The Memphis Grizzlies are winning consistently with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but the Los Angeles Lakers continue to stumble with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. There's something to be learned from that.
Though the caliber of Pau and Howard suggest that the Lakers need to have them play together as much as possible, it's impossible to guarantee their styles and tendencies will ever complement each other perfectly.
Nor should the Lakers want to make such a guarantee. Again, these are two essential All-Stars. Utilizing the extent of their talents should be something Los Angeles is keen on doing all the time.
And that's going to require the team to commit to some degree of separation.
We've discussed the notion previously and the numbers are there to support it. Just five of the Lakers' most productive five-man units include Howard and Pau. That is cause enough to stagger the amount of time they spend alongside each other.
But while this is a strategy that Mike D'Antoni and the Lakers have begun to explore, there is some reluctance (via Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com) on the part of the two parties involved:
"I think it's good that we spend some time together on the court and also apart so I can play a little more center and closer to the basket. But we have to find a balance and the right rotations and timings out there where we can exploit our size when we're together and also give each other some rest.
"We're two talented players and we can overpower people. You're talking about two top big guys in the league, you should take advantage of it."
It's not just Gasol who remains skeptical about the separation either. D'Antoni is just as agnostic:
"It's our job to figure out a way for them to play together because they're both really good," D'Antoni said. "We could have two 7-footers and have something that people don't have.
"We got to figure that out, and as Pau gets more comfortable and in shape, we will figure it out to a certain extent. I don't know how much. I think they can coexist."
It's spectacular that Pau and D'Antoni want Los Angeles' two towers to co-exist alongside each other. It really is. Even their apprehension understandable. After all, there's no guarantee a dose of segregation is going to result in winning, correct? Separating two of your best players isn't going to lead to title contention, right?
Except that it will. Again, I draw your attention to the Grizzlies.
Because both Randolph and Gasol are putting up All-Star caliber numbers—separately.
The Grizzlies' dynamic duo is currently combining for 31.9 points per 36 minutes on 48.9 percent shooting. Granted, that's not far off from the 30.8 points on 49.5 percent shooting Howard and Pau are combining for.
Memphis' current standing, though, is. The Grizzlies have the fourth-best record in the NBA at 17-6, a steep cry from the 12-14 effort Los Angeles has put forth this season.
Sure, not all of Memphis' success can be attributed to achieving diversification between Gasol and Randolph. There are plenty of other players who have stepped up and helped carry their own weight.
That said, their ability to play apart from each other, and excel while doing so, has been nothing short of instrumental in their team's quest for contention.
Of the Grizzlies' top 20 most used five-man units, just six include both Gasol and Randolph. To answer question, no, I'm not kidding. It actually gets even better.
Within the 20 lineups where Randolph is used most, merely eight of them include Gasol. The same holds true for Gasol himself. Of the 20 lineups where he is used most, just eight of them dictate he play alongside Randolph.
More impressively, this balance comes with both of them starting. Gasol and Randolph both run out the tunnel as a member of the starting five, yet less than half of Memphis' most used lineups include the both of them.
Detachment can be both healthy and productive. Just because Howard and Pau mean so much to the Lakers doesn't mean they have to spend every one of their moments—or even a majority of moments—together on the court. Better yet, the Grizzlies also have been able to establish such a precedent without benching one or the other.
Memphis understands that the effective field-goal percentage of 42.25 they post with Gasol and Randolph together pales in comparison to the 47 percent they post as a team.
This is something the Lakers must come to embrace a well. As a team, they're effective field-goal percentage stands at 51, but that mark falls to 46.8 when Howard and Pau are on the floor together. Therefore, at least for a majority of the time, divorcing the two makes sense.
A lot of sense.
It provided both Pau and Howard with the opportunity to spend a majority of their time where they feel most comfortable. It also gives the Lakers the best possible chance of actualizing their potential as contender.
Does the call for separation mean Los Angeles is a failure, that the assembled convocation is a bust?
Well, would we consider Memphis a failure?
Absolutely not. And the same will eventually be said about the Lakers.
Once they pick up on the successful groundwork the Grizzlies have laid right in front of them.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 20, 2012.
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