Pau Gasol's Injury Paves Way for LA Lakers to Play Mike D'Antoni Small Ball

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Pau Gasol's Injury Paves Way for LA Lakers to Play Mike D'Antoni Small Ball
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pau Gasol is out, Mike D'Antoni's affinity for small-ball is in for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Already down Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace against the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers lost Gasol as well in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles still managed to claim a victory over Brooklyn, but it came at a price.

Per Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Gasol tore his plantar fascia and will be out at least six weeks.

Gasol has been fighting a seemingly losing battle with plantar fasciitis all season and given his previous assessment of the injury, the extent of its severity is really no surprise. (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com):

"I was dealing with it, but that play when I tried to jump off of it and try go block the shot (by Brooklyn's Brook Lopez), just as I took off, I felt a pop in the bottom of my foot on my fascia and I couldn't get up. I'm worried about it."

Last week, Gasol said he was playing through a pain level of eight out of 10 in his right foot.

And to think, that eight of 10 was before he actually tore anything. Yikes.

USA TODAY Sports
Gasol's reaction to his latest injury suggests he won't return to action for some time.

Gasol isn't a doctor, but a player's initial reaction to any injuries or abrasions are usually pretty accurate. 

Take the battered Howard. He has been playing through physical agony all season and injured his right shoulder on numerous occasions. Most recently, he tweaked it against the Phoenix Suns and immediately conceded it was the most pain he has felt since the initial injury. And he hasn't played since.

Fast forward to Los Angeles' bout against Brooklyn, and we have the same premise, different player.

Gasol's concern about his right foot has reached an unprecedented level for the Lakers and the big man himself. That he has "never felt anything" like he did against the Nets doesn't bode well for his immediate future or even the reported six week rehabilitation. Not to mention it cripples a Lakers team already asphyxiated at the proverbial hands of injury and controversy.

Or does it?

Yeah, that didn't look good.

Going as far as to say Gasol's absence will be a blessing in disguise is a stretch. Accepting that his forced removal from the rotation opens the window of offensive opportunity is not.

D'Antoni's offense has been butchered to no end. Even with Gasol coming off the bench when Howard's healthy, his movement-heavy, jump-shot-happy ideals have been compromised. He's been forced to play to the strengths of a rotation that features two top-tier big men.

And rightfully so. A team can't boast the likes of both Gasol and Howard and not use them. Only now, there doesn't seem to be any Gasol. And there might not even be any Howard.

Which has left the Lakers small, albeit shallow, just the way D'Antoni's offense needs it.

Magic Mike's one-in, four-out strategy has frequently been chastised and subsequently rejected, but now Los Angeles has no choice but to embrace it. 

Even if we assume Howard returns to the lineup immediately, Gasol's latest setback paves the way for D'Antoni to stray away from the oft-detrimental pairing that has become Pau and Dwight.

Harry How/Getty Images
LA has not had success going "big."

Gasol and Howard have played 33 games side by side thus far and are averaging 20.5 minutes a night of simultaneous burn. During such time, the Lakers are being outscored by their opponents to the tune of 1.3 points per 100 possessions. 

A scanty 1.3 points appears to be just that—insignificant. But it's a deficit nonetheless. The Lakers are actually outscoring their opponents by 1.7 points per game, and still, they're three games below .500. Fooling ourselves into believing those 1.3 points mean nothing is pointless.

Being coerced into going "big" has diminished the impact of D'Antoni's offense. Too often, Gasol and Howard are found jostling for the same position. Jouncing of that kind was necessary, though, as it beat the alternative of watching Gasol whither away on the perimeter.

Los Angeles tried to transform Pau into a stretch forward; it really did. But it failed. And the remnants of said failure are still evidenced by the fact that (per hoopdata.com) about half of Gasol's shot attempts are coming outside of nine feet, though he converts on just 33.8 percent of them.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
D'Antoni now has an opportunity to show the world what his offense could really do.

Playing anything other than small-ball should have never been an option for these Lakers. Not because Gasol and Howard are incapable of coexisting, but because D'Antoni's system isn't conducive with synchronized performances from multiple towers.

The Lakers coach attempted to mold Gasol into a different player, and when that didn't work, he tried to salvage the small-ball concept by demoting him to the bench. Yet that only did so much; D'Antoni could only stagger Gasol and Howard's minutes so much.

Until now.

With one or both of them on the sidelines, Los Angeles' head honcho is free to revert back to his undersized ways. It's actually where the Lakers have been most effective.

Of Los Angeles' 20 most frequently used lineups, 15 include one or neither of Howard and Gasol. The result? These small lineups are outscoring opponents by an average of 9.1 points per 100 possessions.

In case you're wondering if that's of any importance, consider the Oklahoma City Thunder. They're outscoring teams by nine points per 100 possessions—the best differential in the league. And they currently hold the second-best record in the NBA.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
It's a new beginning of sorts for D'Antoni and the Lakers.

Yeah.

The success the Lakers have had running with smaller lineups, though, has been overshadowed by the trials and tribulations they've had playing Howard and Gasol together. Their two most used lineups include both, so the focus has been on the results they haven't yielded.

Should the Lakers begin embracing the small-ball concept D'Antoni is known to preach?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Right? Wrong?

It doesn't matter.

Injuries, specifically Gasol's, will allow D'Antoni to preach more than just a fraction of his tactical ethics. He is now afforded an opportunity he has not yet been given.

To that end, we cannot assert that either Gasol or Howard are expendable, because they're not.

But going off the numbers, neither is D'Antoni's offense, something Pau's injury has given him the chance prove.

 

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted. 

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