Amar'e Stoudemire and Pau Gasol's Troubles Are One and the Same
Amar'e Stoudemire and Pau Gasol are very different players. The former is a pick-and-roll expert, a savant at diving to the rim at just the right moment. His early career was defined by a surreal athleticism and one of the better YouTube mixes of the mid-2000s.
The latter is defined by his size and skill. Gasol isn't much of an athlete when it comes to quick-twitch muscles. But few centers in league history could pull this off:
With such disparate skill sets, you wouldn't expect these two big men to be in the same, sad predicament of not fitting on their respective NBA rosters. That this is the case speaks to the difficulty in assembling such rosters. An NBA team must be more than a collection of talent. To succeed in a competitive league, it is almost necessary for your talent to be complementary.
Amar'e Stoudemire might be a complementary player if the Knicks didn't have Carmelo Anthony. Though the reigning assumption was that Melo and Amar'e did not fit together on account of the latter's preference for pick-and-roll, this isn't so. Instead, they do not fit together because Carmelo should be playing Amar'e's position.
At the small forward position, Anthony gets bogged down in isolation offense. When he's playing power forward alongside three other three-point shooters, he thrives with more space to operate and more off-the-catch three-point attempts.
Stoudemire does not benefit from a similar strategy because he cannot shoot threes. For New York's wildly successful four-out (four players above the three-point line) offense to work, it must have four three-point threats.
Amar'e had prior success in this kind of pick-and-roll attack with the Phoenix Suns and Mike D'Antoni. The difference was that he was playing center, and another power forward was taking the role of three-point threat. Playing Stoudemire at center now isn't really feasible because: a) Amar'e is a terrible frontcourt defender, and b) the Knicks have Tyson Chandler, who's an excellent frontcourt defender.
Unlike Amar'e, Gasol is a decent defender in the frontcourt. His issue is that another, even better frontcourt defender occupies his preferred role. The Lakers have two centers, as much as they might not want to admit it. Gasol might be excellent on the block and guarding opposing 5s, but at the 4, he compromises his team's floor-spacing (Gasol is not really a three-point shooter) and struggles to stay in front of athletic power forwards.
The Lakers would prefer to run a D'Antoni-style spread pick-and-roll, and it's hard to incorporate Gasol if he can't shoot threes. L.A. is committed to the younger, better Dwight Howard, so time at the center spot is hard to come by for Pau.
In the past, L.A.'s two-center situation was mitigated by Lamar Odom playing heavy minutes alongside Gasol; these days, there's no Odom to serve as a bridge between lineups involving a center.
So, though Stoudemire and Gasol are quite different players, they share a flaw that keeps them from fitting within their teams: Both are not three-point shooters. This tells you a little about where the league is heading in this brave new world of zone defense. Space is crucial these days, and the spread pick-and-roll attack is more than en vogue: It works exceedingly well.
Successful teams now flaunt the ability to play a three-point-shooting power forward alongside a defensive center. This is the ideal approach because it allows a coach to stymie the opposition on one end, while stretching their defense thin on the other. Since this is such a specific roster demand, quality players will be left out in the cold on certain rosters.
Big men who can't shoot threes beware: Unless you are at the absolute top of your profession defensively, your job is at risk.
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