Pau Gasol's Injury Gives Mike D'Antoni Exactly What He Wants
Or should I say needs?
I outlined previously that Pau's absence opens the door for D'Antoni to run HIS style of offense, the one he deems more effective. But while it affords him the opportunity to prove his tactical worth, it also does so much more.
Presently, Howard and Gasol are averaging 20.5 minutes of side-by-side action a night. During such time, the Lakers are being outscored by an average of 1.3 points per 100 possessions. Considering that Los Angeles is the only team below .500 that has actually outscored its opponents on the season, those 1.3 points are an issue.
One that D'Antoni hopes his small-ball principles will eradicate.
And the numbers suggest it will. Thus far, of the 20 lineups the Lakers most frequently use, the 15 sets in which they use only one or neither of Gasol and Howard are outscoring their opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions.
But you know all this—not just because I've alluded to it previously, but because Los Angeles has bordered on a situational mess when both bigs share the floor. Our eyes have told us this much.
Our eyes (and ears) have also told us that's been put on D'Antoni more than it has Howard and Gasol. Asking Gasol to become more of a stretch forward was sacrilegious, and benching him was even more so. And when the Lakers found success it was in spite of D'Antoni, not because of him.
With Steve Nash playing off the ball, Kobe running the show and the rock moving through the post, the Lakers hardly resembled a D'Antoni-coached squad. That's what they thought, at least (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com):
"(D'Antoni is) telling us to go but sometimes you can't get those engines to start up that fast," said Dwight Howard, who has been the most vocal critic of D'Antoni's offense this season, clamoring for more post-up opportunities.
Howard can continue to tell himself and the rest of us whatever he wants, but the remnants of D'Antoni's selfless blueprint always remained. The now constantly deferring Kobe is a byproduct of it.
Yet the season-long misconception has been that there wasn't room for productive bigs in D'Antoni's schematics, that his centers were used as decoys and forced to play outside of their comfort zone—which couldn't be further from the truth.
D'Antoni's is a system predicated on unselfish play and jump shots, yes, but it's also one that encourages the extensive use of towers within the pick-and-roll. The problem then wasn't D'Antoni, it was that a Gasol-Howard pairing was hardly ideal for the offense he preached.
Hanging Los Angeles' coach for doing the job he was knowingly hired to do, for attempting to instruct the way the Lakers knew he instructed then is extraneous, which D'Antoni will have the chance to prove over the next six weeks or so.
Sans Gasol, Howard will have the opportunity (whenever he returns) to see how the offense runs with him as the lone post presence. Though he's seen time away from Gasol since D'Antoni began staggering the duo's minutes, the experience has been limited and also corrupted by aforementioned fallacy.
Pau's absence allows D'Antoni to convince Howard that he can play in this system, that success can be had under his direction.
He can utilize smaller lineups free from the backlash that normally comes with benching Gasol. He can point to Earl Clark's emergence, clad with a double-double per-36 minutes and show the world that stretch forwards can be effective in this league, in this systematic design.
He can take this time to justify his methods, ethics and himself in general.
Assume Howard thrives as the primary big man. Say the Lakers continue to win without Gasol and just Howard, like they did without Dwight and just Pau. Suppose Antawn Jamison continues to post a PER of 17.4 at the power forward position. And suppose the Lakers continue to outscore their opponents at a rate that exceeds the rest of the league by going small full time. What then?
D'Antoni will have proved his point and his most vocal of critics (Gasol and Dwight) won't have a premise for their arguments against his formula.
Howard won't be able to (nor will we want to) gripe about his misuse on the offensive end and, most importantly, Gasol won't be able to play the part of a hypocrite.
Remember, Pau admitted that the Lakers needed to be a team that checked egos at the door and embraced compromise (via Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com):
I think guys were just worried too much about their own situations and their own issues. When you start doing that, it takes away from the team.
With the personnel we have, we have to understand that our numbers and our stats are going to be lowered. There's a certain level of compromise and commitment that we all need to accept. Once we do that, things will work out well.
Gasol followed up what is now nothing short of a worthless rant with complaints about his diminished playing time, prompting a justifiably scathing response from D'Antoni.
"Well, you know, 'all for one' didn't last (very) long, did it?" D'Antoni said (via McMenamin). "Forty-eight-hour shelf life. That's not bad."
One indirect threat from Gasol later, little seemed to change in Los Angeles. D'Antoni wanted to go small, yet was castigated for doing so.
But now the Lakers have to go small. The stats imply they've always had to, but with officially no other options, the shackles that have restrained D'Antoni thus far have been removed.
Out of necessity, no less.
Will Mike D'Antoni gain support of the Lakers in Pau Gasol's absence?
This is what D'Antoni has been waiting for. Not Gasol's injury per se, but the chance to show his team, to show the basketball sphere, just how valuable his strategy can be for Hollywood.
Then, if all goes according to plan, D'Antoni's offensive ideals will have gone from a last resort to an immovable fixture, one that Gasol's unhappiness won't be able to combat upon his return.
"We'll take what we can get," D'Antoni (via McMenamin) had said.
And what the Lakers now have is a need for Mike to work his magic.
Which is all D'Antoni has ever wanted.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.
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