After 3 NBA Championships and 4 Finals appearances, the Lakers and their fans went through one of the toughest droughts in team history. We missed the playoffs for the fifth time in franchise history in 2005 and were bounced twice in a row by the Suns in 2006 and 2007. This set up the tumultuous Kobe trade demands and the already bleak looking 2008 season.
Then came Pau Gasol.
In a blockbuster trade the Lakers land Gasol who so far in that 2008 season was averaging 18.9 points and 8.8 rebounds with 1.4 blocks on 50.1% shooting. In LA that season he averaged 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds with 1.6 blocks while shooting a much better 58.9% from the field. He and Kobe meshed beautifully and the Lakers made a surprise run to the Finals, only to lose to the hated Celtics in 6 games; the last of which being one of the worst games in franchise history.
That was 4 years ago last month.
The Lakers then went on to win 2 Championships in a row, beating the Magic in 2009 and getting revenge over the Celtics in 2010 with one of the NBA's most exciting Finals ever. During those seasons Gasol averaged 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1 block and 18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks respectively. He also shot above 50% in both seasons, averaging 56.7% in 2009 and 53.6% in 2010. This production helped lead the Lakers to 2 Championships and 3 straight Finals appearances.
That was 2 years ago.
Since those shining years, Pau has struggled to duplicate the production that made the Lakers so successful. Statistically he has kept up basically with the averages he posted during our Championship run. In 2011 he averaged 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 52.9% from the field. In 2012 he averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game at 50.1% from the field. While his numbers are similar, the efficiency has declined and the product on the floor seems… well, different.
Pau’s name swirled with trades and trade rumors the last season or two, from Andre Iguodala to the failed Chris Paul fiasco. Now with the addition of Nash, it seems LA is content to let Pau stay on the team with the idea that Steve can revitalize Gasol. Can Nash really turn around Gasol’s lack luster performance? I decided to dig deeper to find out.
Pau’s product on the floor looks different because it is different. Here’s a breakdown of Gasol’s shot selection in 2009:
At the rim: 382/568 (67.3%)
3-9 feet: 209/393 (53.2%)
10-15 feet: 109/224 (48.7%)
16 feet - 3 point line: 51/134 (38.1%)
3 point line: ½ (50%)
It is clear that in the 2008-2009 season Gasol shot the vast majority of his shots near the rim, shooting 568 of his 1,321 shots at the rim which is good for 43%. If we add in the shots that are 10 feet or less from the rim that number jumps to 961/1,321 or 73%, showing clearly that almost all of his shots are near the basket. Of those shots near the basket, 163 of them were dunk attempts, 315 attempts were layups, and 83
Gasol took 530 jump shots that season, making 235 of them or 44.3%, including the 1 for 2 from deep. That takes up about 40% of his shots. There is some overlap since even shots from 3-9 feet can be jump shots sometimes. While the number of jump shots taken seems to be high, the fact that 73% of his shots came from near the rim shows that he operated close to the basket for the most part.
The 2010 season looked like this:
At the rim: 316/491 (64.4%)
3-9 feet: 166/356 (46.6%)
10-15 feet: 85/194 (43.8%)
16 feet - 3 point line: 50/102 (49.0%)
3 point line: 0/8 (0.0%)
Gasol took 1,151 shots that season, 170 less than the season before. This was due probably to the fact that Bynum played more games and averaged more minutes in the 2009/2010 season and he and Gasol were learning how to play with each other.
He took 43% of his shots at the rim, the exact same amount as the previous season. When coupled with his shots from 3-9 feet, he took 74% of his shots from either at the rim or from 3-9 feet away; slightly more than the previous season.
Of his shot attempts, 100 were dunks, 316 were layups, and 70 were tips. In 2009 he took almost 2 times as many layup shots as dunk attempts. In 2010, he took over 3 times the amount of layups compared to dunks. That doesn’t say much, but it says that perhaps he was a little less aggressive. For what it’s worth, he made 92% of his dunks in 2010 compared to 95.7% of his dunks in 2009. He also made 57.6% of his layups in 2010 compared to 56.8% in 2009. The change isn’t major, but it’s worth noting for future reference.
Here’s his numbers in 2011, the first season the Lakers did not make the Finals since Gasol’s arrival:
At the rim: 261/384 (68%)
3-9 feet: 183/424 (43.2%)
10-15 feet: 108/249 (43.4%)
16 feet – 3 Point line: 86/170 (50.6%)
3 Point line: 2/5 (40%)
Gasol took 1,232 shots that season, only 384 of which were at the rim, his lowest total since becoming a Laker and only 31% of his shots. Adding in the shots from 3-9 feet he shot 66% of his shots near the basket. That’s a decline of almost 10% from the previous two seasons.
Of his shot attempts, only 77 were dunks, 266 were layups, and 63 were tips; all of which are Laker career lows for him. His layup attempts again rose in comparison to his dunk attempts, going to nearly 3.5 times as many. He missed only one dunk that season and shot 64.7% on layups, so his efficiency exactly at the rim rose, but the shots he took there were far fewer.
