Breaking Up Dwight Howard-Pau Gasol Pairing Key to LA Lakers Success

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2012

November 18, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA;  Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) and power forward Pau Gasol (16) laugh during the game against the Houston Rockets at the Staples Center. Lakers won 119-108. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Together, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard stand to fuel the continuing demise of the Los Angeles Lakers. Separately, though, they stand to save their team.

Believe me when I say that Steve Nash is going to have a profound impact on the Lakers. To say otherwise would be actively refusing to deny the success he's had under Mike D'Antoni and this uptempo offense in the past.

But not even Nash can fix the imbalance that exists when both Gasol and Howard are on the floor. Not completely anyway.

What can?

Ensuring that they're not on the floor together as much as possible, a strategy that Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports the Lakers are already exploring:

If it seemed as if they weren't on the court much together, that wasn't a coincidence. It just might be how it's going to be for the Lakers going forward.

"They probably won't be," Kobe Bryant said bluntly when asked about the Lakers' two post players' lack of side-by-side playing time.

"We did the same thing a few years ago with Andrew [Bynum] and Pau. In the Triangle Pau was never comfortable playing the forward position. Andrew was a center so a lot of times we just split 'em. They both would start, then Andrew would come out and Pau would take center and we'd kind of rotate them out."

Bold? To an extent, but detaching the two actually makes a lot of sense.

Separating them ensures the Lakers have two viable pick-and-roll options on the floor at all times, a luxury they are not afforded when Gasol and Howard receive a majority of their minutes together.

This also allows Gasol to spend more time in the post. Right now, he's on the outside looking in, seemingly a victim of D'Antoni's "one-in, four-out" system.

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If he was hitting his jumpers, this wouldn't be an issue. But he's not. He's shooting just 28.8 percent outside of nine feet, an absolutely horrific mark.

By comparison, though, he's shooting 45.2 percent overall inside of nine feet and 67.3 percent at the rim. He should welcome the opportunity to spend some time away from Howard, even if it means he's eventually relegated to the second-unit.

Gasol, however, appears slightly apprehensive about such tactics, even though they have yet to cost him his starting job:

"I think it's good that we spend some time together on the court and also apart so I can play a little more center and closer to the basket. But we have to find a balance and the right rotations and timings out there where we can exploit our size when we're together and also give each other some rest.

"We're two talented players and we can overpower people. You're talking about two top big guys in the league, you should take advantage of it."

I understand that Gasol would like Los Angeles to achieve an effective equilibrium with the two on the floor, but the Lakers have to do what's best for the team now.

It's far too late in the season to fully commit to an experiment that has gone awry. If D'Antoni wants to sprinkle in some segments where the two play together in hopes of ultimately establishing such a balance, that's fine.

But he can't ignore that facts either. The ones that prove that, at least right now, Gasol and Howard are better off without one another.

Currently, of the Lakers' top 20 five-man units, just five of them include both Gasol and Howard. The same can be said of Howard's individual top 20 five-man units. Only one-quarter of them include the likes of Gasol.  

And that means something; actually, it means everything.

Yes, Nash will come back, providing both Gasol and Howard with the opportunity to play alongside a point man who will mold the offense to fit their strengths. Yet Nash isn't going to change the amount of space available in the paint. In fact, if anything, his dribble penetration only accentuates the need for a plethora of shooters.

As long as Gasol and Howard are playing together, Pau is going to need to be one of those shooters. He's going to have to remain a perimeter fixture with 53 percent of his shot attempts coming from outside of nine feet.

All posting up does is force him to jostle for position with Howard, or worse, force Howard outside of the paint.

To put the blame of the struggles Gasol and Howard have incurred together solely upon the Spaniard's shoulder's is unjust and inaccurate. Howard continues to disappear on the offensive end himself.

But as the forward in this situation, Gasol is the odd man out. He has been since the days of Andrew Bynum. Even last season, just eight of Los Angeles' top 20 five-man units included Gasol and Bynum.


This inability to find a balance is nothing new.

As such, something has to be done. More specifically, staggering Howard and Gasol's minutes must make the transition from theoretical concept to definitive reality, much like it did with the latter and Bynum.

"We do see some light at the end of the tunnel," D'Antoni said prior to Lakers game against the Bobcats. "Hopefully it's not a train coming at us. Hopefully it's some good stuff."

There is a light at the end of the caliginous tunnel Los Angeles has spent the entire season navigating. And it's a light that's laden with "good stuff."

Just so long as the Lakers break up the dysfunctional pairing that has become Gasol and Howard as much as possible.


All stats in this article are accurate as of December 19, 2012.


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