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Pau Gasol: How Important Is His Offensive Improvement to the Los Angeles Lakers?

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 11:   Head coach Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers laugh before the game with the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center on January 11, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 112-57.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Harrison MooreAnalyst IIJanuary 13, 2011

Many of the Lakers' earlier struggles were due to age old issues the team has been facing for years such as age, complacency and a lack of offensive balance, or more bluntly, the ball hogging ways of Kobe Bryant

The Lakers' spotty offense thus far has attracted a lot of attention and criticism. Ron Artest's offensive production has simply been swallowed alive in the Lakers' depth, and the bench, despite being considerably upgraded over the offseason, has played extremely well in spurts but has also gone through extended stretches of futility, and Bryant is still on pace for his least efficient season in years.

The Lakers led the league in scoring for the first couple of weeks but since have fallen victim to inconsistencies in their overall game. Despite the spottiness of his teammates, Gasol had taken a substantial amount of the blame for the Lakers' earlier struggles.

The media has repeatedly blasted him, and coach Phil Jackson has called out Pau Gasol several times this season already, publicly calling out for him to "inflict some pain" some time in November and even using the dreaded "s word"  after the Lakers' embarrassing Christmas Day loss to the Heat saying that Gasol had "no base" in his shots and that his shot release was "soft".

One might have thought that the blame could be attributed to the Lakers' sporadic efforts in involving Gasol on offense. 

The Lakers last four losses, to the Bucks, Heat, Spurs and Grizzlies, all came by 16 or more points; respectively Gasol took 12, 17, eight and nine shots.

That level of inconsistency in the amount of touches a player gets can drive him mad or worse, demoralize him. Getting Gasol involved on offense shouldn't be very difficult given that he's very skilled at handling the ball, arguably the best in the league at doing so for his position. 

The problem is that the Lakers' perimeter players often cut through the lanes after passing the ball inside, and the crowding often makes it difficult to run effective isolation plays.

Despite all of this, the stats don't support any notions that the inconsistent amount of shots Gasol has been given drastically affect the Lakers' success.

When Gasol is given his average of 14 (actually 13.6, sue me) or more attempts per game, the Lakers are only 12-6 and are 5-3 when he attempts 10 or fewer. 

If you do the math, it's not a world of difference there, at least not as much as you would expect. 

In actuality, the stats show that the amount of shots Gasol takes is less important than the amount of points he scores. When Gasol scores 20 or more, the Lakers are 15-3

I found that stat rather surprising considering that efficiency is typically more important than sheer point total, or in layman's terms, quality over quantity, but clearly, that isn't always the case.

You ask why Gasol's scoring output is more important than the amount of shots he takes? 

Simple.

When Gasol scores that many points, that indicates that he's had his hands on the ball for longer periods of time than usual, and more often than not, that means that the Lakers have run their offense through him, at least for stretches.

Though Bryant is the team's most explosive scorer, Gasol has proven to be the linchpin of the team's offense. Gasol is a far more willing passer than Bryant and averages less assists than Bryant, only because Bryant has the ball in his hands for longer stretches.

Far too often when Gasol isn't touching the ball for such a long period, Bryant takes sole responsibility for the team's output and becomes too aggressive in taking his share of shots.

All but two of the Lakers 11 losses have come when Bryant has taken his season average of 20 attempts per game, a 10-9 record.

This isn't to diminish the importance that Bryant's scoring holds for the Lakers, but the fact of the matter is that the Lakers are better served when Bryant and Gasol are prioritized used as near-equals instead of leader and sidekick.

Interesting stat: compared to seven wins, the Lakers have only lost once when Gasol has taken more shots than Bryant, and that was at the hands of the surging Miami Heat.

Though his sheer statistical value may suffer a bit with Andrew Bynum establishing himself as the most dominant center in the Western Conference (he currently is number two in All-Star votes behind Yao Ming, who is out for the season), there is no overstating how valuable Gasol is to the Lakers' offense.

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