The solution I see here is to play Gasol down the stretch of ballgames–all of them. For one, Kobe Bryant knows how to play with Gasol, and he trusts him. He and Gasol have familiarity with each other, and that’s crucial when it comes to executing offensive and defensive plays in crunch time.
D’Antoni can continue bringing Gasol off the bench, and it will actually keep Gasol fresh by lowering his minutes, but Gasol has to be a focal point of the Lakers’ closing lineup.
Remember how the Lakers used to finish off games in the past?
Phil Jackson would have Andrew Bynum start games, and even though Bynum wanted to finish them, in order to execute offensively and not be too slow defensively, Jackson would opt for Lamar Odom in the closing lineup alongside Pau Gasol.
This is what needs to happen for the Lakers going forward.
Pau Gasol has to be the Lakers’ “go to guy” in the closing minutes of ballgames.
Sure, they’ll miss Howard’s last-line-of-defense capabilities, but the tradeoff may not be all that bad.
Conversely, because Howard is so athletic, he may not even need to be sent to the bench–but he does have to get out of the post.
The Lakers–on defense–can have Howard guarding the power forward position. Even against teams that play “small ball,” Howard is still relatively quick enough to disrupt faster players. Against players like Blake Griffin or DeMarcus Cousins, I’d much rather see Howard on them than Pau Gasol or anybody else. Howard’s athleticism and length can disrupt guys like that, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Howard occasionally on LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony when they’re playing at the four spot, either. Honestly, those types of players are unstoppable either way, so why not try to put some length and athleticism on them when they play close to the basket?
Like I said, the last-line-of-defense aspect will be gone, but the Lakers will still have a decent position defender at the rim in Pau Gasol.
What about on offense, you say? Well, sure, Dwight won’t be able to post up, but he really hasn’t done much of that this season in crunch time anyway. Additionally, when he does get the ball down low, he’s either fumbled it, been stripped, or gotten fouled on a number of occasions.
Perhaps that’s due to him not being 100 percent physically, but it’s the reality of the situation. Until it gets better, the logical approach is to use Gasol in the post more when the game is on the line.
What can actually be effective offensively, however, is positioning Gasol close to the basket down the stretch and having Howard hang out on the weak side. Gasol is too skilled not to get double-teamed, and if he doesn’t, he’ll shoot an easy left-handed hook shot or somehow get the ball up towards the rim–with Dwight right there for an easy put-back dunk if Pau misses. If Gasol indeed does get double-teamed, again utilizing Howard’s athleticism–this time on offense–Superman can cut to the basket for an easy dunk off of an over-the-shoulder Gasol pass; which is another thing Andrew Bynum couldn’t do that Howard can.
And if it still doesn’t work with both big men on the court together in crunch time? Then go with Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, or Earl Clark at the power forward slot as long as Gasol is the big man closing out games. The suggestion is truly less of an insult to Howard as it is a compliment to Pau Gasol’s abilities.
Kobe and Pau play a very efficient inside-out game, and although Kobe and Dwight severely need to develop that chemistry, at least in crunch time and at this point of the season, the Lakers need to go back to using the method proven to be effective in closing out games.
Obviously, Steve Nash needs to be an intricate part of this as well, but perhaps one reason he chose to join the Lakers was so that–at his age–he could actually play alongside other talent who could be the hubs of an offense just as much as he has been his whole career.
There’s no questions the whole team needs to gel offensively and defensively; and Dwight Howard indeed does need to be featured more and put in better positions to score, without a doubt. However, the main theme here is that Gasol needs to be on the court down the stretch of ballgames and be one of the main factors during that time, because he’s simply too much of a half-court weapon to not be utilized.
Despite all of the turmoil, winning cures everything.
Right now though, the Lakers can’t seem to get a win. However, Kobe Bryant is definitely on to something, even though it’s something so simple: Going back to the basics and putting players “in positions to do what they do best.”
For Pau Gasol–and Kobe Bryant as well–that’s allowing them to go to work in the post with the game on the line.