Pau Gasol: Dwight Howard Injury Gives Big Man Opportunity to Prove Value

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Pau Gasol #16 and Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers react to a foul call during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 28, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 104-87.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

For most of the 2012 season, Pau Gasol has been the Los Angeles Lakers' fifth wheel.

With massive changes to the roster and coaching staff, the once vital part of the starting lineup has struggled to find his place. To make matters worse, Gasol has struggled to even stay in the lineup thanks to injury issues.

Considering the high expectations placed on this Lakers team, fans and analysts alike have wondered aloud about Gasol's worth to the team.

Fortunately for Gasol, the one scenario that would allow him to once again become a necessary part of the lineup has happened—Dwight Howard is injured.

When the Lakers made the move to bring Howard on board, they did so knowing full well that there could be an injury risk. After all, he came to Los Angeles fresh off of a back surgery that made his status for the beginning of the season unclear. It's not a shocking surprise that Howard is likely to sustain some injuries along the way.

According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Howard could miss some time with his injured shoulder:

Dwight Howard says he might not play tomorrow vs. DEN because of sprained right shoulder sustained vs. Clippers. #Lakers

— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) January 5, 2013

The biggest concern with Gasol this season has been a dreadful drop in his field-goal percentage. Bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, it was expected that Gasol's overall scoring output would suffer, but the fact that he has become a much less efficient player is what has submarined his value to the Lakers.

Gasol is a career 51 percent shooter but is shooting 41 percent from the field on the season. Much of that can be attributed to a lack of touches in the low post.

When healthy and in the right role, Gasol is one of the most skilled offensive big men in the NBA. When he's relegated to playing the high post and second fiddle to a dominant man in the middle like Howard, he's average at best.

With Howard nicked up, now is the time for Gasol to show that he can still be a consistent force on the inside.

If Gasol can step up and perform as the Lakers' top big man like he has in the past, he will prove that he still has value for the Lakers going forward, or at the very least show that he could be a star elsewhere should the team decide to move him.

Either way Gasol must take advantage of his current situation if he wants to silence the critics who say he's simply washed up.