Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol is one of the most versatile big men in the NBA. He's an exceptional passer, has a plethora of low-post moves and can finish with either hand around the basket.
However, you wouldn't know that if you were only introduced to Gasol this season. Under the watchful eye of head coach Mike D'Antoni, Gasol now spends most of his time roaming the perimeter, robbing the 7-foot star of much of his effectiveness.
The 32-year-old forward is shooting a career-worst 41.2 percent from the floor, and is becoming increasingly disenchanted with each passing game. Gasol's poor play has led to him being benched four times in the fourth quarter since D'Antoni took over just prior to Thanksgiving.
Now that Gasol spends much of his time 10-15 feet from the basket, his rebounding totals are suffering as well. Under former head coaches Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff, Gasol had five double-doubles in the Lakers' first eleven games. With D'Antoni on the bench, Gasol has grabbed 10 rebounds or more only once in 13 contests. Through 24 games, Gasol is averaging just 2.2 offensive rebounds per night—the lowest figure of his career.
Gasol may be frustrated with his role with the Lakers, but he won't go so far as to ask for a trade.
"No, oh, that's radical," Gasol told ESPN. "I still have faith that I can be a big part in helping this team succeed."
The head coach of the Lakers has faith as well, and in order to get on the same page with his star forward, D'Antoni invited Gasol out to dinner in late December.
"It was to make sure we're in the same boat," Gasol told the Los Angeles Times the day after the late-night meeting. "Hopefully, we can meet halfway on some points."
Nearly three weeks later, the two parties still haven't found much common ground. Gasol continues to hang around the foul-line extended area, spotting up for jump shots instead of rolling toward the basket and/or posting up at the start of each possession. And just as Gasol struggles to find his niche is D'Antoni's system, the Lakers are still trying to find some level of consistency on both ends of the floor.
The most consistent thing about the Lakers offense is the way that they've miscast Gasol this year. This season, 51.1 percent of his field-goal attempts have come from 10 feet and beyond. By comparison, 44.3 percent of Gasol's shots came from the same distance in 2011-12.
To help illustrate this point better, here is a chart showing the distribution of Gasol's shots this season:
As you can see, 26.1 percent of Gasol's shot attempts come from the top of the key, and only 10.3 percent come from either side of the paint. On the surface, that doesn't appear to be the most practical way to utilize a 7-footer.
"It's difficult sometimes because it's not up to me to get involved," said Gasol in an interview with ESPN on Jan. 4. "I'm trying, but the times that I am at the elbows are the times that I get more involved and can make more plays from there, but it's not consistent."
Obviously, the offseason addition of Dwight Howard means that Gasol can't post up as often as he used to. But when one of the league's best big men is relegated to running pick-and-pop plays with Steve Nash much of the time, something is wrong with the system, not the player.
D'Antoni begs to differ, however. And if his recent comments are any indication, he won't be changing his schemes to accommodate anyone anytime soon.
"He'll be good in any system," D'Antoni told the Los Angeles Times when asked if Gasol can work in the Lakers' current offensive structure. "There can't be a system out there where, if you're really skilled and know how to play, it doesn't work for you."
That statement doesn't appear to be entirely true, given the Lakers' 15-17 record and the overwhelming talent that they have on the roster. Yet despite all of the issues that the team has had this year, Los Angeles is still capable of winning the NBA title.
That said, there won't be a parade through the heart of downtown L.A. unless D'Antoni puts his players in the positions where they're most able to succeed. And for Pau Gasol, that position is much closer to the basket than where he's been standing for most of this season.
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