Has Mike D'Antoni Ruined Pau Gasol's Confidence?

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIJanuary 16, 2013

EL SEGUNDO, CA - NOVEMBER 15:  Pau Gasol #16 speaks to the media beforee a press confernece introducing Mike D'Antoni as the new Los Angeles Lakers head coach on November 15. 2012 at the Lakers practice facility at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Placing blame for the Los Angeles Lakers’ woeful start to the season has become a common theme. Truthfully, everyone involved not named Kobe Bryant has underachieved and failed to meet lofty expectations. Included in that conversation is Pau Gasol, but is his lackluster season attributed to Mike D’Antoni and his coaching system?

Gasol, a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion, is experiencing his worst professional season ever. His 12.2 points per game is a career low. Additionally, his 41.6 percent shooting from the field is rock bottom for his career. His 8.4 rebounds per game is his lowest total since 2005.

Gasol has struggled thus far, there’s simply no other way to put it. But is D’Antoni the reason for Gasol’s big dip in numbers, and, more specifically, his drop in confidence?

Truth be told, Gasol was in the midst of experiencing a down year well before D’Antoni even showed up on the Lakers’ coaching radar.

Through the first five games of the season under former head coach Mike Brown, Gasol shot just 41.8 percent from the field. At 37.6 minutes per game, he certainly got more court time under Coach Brown, but that didn’t exactly translate to great success. Excluding the first game of the season against the shorthanded Dallas Mavericks (in which Gasol posted 23 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks), his numbers left a lot to be desired.

From there, Bernie Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach when Brown got fired. The move wasn’t exactly a godsend for Gasol, as he experienced a roller-coaster five-game stretch.

Although the Lakers had success under Bickerstaff with a 4-1 record, Gasol continued to show inconsistency. He shot 33 percent from the field against the Golden State Warriors (on 6-of-18 shooting), followed by 50 percent against a bad Sacramento team and 30 percent against San Antonio, and then shot 58.3 percent combined against Phoenix and Houston.

There were sparks from Gasol during the short-lived Bickerstaff era. However, he was consistently getting big minutes and didn’t always perform as expected with ample court time.

A case could be made that D’Antoni has broken Gasol’s already shaky confidence, but it’s hard to ignore the Spaniard’s injury troubles over that same span.

Following a Dec. 2 loss to the Orlando Magic, Gasol sat out eight consecutive games due to knee tendinitis. He returned for an eight-game stretch in which the Lakers went an even 4-4, but has been sidelined once again due to a concussion. So while Gasol has continued to struggle with D’Antoni as coach, he hasn’t exactly been 100 percent healthy.

It’s worth noting that under Brown and Bickerstaff, Gasol never played fewer than 33 minutes in a game. Under D’Antoni, he’s played fewer than 30 minutes six times.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, Gasol has sometimes failed to see minutes in crunch time of close games with D’Antoni coaching.

It’s not entirely fair or accurate to blame Gasol’s struggles on D’Antoni and his offensive system considering that Gasol has struggled all season long. Gasol has bounced back from criticisms in the past, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do that again.

Nevertheless, Gasol’s struggles have been magnified by the Lakers’ evident lack of success in a year where they had championship hype. D'Antoni and Gasol still need to work out a situation that is mutually beneficial for both parties, but according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, D'Antoni intends to start Gasol when returns from injury.

Perhaps some semblance of chemistry can unfold between the two by then, but only time will tell.