Could Dwight Howard’s Absence Lead To A Less Than Perfect Pau Gasol?

Thanks to Dwight Howard missing the first part of the upcoming 2012-13 season with his surgically repaired back, Pau Gasol will begin the season as the starting center for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Having played alongside the often injured Andrew Bynum the last five seasons, Pau is no stranger to sliding over from his power forward position and manning the middle. The last time Gasol was forced to play extended minutes at the center position was the first 24 games of the 2010-11 season, while Bynum was recovering from off-season knee surgery.

Gasol led the team in minutes at the end of 2010-11, averaging 37 a contest, playing almost four more minutes a game than any other Laker. By the time the 2011 postseason rolled around, something was clearly wrong with Gasol.

As the Lakers were being eliminated by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, Pau was playing the worst basketball of his career. In 10 postseason games, Gasol averaged only 13 points and seven rebounds a contest, numbers well below his regular season averages of 18 points and 10 boards.

Let’s assume Gasol’s poor performance during the 2011 playoffs was due to physical burnout during the regular season. Should fans be worried about Gasol being burnt out for the playoffs next spring, having to overexert himself playing in Howard’s place?

Not only will Gasol  start the season with a bigger, more physical workload filling in for Howard, he is coming off a season in which he played more total minutes than any other player in league outside of Kevin Durant. Gasol also had a full off-season, competing in his third Olympics, in addition to the natural declination of having played 11 seasons in the league.

When Howard does return, Pau won’t feel the pressure to perform the way he has in past seasons. With the additions of Nash and Howard, Gasol is arguably the fourth best player on the team. On top of that, Gasol will no longer have to deal with anymore nagging trade rumors, and he should enjoy playing in the Lakers’ newly adapted Princeton offense. Last year Gasol never carved out a niche in Mike Brown’s scheme, often playing away from the hoop in a facilitator type role.

Even if Gasol’s recent problems had more to do with hurt feelings and a new role in the team’s offense last season, the Lakers’ coaching staff needs to make sure Gasol, or Kobe and Nash for that matter, don’t get burnt out during the regular season.

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Coach Brown could rest his stars from time to time, stealing a page out of Gregg Popovich’s book. Or to prevent Gasol from burning out playing extended minutes to start the season, Brown could occasionally play small ball, having Jamison and Hill play the power forward and center positions.

Just because Pau is no longer playing Robin to Kobe’s Batman, doesn’t mean the team can suddenly win a championship without him. I look for Gasol to play the “X” factor type role Lamar Odom played when he helped the Lakers to championships in 2009 and 2010.

If Gasol does become overwhelmed in Howard’s absence, and becomes physically drained in the process, he may end up needing Superman more than Lois Lane.

Make sure to check out today’s edition of Let’s Be Honest – starring Pritesh Shah!

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