While the blogosphere continues to talk about whether or not Pau Gasol will be traded, let's take a look at how he can help this team when he gets back from resting his tendinitis-laced knees.
There’s no doubt that the Spaniard is having one of the roughest seasons of his career, but we can still look for him to help out the Lakers upon his return—especially when Hack-A-Howard is in play.
It’s not a secret that Howard is struggling from the free-throw line. Right now, he’s averaging the lowest free-throw percentage while taking the second-most attempts from the line in his career.
Opposing teams have taken advantage of Howard’s struggles from the line by employing the Hack-A-Howard strategy late in fourth quarters. For the most part, the strategy has worked. Howard is averaging less than one point per possession, and while the Lakers defense continues to struggle, teams are trading less than one point for two or three to either close the gap or extend a lead of their own for three-to-four minutes per game.
The problem can be remedied one of two ways: Either Dwight Howard makes his free throws or Pau Gasol plays without Howard on the floor until the two-minute mark is reached and the fouling strategy is no longer legal.
On the surface, removing who may be your team’s best player during crunch time may seem counterproductive—especially when you consider that Gasol is averaging the fewest points per game (12.6) while also shooting the worst percentage of his illustrious career (42 percent).
But the story gets a little bit different when you look at Gasol’s numbers with Howard on and off the court.
Take a look at the numbers on the left, which represent where Gasol has taken his shots and how effective he’s been from those locations.
The most important number in the chart on the left is the 53.8 percent to the right of the mid-range variable. More than half of Gasol’s shots are mid-range jumpers when Howard is on the floor with him and he’s only making 38.5 percent of those shots.
Now, take a look at the chart on the right and see where all of those mid-range shots are going. They’ve moved to the restricted area, where he’s taking 41.8 percent of his shots and making them at a 65 percent clip.
Again, take a look at the chart on the left, which represents how far away Gasol is when he’s taking his jump shots. The number of shots taken from 15-to-24 feet is ridiculous considering Gasol has been one of the most versatile offensive players in the post over the last few years.
Only about 25 percent of Gasol’s shots are coming right at the rim with Howard on the floor whereas he’s taking 42 percent of his shots from the same distance in the same area with Howard on the bench.
Furthermore, Gasol is taking almost 75 percent of his shots inside of 15 feet.
The long two is the least efficient shot in basketball and Pau’s shooting woes this season are directly related to him taking a large number of his field-goal attempts from that distance with Howard on the floor.
So what does this all mean?
It means that from the six-minute mark to the two-minute mark, D’Antoni can play Gasol on the floor without Howard and see much better results than allowing teams to foul Howard and exploit one of the Lakers' most glaring weaknesses.
Teams won’t be able to reduce the Lakers to less than a point per possession. It also means that Gasol’s productivity can increase for a few extra minutes per game while Howard collects himself during the prime Hack-A-Howard minutes.
It seems like an easy enough fix, but as of right now, D’Antoni is sticking to his guns and will continue to keep Howard in the game. Following the Lakers' most recent loss to the Rockets, D’Antoni was asked what he thinks of pundits who think Howard should sit when opposing teams would employ the fouling method (per The Los Angeles Times' Ben Bolch):
…they have no clue what they're talking about. It's pretty simple. You don't do that to a guy and he made his foul shots. He's not the reason that our defense breaks down. He's not the reason that stuff happens. He's got to work through this.
Things could get frustrating while the Lakers wait on Howard to “work things out,” but if things fail to change in coming weeks, sitting Howard in favor of Gasol at the center position could be the best play for the Lakers moving forward.