It’s not so much that their success is predicated on the Spaniard’s play, but his presence on the Lakers often mitigates the way Kobe Bryant monopolizes the offense.
Indeed, Steve Nash’s playmaking and shooting are sorely missing. But it’s worth pointing out that Mike D’Antoni had made the decision to play him off the ball earlier in the year.
Bryant, in turn, became the team’s primary ball handler, and the Lakers have operated this way for most of the second half of the season. Consequently, the former league MVP has been involved in several isolation plays.
The Laker offense has increasingly morphed into the Kobe System, with Bryant more than likely greeting his teammates with a sly line of “you’re welcome” every time he sets them up for a score.
Surprisingly, the offense has been good if not great despite functioning under these peculiar conditions. Some might be quick to throw praise in direction of Bryant for the successful scoring operation, but that would be giving him far too much credit.
The two-time Finals MVP is enjoying one of his greatest seasons ever, but the isolation heavy basketball has worked because of Gasol.
The Spaniard is one of the few active players on the team that has been through a multitude of battles with Bryant and understands how to play with and off him. His movements are typically executed in concert with those of the four-time All-Star Game MVP.
Indeed, Gasol can quickly jump into pick-and-rolls with Bryant, cut to the basket or run straight post ups with the Lakers' all-time leading scorer.
In addition, when opposing teams throw an extra defender at the five-time world champion, Gasol usually shakes loose for a pass with an option for him to score or a setup for a teammate.
What’s more, even when Gasol does not touch the ball when Bryant faces double teams, he still impacts the offense.
The Spaniard flashes toward the ball and attracts the attention of defenders in help positions. This results in teams packing the paint. Bryant often counters by threading the needle with a cross-court pass to a wide-open shooter.
Have a look at the video below. Gasol rolls to the basket and sucks in Metta World Peace's defender.
Gasol’s skill set benefits Bryant in more ways than one, but Dwight Howard’s game is also made easier by the multi-faceted power forward.
The Spaniard regularly finds Howard for easy lobs and catches, but those plays only tell part of the story. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is a more potent offensive weapon when playing alongside the multi-faceted big man.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, when Howard takes the court without Gasol, he manufactures 16.4 points and 3.1 turnovers per 36 minutes on 55.3 percent field goal shooting.
However, when Gasol plays alongside him, he produces 17.9 points and 2.7 turnovers per 36 minutes on 61.2 percent shooting from the floor.
The two-time world champion simplifies things for Howard. Gasol has developed quite a knack for finding the center the moment he is free underneath the basket. Whenever Bryant shares the ball with Gasol, the Spaniard usually follows that up with a shot attempt or a pass to Howard for a score.
Again, Gasol isn’t indispensable, but he is a vital cog for a Laker team with playoff aspirations.
D’Antoni’s strategy will continuously afford Gasol with playmaking opportunities and scoring chances, which bodes well for the Lakers. Putting him at the elbows on offense is the perfect spot both for him and his teammates.
It gives the big man a clear look at the court as well as the placement of the moving defenders. The telepathy between him and Bryant right now might be the best its been all season long as evidenced by their synergized movements.
At this juncture, all postseason roads for the Lakers must run through Bryant, Gasol and Howard. D’Antoni must continue calling sets revolving around Bryant’s exploits given their effectiveness and the continuity they create.
It seems like ancient history now, but once Shaquille O’Neal left town in the summer of 2004, the Lakers repeatedly failed in the opening round of the postseason. Things only changed once Gasol came onboard and developed an excellent partnership with the Laker lifer.
He’s delivered time and time again. And right now, the Lakers need him more than at any other point in the 2012-13 campaign.
With Nash missing time nursing an injury, Bryant and Gasol are the best setup players on the team currently. Capitalizing off that near symbiotic bond between both players is almost mandatory at this point.
If the bottom line is winning, Gasol will always be a part of it.