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How the L.A. Lakers Wrecked Pau Gasol's Role

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How the L.A. Lakers Wrecked Pau Gasol's Role
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Remember when Pau Gasol was an All-Star player for the Los Angeles Lakers?

Well, you should. It was only two years ago.

Since then, Gasol has gone from the second-best player on a NBA championship team to third option, to bench player and now unfortunately to the person who will be wearing a tailored suit at the end of the bench.

The same guy who averaged 19.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game for Spain—who won the silver medal in the Olympics just this past summer—is considered a bench player.

What happened?

Well, as Gasol has drifted further away from the hoop, his role and the Lakers' record have diminished.

Under Phil Jackson and the triangle offense, Gasol thrived. The whole team did. You don’t get two championships by playing .500 basketball.

In that offense, Gasol was at his best when he was being used as a low-post passer and as a scorer on the block who was occasionally foraying out to the wings where necessary.

Not camping out there.

Below is the shot chart for his last season in the triangle offense.

Courtesy of NBA.com
He shot 53 percent from the field while taking 69.5 percent of his shots inside the paint. He had a fine year while thriving near the basket.

Remember, this is when fellow seven-footer Andrew Bynum was on the team and played in nearly the same amount of games he did in the lockout-shortened season. Gasol was still able to get looks inside with another big man next to him.

Also, notice the amount of three-point shot attempts.

One.

After the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks, the eventual NBA champions mind you, Lakers management decided it was time to blow things up and try something new.

They hired Mike Brown.

This is arguably the spot where long line of bad decisions started. If they would have simply hired Brian Shaw, a Kobe Bryant favorite, the offense could have stayed the same. Under the triangle offense things would not be as ugly as they have been for Pau and the rest of the franchise.

However, in the first season under Mike Brown the Lakers decided to go to an iso-related offense, understandable when you had one of the greatest offensive weapons of all time in Bryant. While they let Kobe do his thing, Gasol was still put in the low post when not with Andrew Bynum, but they really reduced off-the-ball movement in the process.

Well, what happened was Kobe’s shot attempts went up and Bynum really broke out. That left Gasol being the third option, and he got his shots up anywhere on the court he could.

The result: His percentage dropped to the lowest of his career at 50 percent.

Courtesy of NBA.com
That’s because he was drifting away from the hoop, presumably to get out of the way when Bryant took the ball to hoop, which left him with more attempts outside the paint. 

43.3 percent of his shots to be exact. 12.7 percent higher from that distance than the previous season.

And with a fully healthy Bynum needing his touches, Gasol was becoming more of an afterthought in the offense. And by the way, this was all after he was traded and then not traded and then still didn’t make any noise about it. He just showed up and didn’t complain about anything.

Look at the shots behind the arc. Nine attempts, zero makes. Again, why should he be shooting threes?

After a second-round exit against the eventual Western Conference Champions the Oklahoma City Thunder, where the the Lakers were really within a few possessions of actually winning the series despite winning only one game, L.A. again switched up its offense.

The new approach: the Princeton offense.

Yes that happened!

So after watching Gasol’s shooting percentage drop by attempting more outside shots, Brown figured the best way to use Gasol is to have him used in motion, to run the floor (at age 32) and to play in the high post and stretch the floor to 18-20 feet and beyond.

That lasted for five games and one win.

Brown was fired and eventually Mike D'Antoni was hired.

With the fourth-oldest team in the NBA, apparently D'Antoni and his high-paced offense appeared to be the right way to go. The result this time, despite looking so good a few months ago in the Olympics, was that Gasol struggled even more than in prior season. 

His 2012-2013 Princeton/D’Antoni shot chart can be seen here.

Courtesy of NBA.com
With all the offensive (pun intended) changes this season, Gasol has shot eight percent lower than just two years ago, and “earned” a spot on the bench to start the games.

The reason: 46.7 percent of his shots come from outside the paint!

What evidence did we see that would have made having him shoot from the outside that much seem like a good idea?

When Gasol gets the ball near the paint he is still as good as ever. But he is struggling with his role because he is being misused as a mid-range player when he needs to be back on the low block. Not one coach since Jackson, and he’s had three, can figure out how to best use the four-time All-Star.

Again, look at his three-point attempts. He has shot 19 of them now. I’m sure he is a capable three-point shooter, but is he really the guy you want taking them? Ever?

Look what happens when you allow him to be a three-point shooter. (1:50 mark)

Over the last few years Gasol has drifted further away from the hoop, which has led him further down the depth chart—and on the receiving end for most of blame on the Lakers struggles.

If he were to be used correctly, he could be as good as any center in the NBA. But at his age, and the fact that he does not mesh well with Dwight Howard, where does the future of L.A. leave Gasol?

And what are the Lakers to do?

Pau’s attitude has been terrific through this whole process as his role slowly diminished. He has not asked to be traded, as many NBA superstars would have in the same situation, for the rest of this season at least.

Now, after suffering a tear in his plantar fascia that will force him to miss four to six weeks, at the very least it gives the Lakers a legitimate excuse as to why they can’t figure out how to carve out a role for him.

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