The vast majority of Laker fans and the basketball community have praised Pau Gasol for the manner in which he dealt with being traded to Houston, having the trade nixed a few hours later and playing through constant trade rumors that only stopped at the trade deadline in March.
As a teammate, Gasol has kept his professionalism as he conceded the position as the team’s second option to Andrew Bynum. He also elected himself as the one to replace the void that Derek Fisher left not only as co-captain, but as a leader amongst his teammates. There is no question or concern regarding Gasol’s professionalism.
However, Gasol is performing a disappearing act in the playoffs thus far, similar to what occurred during the last post-season. Despite Gasol being mostly consistent and putting up very solid numbers during the regular season, his lack of true presence on the court is affecting the team in a huge way.
What is worse out of this situation is that Gasol has failed to step up in two straight games that were opportunities for the Lakers to close-out and move on to the second round. Fans, critics and management tends to remember how you perform when it matters most, which is not good news for Gasol.
The idea that bothers me the most is his poor performance and lack of effort on both sides of the court. I think fans would agree that we would accept Gasol having a poor night offensively if he made it up on the defensive end. Gasol was beat on both sides of the court, which is unacceptable given his talent and his size. In Game 6 Gasol went 1-10 with three points and only grabbing three rebounds, which is rather inexcusable.
Perhaps one of the reasons for Gasol’s lackluster performance thus far against Denver, where he should be dominating, is the move he has made from the low-post to the high-post at the beginning of the season. The stats below, provided by Yahoo! Sports’s Andrew Sweat, illustrated his performance thus far in the first round.
With data taken from pro-basketball-reference.com* and ESPN.com, 23 of 60 (38%) of Pau Gasol’s postseason shot attempts against the Denver Nuggets have been from beyond 15-feet. This 38% is markedly higher than Gasol’s regular season average of 31% of his shot attempts coming from beyond 15-feet.
In the regular season Pau Gasol shot a solid 43% (122 of 282) from beyond the 15-foot range. However, through five playoff games against the Nuggets, Gasol’s shooting percentage from beyond 15-feet has dipped to just 30% (7 of 23).
The combination of Pau Gasol shooting more jumpers from beyond 15-feet and making fewer of these shots in the playoffs has contributed significantly in both of the Lakers losses to the Nuggets.
In Denver’s 99-84 Game 3 victory, Pau Gasol shot 6-for-7 from within 15-feet, including five baskets from within two feet of the rim. In the same game Gasol shot just 1-for-6 from beyond 15-feet (shot chart here).
In Denver’s 102-99 Game 5 win Gasol shot 4-for-7 from inside 15-feet while going 0-for-4 from beyond (shot chart here).
In Game 6’s embarrassing loss to Denver, Gasol went 0-5 on jumpers outside of 14 feet and went 1-5 on shots within 12 feet from the rim (you can view his shot chart here).
Despite being fully capable and having great form on his jump shot, the stats show that Gasol is more effective in the low-post against Denver. This could absolutely be changed based on who they’re facing, but for this series and especially for the all-important Game 7, it should be recognized by the coaching staff and Gasol when reviewing film and the stat sheet.
Now that Pau has taken the responsibility as a team leader, he must lead by example. Now is not the time to wait and see if Andrew Bynum will decide to exert effort and play to his ability. Gasol is a leader now, and needs to let the rest of the team follow his lead. To win Game 7, Gasol will need to be extra aggressive, intense and dominant.
If his high-post game isn’t working right away, he can’t wait for it to happen. He will need to work around the rim all night since that is where he is most effective. In basketball, players feed off of each other in every way. It’s up to Gasol to prove his leadership on the court tomorrow night.
If Gasol isn’t able to do this or doesn’t attempt to do this, his future with the Lakers will once again be on the line. The chance of trade rumors reemerging this summer will be high if Gasol fails to step up. Gasol will not only have the team’s season in jeopardy, but his future with the team as well.
It is the eleventh hour for Los Angeles. How will they respond? A majority of it lies in the hands of Pau Gasol, especially since no one can predict Bynum anymore. Success is wanted. Success at the right time is desired. Now is the time for Gasol to prove his worth.