Sending Pau Gasol To The Bench The Best Idea? Not Exactly

As Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times reports, the Lakers could be pondering whether to place Pau Gasol on the bench when he returns to the lineup after recovering from tendinitis in his knees.

Eric Pincus, also of the L.A. Times, however, disagrees with this and feels that Gasol needs to remain a starter and play alongside Dwight Howard, or be traded.

Pincus suggests that Gasol does need more time at the center position, but that Mike D’Antoni could trim Howard’s minutes down to 33 (from 36.1), which would give Gasol 15 minutes at the Center slot. However, he would still be playing the majority of the game alongside Howard, at Power Forward.

I agree that Gasol should be left as a starter and that Jamison should come in off the bench as a scoring punch. Jamison knows how to make an impact off the bench, but I’m not sure if Pau does. Additionally, it could hurt Pau’s confidence even more if he were labeled as a reserve.

However, an increased role with the reserves should be welcomed, in my book.

Gasol spending more time at the center position would ensure that the Lakers have at least one go-to, half-court big man in the game at all times. Additionally, with the amount of minutes Gasol played last season (second most in the entire league) and with the Spanish National Team, he could definitely benefit from reduced minutes. Currently, he’s averaging just under 35 minutes per game, which is more than two minutes less than last season.

With Pincus’ suggestion that Howard play 33 minutes and drop Gasol’s minutes to 33 as well (15 at center and 18 at power forward), that would leave exactly 30 minutes for Antawn Jamison at the PF slot. Jordan Hill could take up a few of those minutes, however.

That would be similar to the minutes distribution the Lakers had with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom in the past.

The only problem with this, is that if you’re the Lakers, you want your defensive beast of a center on the floor as much as possible.

The Numbers

The numbers don’t lie, though. This season, Gasol is far more effective at the center position. Although he’s played significantly less time down low, his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is 22.9 compared with just 14.4 at the power forward slot. Additionally, he holds his counterparts at center to a lower PER (7.3) than at PF (13.5).

Dwight Howard, for reference, has a PER of 23.1 and holds his counterparts to a 16.1 PER; and Antawn Jamison has a 24.8 PER at PF (just 6.9 at SF) and holds his opponents to a 9.9 PER (while giving up 12.5 at SF).

Last season, however, Gasol had a PER of 20.1 at power forward. Why is this? Likely because as of right now, Gasol is delegated to picking-and-popping under Mike D’Antoni’s system. He’s being asked to become a jump-shooter, when that’s simply not his game.

How To Be Effective

Even if the Lakers make more time for Gasol at the center position, Pincus is right, he has to be able to play effectively alongside Dwight Howard. The fact that he did it relatively well alongside Andrew Bynum should prove that he has the ability to do it. The difference, however, is the system and where the Lakers decide to place Pau on the floor.

D’Antoni likes a lot of spacing for three-point shooting, and Gasol isn’t good at just being an outside jump-shooter; he likes to mix it up and take it into the post as well.

Perhaps the Lakers can let Gasol go to work in the post alongside Dwight Howard, and if the double-team comes, he’ll have the ability to pass the ball to a cutting Dwight Howard. If not, then one-on-one coverage is an area in which Gasol can make the defense severely pay.

It’s unlikely to happen under D’Antoni, however, so the best bet now is to await Steve Nash’s return and see how effective Gasol can be then. Nash apparently agreed to sign with the Lakers on the condition that they didn’t trade away Gasol, so he obviously envisions an extremely dangerous offense with Gasol in the mix.

Final Thought

I think it makes most sense to keep Gasol in the  starting lineup, but give him added time with the bench. Even if he’s given just 15 minutes or less in the post, if D’Antoni gives him the “green light” and gets the ball to him, he can be extremely effective in that amount of time. With his skill-set–shooting, facing up, posting up, passing, utilizing both hands, etc.–he can carry the offensive load for the Lakers’ reserves.

The reserves can still push the ball and look for quick baskets, but Gasol’s increased ability to do damage in the post could greatly improve their effectiveness. Gasol is great at (quickly) finding cutters, kicking the ball out to perimeter shooters, and utilizing the give-and-go when he’s in the post; which would still make for an exciting, relatively fast-paced offense among the second unit.

Additionally, the added responsibility and touches may be just what Gasol needs to get going. Maybe if he has a solid stretch of time where he’s the focal point of the offense, it will pick up his overall game and he’ll go back to closing out games, too.

Also, when Nash returns, hopefully Gasol will be healthy as well, and will be encouraged to keep up with this run-and-fun style offense.

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