Steve Nash Will Turn Pau Gasol into Versatile Weapon LA Lakers Desperately Need

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

Pau Gasol needs Steve Nash more than anyone else on the Los Angeles Lakers.

End of story.

Yes, Nash stands to help both Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard take their games to new heights, but without him, they remain two of the most dominant players at their respective positions.

Gasol, though? Not so much.

Unlike his comrades, he has been forced to play outside of his comfort zone. Sure, Bryant has been tasked with playing a bit of small forward, but that's essentially interchangeable with with the shooting guard position—especially in Mike D'Antoni's system.

The same cannot be said of the conventional power forward role and that of a stretch forward. One embodies the art of low-post play, while the other lives and dies by his perimeter accuracy. 

Gasol has been asked to assume the role of the latter, and the results have been overwhelmingly horrific. Currently, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-worst 12.3 points on 41.3-percent shooting. Though some would like to attribute his decline in production to age and diminishing durability, I'd be lying if I didn't admit I believe they're wrong.

Los Angeles' big man is indeed older, but this drop in production is more indicative of a systematic failure than anything.

Take Gasol's best season as a Laker. During the 2008-09 campaign, 69 percent of his shot attempts came within nine feet. The result? He averaged 18.9 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor.

Fast forward to this year, and 53.4 percent of his field-goals attempts are now coming outside of nine feet. 

Is that a problem? His 27.9 conversion rate from such distances would say yes. 

Attribute Gasol's demise to age and diminutive health all you want, but the absence of a post game is what has truly crippled him thus far.

Clearly, there isn't enough room for both Howard and Gasol to operate in the paint. Not within the uptempo, "one-in, four-out" offense D'Antoni runs. But that doesn't mean there isn't hope for Gasol.

Staggering the pairings minutes is an option, and it's one that the Lakers should continue to explore. Yet, in a rotation that stretches just seven effective players deep, simultaneously having to play the two is inevitable.

Enter Nash.

The point guard is fresh off an extensive rehabilitation, and whether or not you believe the 39-year-old point guard will be the Lakers' ultimate savior, you must understand this: He is, without a doubt, Gasol's knight in vibrant purple and gold armor.

Nash is a floor-spacing genius. His dribble penetration coupled with his crafty East and West handle bewilders defenses and allows teammates to operate where they feel most comfortable.

Does this mean Gasol will be camping out under the basket?

Absolutely not, but it doesn't mean he will be restricted to the perimeter at all times either.

It wasn't long ago that Gasol was one of the most versatile scorers in the game. He's an obvious interior stud, but he has always had the ability to feast on his jumper. Remember, it was but two years ago that Gasol converted on 46.2 percent of his field-goal attempts between 10 and 23 feet. And that's a testament to how he can thrive from the outside.

He just can't live off it.

As such, the key now is getting Gasol back to that point where he is afforded the luxury of actually being versatile. Again, more than half of his shot attempts are coming outside of nine feet, indicating he hasn't had the opportunity to vary his shot-selection.

Thus, getting him some extra looks at the rim is essential. He and Nash will run the pick-and-pop all night long, but Gasol becomes more effective if he's also an interior threat.

And Nash can find that equilibrium, even with Howard occupying the painted area. Just ask Amar'e Stoudemire.

This isn't the first time Nash has been entrusted with leading two prolific big men to concurrent success. Hell, this isn't the first time he's been saddled with such a burden in D'Antoni's system.

While Gasol was busy having the best season of his Lakers tenure in 2008-09, Nash was attempting to run an uptempo offense for the Phoenix Suns, one that included both Amar'e Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal.

It was a quest that was seemingly impossible. How could Amar'e and Shaq operate in coexistent harmony in a "one-in, four-out" blueprint. Like Gasol, Stoudemire had range, but also like Gasol, there were limits to his outside prowess.

But that proved not to matter. Phoenix won just 46 games that season, but their mediocrity was helped along by Stoudemire's 29 games worth of absences more than anything else.

What matters here is that Stoudemire and O'Neal combined for 39.2 points per game. What matters here is that 46 of the 53 games Amar'e played were spent starting alongside Shaq.

And what matters even more here is that 61.7 percent of Stoudemire's shot attempts came within nine feet—next to Shaq.

You see, there's a reason Nash wanted to play alongside Gasol, even though that meant coupling him with Howard as well—he knows he can make this work. He has already made this work in Phoenix.

Nash, be it through his penetration or high-to-low pick-and-roll tactics, can get Gasol to where he can be most effective. He can provide him with additional shots within nine feet (where he is shooting 44.7 percent overall) and right at the rim (where he is hitting on 67.3 percent of his attempts). He can ensure that Gasol's averages don't continue to hover around disappointing to God-awful.

He can be the one that injects life and versatility back into Gasol's barren offensive game.

He's the one who will ultimately turn Gasol back into the lethal offensive weapon he used to be. The one who can render him a varying catalyst, not an offensive liability.

The one who can give the Lakers back the bludgeoning scorer they have so sorely missed, and now so desperately need.


*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 23, 2012.


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