Is Pau Gasol Still Needed?
As stated earlier, many fans are already saying “Trade Pau Gasol!” and use a combination of Hill, Clark, and/or Jamison to fill his void, but I’m not going there yet. I still feel that Gasol has the ability to compete and flourish with the Lakers, but perhaps it can be done in a different capacity than I had initially thought.
To me, the Lakers desperately need a “go-to player” in the half-court set at the end of close games, and that guy is Pau Gasol.
For instance, when the Lakers faced the Clippers last Friday night, slow, playoff-style basketball is what got the Lakers back into the game, although it wasn’t enough to get them over the top. Gasol didn’t play all the way down the stretch in that game, however, largely due to his inability to guard Blake Griffin and/or the Clippers’ other athletes (along with the fact he was having a horrible offensive game, too).
However, his half-court offense was severely needed to finish off that game.
Similarly, against the Spurs, Gasol’s half-court abilities were needed to put the Lakers over the top. How many times did you see the Lakers pop long three-pointers at the end of that game? Way too many, and way too many misses as well.
With Kobe Bryant playing at his more natural shooting guard position, he no longer plants himself in the post and methodically goes to work late in games. He relies on receiving the ball off-ball, and then choosing to attack by either driving or pulling up for a jump-shot.
Additionally, while Dwight Howard is a great post presence, his skills are still unrefined. Pau Gasol’s, however, are more comparable to that of Tim Duncan; who the Spurs know is a necessary piece for them to win a championship.
Obviously, part of that is up to Gasol to get back to playing like the player he used to be as recently as the 2012 London Olympics. Regardless, the fact remains that the Lakers need/needed his half-court abilities to close out tight games; and I believe that those skills are also still necessary for the Lakers to win a championship as well because of that; but I have recently also changed my stance on his role.
Pau’s New Role
With Gasol’s sluggish activity and need to play close to the basket, perhaps it is time to bring Gasol off the bench–at least temporarily–if Clark can perform somewhat consistently in his absence.
Gasol is more effective at the center position this season with a 27.7 PER (compared with 13.2 at power forward), and his defense at that position is much better as well (with an opponents’ PER of 10.2 compared with 16.1).
In fact, although those numbers are based on the small percentage of playing time Gasol receives at the center position, compared with Dwight Howard, Gasol is actually more effective on both ends of the floor there; Howard has a PER of 21.3 and an opponents’ PER of 14.7.
I still don’t believe the Lakers should deal away Pau Gasol, though. It may seem unreasonable to pay Gasol “All-Star money” to just come off the bench, but it’s more than that. Gasol, as we’ve seen in the past, seamlessly can fill in for an All-Star center (previously Andrew Bynum, this season it’s Dwight Howard) and is invaluable when it comes to executing a half-court offense.
Additionally, while opting for a higher-energy, more athletic player such as Earl Clark at the start of games, Gasol will likely be much needed at the end of playoff-type games for his half-court efficiency and effectiveness.
Similarly, while his defense looks horrible against players such as Blake Griffin, his defense is much more solid against other seven-footers. My suggestion is simply to put Dwight Howard on athletic power forwards when Gasol is out there with him.
Sure, the Lakers will give up the last-line-of-defense luxury, but I’d much rather see Dwight Howard’s length and athleticism guard Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, or even sometimes LeBron James (when he’s posting up or operating close to the basket) than Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, or Antawn Jamison. In fact, having Gasol on the floor with Howard allows the Lakers that unique ability.
Seriously, there’s no power forward in the league who can guard any of those players, but with Dwight’s athleticism and size, he can actually keep up with those guys and bother them; and the Lakers wouldn’t even lose much position rim protection. Again, that won’t be for the entire duration of a game, but it could work in spurts.
Next Page: Final Thought On Clark