Pau Gasol has a chance to make up for his 2012-13 campaign in his second season under Mike D'Antoni.
Despite being a perennial All-Star candidate in the past, the big man averaged career lows in points, field-goal percentage and shot attempts. He played in just 49 games throughout the year, and his role waffled between starter, sixth man and occasional late-game benchwarmer.
Looking ahead to the 2013-14 campaign, Gasol’s top priority has to be health. He missed 33 games in 2012-13, and that can’t be the case if he hopes to regain momentum.
Staying healthy will be the foundation of his success, but with training camp officially underway, there are additional aspects to his game that deserve attention. Returning to form won’t be easy, but it’s something that must be done if the Lakers hope to make the postseason.
Get Back To Center
In Gasol’s defense, the position he plays is influenced by the players around him and the schemes of the head coach. The seven-footer was forced to play power forward alongside Dwight Howard, and D’Antoni had no objection when it came to turning him into a stretch-4.
Now, with Howard gone and D’Antoni re-evaluating his rotation, the big man must get back in the paint and rule the center position.
Pau Gasol as a Center last season: 22.0 PER, 14.4 PER against. Yeah, dude's a Center.— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) September 4, 2013
According to 82games.com, Gasol played center just 12 percent of the Lakers’ total minutes last year. During that limited action, his Player Efficiency Rating (per 48 minutes) was 22.0, while his number at power forward was just 15.4.
But while the sample size was small during 2012-13, his numbers of the past make it clear where his most productive minutes are played.
During the 2009-10 season, Gasol was able to post a PER of 21.4 at power forward. That’s an impressive number, but once again, he showed where he’s most dominant with a PER of 28.1 at center.
Despite the notion that Gasol has been soft in the past, he was born to play the 5-spot. He’s never posted a PER below 20 when playing the center position for the Lakers, and that’s where he must make a living in 2013-14.
Re-Establish the (Mid-Range) Jumper
As much as the Lakers will benefit from Gasol playing center, the big man must have confidence in his jump shot—so long as it’s not from the three-point line.
During 2012-13, Gasol had 28 attempts from behind the arc. That number may not seem outrageous at a glance but think about this: During his last All-Star campaign, he played in all 82 games and launched from downtown just three times.
Simply put, Gasol needs to stay away from the three-point line.
The Lakers are down eight and desperately need a basket. So Pau Gasol shoots a three. I hate this season.— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) March 29, 2013
Fans want to know that the big man is reliable, and from the mid-range, he can be just that. According to NBA.com, Gasol completed 48.7 percent of his shots in that particular category in 2010-11. In 2011-12, that number dropped but stayed at 42.4 percent.
During 2012-13, he made just 37.1 percent of his mid-range jumpers.
In today’s NBA, he must rediscover the shooting touch he once had. He won’t be featured on the perimeter nearly as much playing center, but in D’Antoni’s system, you’d better believe he’ll get here and there away from the rim.
Establish the Pick-and-Roll With Steve Nash
When Steve Nash was brought in by the Lakers, the hope was that he would be the ultimate pick-and-roll player alongside Gasol. The tandem was supposed to create a dangerous two-man game—one that would take the pressure off of Howard and Kobe Bryant to do all the scoring.
As it turned out, health put a serious halt to those plans.
With both Nash and Gasol missing so many games to injury, the two never established chemistry during their first year together. According to NBA.com, Nash assisted on Gasol’s shots just 38 times, which is a number that must improve in their second year together.
The other reason the pick-and-roll never clicked is because Howard was given the center position without question. The big man is a remarkable pick-and-roll player, and D’Antoni used him over Gasol in those situations.
With Howard gone, the biggest variable that remains is health. If Gasol is playing center, he becomes the No. 1 option in the pick-and-roll. If his jumper is consistent, he can add to the attack with a pick-and-pop.
It all comes down to staying on the floor, and if both he and Nash can do just that, they’ll have an opportunity to build great chemistry beginning in training camp.