While the Lamar Odom trade could go down as possibly one of the most colossal mistakes made by a once proud franchise and its front office, it could also be an indicator of more moves to come. Naturally, one of their most valuable trade assets is Pau Gasol, once considered to be one of the top two power forwards in the game. There is a growing sentiment, based on his play during last year’s playoffs and the first half of this year, that he is worthy of trading, as he has not given his team the same production as in year’s past. Let’s open up the Synergy Sports database and examine if this theory is even close to being true.
Let’s start by comparing the year Pau Gasol is having this year to arguably his greatest as a Laker – 2009-2010, when the Lakers won their 2nd consecutive NBA title. In the following table, notice the striking similarities to the numbers. Gasol, in fact, has been remarkably consistent over his entire career.
The one number that jumps out is his scoring efficiency. At his height, he scored 1.045 points per possession used, which was in the top 10 percentile in the entire league. He shot over three percentage points higher from the field, got to the line much more often, and scored more often when he got the ball. At first glance, this lends credence to the argument that Gasol is simply not producing as much as he did, and is therefore less valuable to the team and more expendable.
But dig deeper into the offensive numbers, and a different picture emerges. Let’s examine the breakdown of Gasol’s shots, and how Mike Brown has involved him in the offense.
Gasol has moved away from the post in a profound way, with 10 percent less touches down low. He has more than doubled his number of isolations and almost doubled the number of spot up jumpers. Clearly, the offense has pushed Gasol farther out on the perimeter.
As Gasol’s perimeter game has taken shape, he’s proven more efficient in spot-up jump shots. Interestingly, he’s also improved in his post efficiency as well.
In comparison to other NBA players, Gasol has justified the increase in spot up jump shots by improving dramatically. Let’s not overlook that his post up game is ranked even higher this year, which makes it even more strange that he has posted up less. Look at the jump Gasol has made in isolation plays – Mike Brown’s offense has asked him to break down his man by himself, and he has been huge. What is also startling is how unproductive Gasol has been when cutting and rolling to the hoop, where extra help defenders congest the lane and make things more difficult.
Looking at how Pau’s production affects the Lakers, it is very curious that the coaching staff has so clearly moved away from what he does so well, posting up. During the height of their 2nd championship season, Gasol posted up on 27 percent of all Laker post ups. In fact, that team was remarkably well balanced as Kobe Bryant took 26.8 percent and Andrew Bynum 25.2 percent. With such a balance in post ups, the triangle offense deserves much of the credit since it made it extremely difficult for defenses to key on any one player.
This year, Mike Brown has blazed his own path, getting Andrew Bynum the ball in the post a whopping 37.8 percent of their overall post ups, while Kobe (27.3 percent) and Gasol (25.2 percent) remained consistent with 2009-10. With the absence of Lamar Odom’s post ups (6.4 percent last year), Bynum has absorbed twice that amount, without anyone else filling the void. This imbalance has led to a more predictable offense, and teams have been able to stop them more easily.
Let’s take a moment to examine Pau’s effectiveness in the post, considering he’s posting up less this year. Note – these percentages represent the amount Gasol posts up vs. other plays like pick and roll or isolation.
This season, Gasol is actually playing better in the post than his greatest year as a Laker. In every category, he has improved significantly, yet he hasn’t been able to get down to the block as much as he did in 2009-10. This begs the question: Why hasn’t Mike Brown, a self-professed stat geek, realized that he needs to get Gasol more touches in the post, where he’s scoring more efficiently than ever? Why continue giving Andrew Bynum so many extra post ups when his production has decreased from the last two seasons? If you’re Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, why risk trading your most reliable player, one of the most consistent producers in the entire NBA, to upgrade the point guard position with no guarantee that it will increase the Lakers’ chances at a title?
The overall offensive rating in 2009-2010 was a healthy tenth in the league. This year, with Mike Brown’s new offensive system, they are a very mediocre 19th. By adjusting the game plan and going with what has been proven to work, to the tune of consecutive championships, the Lakers need not look any farther than the beginning of their bench, where Mike Brown sits in his chair every game.
All statistics provided by Synergy Sports.
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