Bringing Pau Gasol off L.A. Lakers Bench Is the No-Brainer Move They're Missing

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2012

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 24:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on November 24, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have finally started to discuss the issue of whether or not to bring Pau Gasol in off the bench, something that's been buzzing about the Internet for a few weeks now.

Of course, even though they had the conversation, they've already made the decision to keep him in the starting lineup when he does eventually return, which is a questionable decision.

They have their reasons, of course. They want to wait until Steve Nash returns to see if he can make everything run more smoothly, and it probably feels strange to them to have a $19 million sixth man.

On the surface, it's easy to see that Gasol is struggling. From the knee tendinitis that has kept him out of the past three games to the career-low numbers he's putting up (12.6 points on 42 percent shooting), something is obviously wrong with Gasol.

Normally it would be fine to attribute his drop-off in production to the injury, but it's been such an extreme decline that it's hard to take that as the one and only culprit.

One of the other biggest factors in Gasol's early-season troubles has to be that he and Dwight Howard fit together like cheese and chocolate. You could probably find a way for them to work together, but they've both got to be perfect. In this case, it's been a little more like mixing Hershey's Syrup with Cheez Whiz than Swiss dark chocolate with a wedge of brie.

Before he was sat down in an attempt to rid him of the knee tendinitis that has been bothering him since training camp, Gasol was camped out in the high post more often than usual. This forced him into jumpers and shots away from the rim more than he's used to.

The plurality of Gasol's shot attempts have come from outside the paint, but inside the three-point line, from where he's taking 46 percent of his shots and making just 39 percent. Compare that to last season, when he shot just 40 percent of his shots from the same region, sinking 42 percent.

Gasol's game is based on versatility, and with Howard clogging the paint, taking a ridiculous 75 percent of his shots right at the rim, he has fewer and fewer chances of getting to the rim for a shot.

Instead of being able to plant himself in the low post and establish a presence there so he could follow it up with some work in the high post, he's now relegated to pick-and-pop or solely high-post work, with the occasional journey to the rim. 

Throughout the season, Los Angeles' most effective lineup has been the quintet of Steve Blake, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard.

Moving away from that, however, their next-most effective lineups have been ones featuring Gasol next to Jordan Hill or Howard next to Antawn Jamison.

This is a case when common sense is backed up by statistics. Gasol needs the low post to diversify his game, and with Hill being such a sparse scorer, Gasol is free to roam the post as he pleases. Meanwhile, Jamison is much more of a shooter than Gasol, which spreads the floor and gives Howard the opportunity to play his game in the post with a more effective stretch-4.

What I'm getting at here is that the Lakers are missing a valuable opportunity to maximize the number of minutes they spend running out their most effective lineups. 

At first I was a proponent of staggering the lineups to the point where Howard and Gasol would start and finish games together but not overlap too much throughout the course of the game. However, it seems to me that the best way to go at this point would be for the Lakers to turn Gasol into their sixth man.

This would give Howard the most possible time as the dominant scorer in the post with Jamison playing as his frontcourt running mate, and Gasol would get time with both Jamison and Hill, two guys with whom he's played well.

What it does better than lineup staggering is giving the Lakers a more structured rotation to use, and it's one that would be more effective than trying to force two corner puzzle pieces, like Howard and Gasol, to stick together.

Sure, the two of them could play together at times, most likely late in games. They are, after all, quite effective at times. What bringing Gasol off the bench does, however, is maximize the amount of production they can get from the two big men.

There's still the chance that Nash is the Pepto-Bismol that somehow will settle the churning stomach that is this Lakers offense. But it seems unlikely that he's going to be able to wave a magic wand and make everything better once he does come back.