasn't only an integral cog, but a successful part of what they were trying do.

That time came under Jackson, the coach whose offense allowed Gasol to operate within the confines of the paint, from which 74 percent his shot attempts originated.

But that was then. D'Antoni's one-in, four-out system isn't crafted to play to the big man's strengths. In his system, there is only player who has the freedom to roam within the painted area, and that player is generally Dwight Howard.

Which has left Gasol to take 59 percent of his shot attempts outside the paint.

That, in turn, has left him to toil with the reality of becoming a non-factor.

But it wasn't always like this.

Under which coach did Pau Gasol fit best?

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Remember, Gasol once fit the mold of a player the Lakers needed. Remember that he once helped this team win two championships. Remember that he was selected to three consecutive All-Star games.

And remember that all happened under Jackson.

Then remember that's the same Jackson who was passed over in favor of D'Antoni. The same Jackson who was no longer deemed to be a good fit within the schematic of this team.

The same Jackson who ultimately became an outcast.

Just like Gasol has now.

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of December 4th, 2012 unless otherwise noted.

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