NBA

How Pau Gasol-Dwight Howard Pairing Highlights LA Lakers Roster Redundancy

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after he is fouled by Kyle O'Quinn #2 of the Orlando Magic during a 113-103 Magic win at Staples Center on December 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterDecember 6, 2012

If Pau Gasol could evolve as a player, we might not be having this conversation. If Pau Gasol wasn't hurting with knee tendonitis (via ESPN), we might not be having this conversation.

But Gasol has been diminishing as a player, inching further and further toward the bench, and the Los Angeles Lakers have disappointed.

The returns are early, but Gasol and Dwight Howard would seem a roster redundancy. It has been a continuation of the Andrew Bynum and Gasol redundancy that was alleviated by Lamar Odom's versatility.

The league has evolved a lot since the days of "Twin Towers" Tim Duncan and David Robinson. The power forward position is now more often occupied by a fast player who shoots threes.

When Oklahoma City "goes small" by playing Kevin Durant at the 4-spot, and when Miami does the same by playing LeBron James at power forward, it's less a gimmick than a sign of the times. Now that zone defense is legal, it's imperative that teams stretch and spread the court.

This has given rise to the "four-out" spread pick-and-roll strategy, an attack we're seeing played to perfection by the New York Knicks and "power forward" Carmelo Anthony. Notice how easy it for New York to find Tyson Chandler for an alley-oop with four perimeter players spread around him: 

In theory, the Lakers should be feasting on plays like the one above, but they cannot spread the floor in the way New York is doing. This is because Gasol and Howard both operate near the hoop. 

Gasol is a natural fit at center and does his best work near the rim. Unfortunately for Gasol, L.A.'s two-big strategy has forced him from his natural spots and closer to less efficient long two-pointers.

Take a gander at Gasol's shot distribution chart from his last full season with the Memphis Grizzlies

Note how 68.6 percent of his shot attempts came near the rim in that 2005-06 season. Since he came to the Lakers, that percentage has been cut dramatically. This year, his shot distribution chart has represented an immense drop in shots at the rim so far.

 
So, perhaps in an effort to be more of a floor-spacing power forward alongside Howard, Gasol is now averaging 23.6 percent fewer shots at the rim than he once used to.

All that would be well and good if Gasol was presenting a threat from farther out or even converting a large amount of his shots near the rim. Neither has happened this season. Gasol has struggled from the field and surprisingly hit only 47.8 percent of his at-rim tries.

The two-big approach has often made spacing on offense an issue. It's workable as long as Gasol is hitting his jumpers to go along with his defense and rebounding. But if he is slumping this badly, opposing defenses will be able to pack the paint and devote more attention to Howard.

Offense can become a bit tricky with two big men, but defense will be a bigger issue in certain matchups. If Los Angeles is playing, say, Oklahoma City, and the Thunder play Durant at power forward, Gasol can't really be on the floor alongside Howard.

Based on how the 32-year-old's aging, it isn't clear that he could punish Durant offensively (he certainly struggled to punish LeBron offensively), and a fast three-point shooter will kill Gasol on the other end.

Given how Antawn Jamison's defense is terrible, Los Angeles would seem to lack any good 3/4 options to defend "small ball" lineups. This is a deficiency for the Lakers, one that exists in part because they have a roster redundancy with Gasol and Howard.

It will be difficult to trade Gasol due to his contract, but he doesn't quite fit on this current Mike D'Antoni team.  

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