Some of this can be attributed to Bynum’s need to be near the basket, but not all of it. Gasol is not on the floor with Bynum at all times and when he plays without Bynum, he is the Center. It is in his responsibility to be nearer to the basket and get easier looks for himself. If he is near the basket, he will have more opportunities, and the numbers show he is moving away from that goal.
Lastly, here are his numbers for 2012:
At the rim: 206/300 (69%)
3-9 feet: 124/290 (42.8%)
10-15 feet: 73/178 (41%)
16- 3 Point line: 109/259 (42.1%)
3- Point line: 9/33 (27.3%)
Gasol’s shot attempts dipped from his previous season to 1,060. Of those 1,060 only 300 were at the rim or 28%. If we add the shots from 3-9 feet as well it moves to 56%, a nearly 20% difference from just 2 seasons ago. In 2009 he took 530 jump shots. In 2012 that number ballooned to 663 (63% of his total shots).
He took more dunk attempts this season at 97, making 92.8% of those. However, he took a fraction of his previous total in layups at only 152, making 63.8% of those. Of note, his number of hook shot attempts was only 87, the fewest total by far in his entire Laker career; previously he’d never shot below 175 hook shots. Also of note, his tip shot percentage was the lowest it’s been since he became a Laker at 42.6% (he’d never previously been below 50%).
The evidence is clear and quite damning: Gasol has become more of a jump shooter and far less of a post threat. He has moved steadily toward that end since becoming a Laker and the rise of Andrew Bynum seems to have helped facilitate that change. While his overall numbers may still look impressive and may still be among the NBA’s elite, his finished product on the floor is far different than the Gasol we knew in 2009.
The question remains though, can Nash rebuild this fallen star? Can Nash’s ability to set up teammates make Gasol’s life easier? Well I suppose it must considering Nash has built a career building other players’ careers. Nash hasn’t averaged less than 9 assists a game since his last season in Dallas in ’04 almost 10 years ago. He’s lead the league the last 3 seasons in the percentage of assisted shots for his teammates (he’s done it 2 other seasons as well). He was second last season in assists per game, first the two years before that, and 3rd in the 2009 season. He has the pedigree and ability to find players all game long, all season long, but will it be enough to spark Gasol?
Well, Gasol’s jump shot in 2009 was assisted 63.8% of the time. In the next two seasons that number would not go over 60%. In 2012, his jump shot was assisted 67.9% of the time. Most of his jump shots came at the free throw line while teams packed the paint to hold down Andrew. In a pick and pop situation it can be well assumed that Nash and Gasol may have some issues. Gasol shot only 40% on jump shots last season and below 43% from 10 feet out to the 3 point line.
In pick and roll situations, the two may have more success. Gasol made 187/249 attempts at dunks and layups, good for 75%. He has never been assisted less than 77% of the time on his dunk attempts or less than 57% on his layup attempts. If Gasol is able to get to the basket with Nash in a pick and roll situation, he’ll almost certainly have more success.
What may be the saving grace for Gasol in terms of the pick and roll is his ability to pass the ball. Gasol was second in the league among PFs last season averaging 3.7 assists per game (surprisingly he was beat by Josh Smith who averaged 3.9). He is generally ranked very highly in assists as a PF and in pick and roll situations that will come in handy when defenses start to collapse.
I have chosen not to delve into whether or not the Princeton offense will help or hinder Gasol in this research, instead electing to focus on Gasol’s game and how Nash may or may not affect it (I’ll tackle the Princeton offense separately).
So the question stands: will Nash be able to help Gasol’s game with the Lakers? My answer is of course, but not the way that we’re hoping. Nash cannot force Gasol back to the basket. Nash, for all of his greatness, cannot make Gasol stop taking jump shots and venture into the lane instead. But what Nash CAN do is find Gasol in spots that he likes, wherever those may be, and give Gasol a better chance to be successful.
I don’t think Gasol will ever be the man we saw in 2009 or 2010, not just because of age but because of the way that he has played and the trend he’s shown. That doesn’t mean he still can’t be valuable to our team, it just means he won’t be the same guy that made us a Finals team just by being here. With Nash I expect his efficiency to rise again as he’ll be assisted by a legitimate Point Guard for the first time since coming to LA (except for the failed Ramon Sessions experiment). I don’t expect Gasol to be the same post presence he was, nor do I expect him to become more aggressive simply because of Nash; that’s something he will have to do within himself.
In 2008 the Lakers lost to Boston in one of the more crushing blows to LA’s psyche. Gasol in 2009 seemed more aggressive, more determined to shed the name “Gasoft”. In 2010 that trend continued and he battled toe to toe with Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and Rasheed Wallace in the Finals, again fending off accusations of being “soft”. In the last 2 years that name has returned and statistics show he may be earning that name more than in years past. It’s up to him to play near the basket and take less jump shots, Nash cannot save him from that. Will we see a stronger Gasol this year? If history has shown us anything about Gasol, it’s that he’s a fighter. He’s going to come out swinging and with a chip on his shoulder. We’ll see if that’s enough.
Stu : "Yeah, that's an old fashioned whoopin'."