Pau Gasol’s Struggles Can Be Found Outside The Painted Area

Pau Gasol’s Struggles Can Be Found Outside The Painted Area

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, Pau Gasol had decent enough numbers as he recorded 19 points on six-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and three assists. Considering the way things have gone for Gasol this year, this was ostensibly a fantastic game for the big man — only if you’re taking the box score into consideration. Tuesday night was a game that Gasol should have dominated with the only rim protector in the Suns’ starting lineup being Miles Plumlee (who, all things considered, is actually having a fantastic sophomore season). Instead, it was another frustrating night watching as he struggled in situations he tried to create offense for himself.

Gasol started off the game missing a jump hook from seven feet out on the Lakers first possession of the game followed by a missed diving layup as the lane was cleared by Steve Blake driving to the basket following a P&R set with Kobe. The jump hook was missed because Gasol allowed Plumlee to push him off his spot (a good five feet up the line away from the block) and the layup was missed because — well, it was just missed. Gasol finally got on the board with a wide open dunk in transition as no one on the Suns accounted for him on the break, leaving him wide open running down the middle of the floor. Gasol scored his next basket when Plumlee let a rebound slip out of his hands and into the hands of Gasol right next to the rim, another gift. Here are Gasol’s final seven shot attempts:

  1. A made 17-foot jumper from straight away after a pick-and-pop set with Steve Blake
  2. A made 17-foot jumper from straight away with time expiring at the end of the second quarter
  3. A missed 10-footer from the right baseline after a Kobe Bryant pass from the top of the key
  4. A missed turn around fadeaway from near the left elbow in isolation
  5. A blocked jump hook on the left block by Markieff Morris
  6. A made jump hook from five feet after a Steve Blake entry pass
  7. A made dunk with 22 seconds after the game had essentially been decided

Gasol also scored seven of his 19 points from the free throw line. The over-arching theme for Gasol’s struggles on the offensive end have been the collective location of his shot selection. More than any other time in his tenure as a Laker, Gasol is taking shots away from the rim and outside of the paint. Gasol was tasked with becoming a shooter last season when Mike D’Antoni was first brought on, but has not been regulated as a stretch four by any means this year. During a practice last week, after being asked about Gasol’s struggles with his jump shot, D’Antoni quipped, “[Pau] can always move closer to the basket, that’s on him.”

Last season, Gasol’s struggles were directly related to coaching. This year, Gasol’s struggles are directly related to where he’s taking the bulk of his shots. Gasol is only taking 48.9 percent of his shots in the 0 to 9-foot range this season, which is 7.6 percent fewer shots near the rim than a season in which his coach actively encouraged him to shoot mid range jump shots, and because of this, Gasol has been the least efficient of his career shooting the ball with an eFG% of 42.2.

The graph below tracks the percentage of shots taken in the paint and the eFG% of every power forward and center who is playing at least 15 minutes per game in the NBA this season. The yellow marks are each of the seven seasons Gasol has played for the Lakers and the red marks are guys who were all stars in the 2012-13 season. Hover over each mark on the graph for player names, their eFG% and the respective percentage of total shots that player has taken from 0 to 9 feet this season.

(The league average for eFG% among bigs 50.82 and the league average for percentage of shots taken inside the paint is 62.23.)

What you can immediately gather from these numbers is that Gasol’s four most efficient seasons as a Laker, he shot anywhere between 66 and 77 percent of his shots around the basket. In his past three seasons, Gasol has seen that number drop to 56.7 to 56.5 and now 48.9 percent this season. What these three seasons have in common are the absence of Phil Jackson. And while the triangle offense is a huge reason for some of Gasol’s past successes, a decline was imminent as Gasol turned 30 in his last really good season, and has seen a steady decline in years 31 through 33. What hasn’t changed, however, is the direct correlation between the number of shots Gasol takes near the rim and his subsequent success — or lack thereof.

This, however, isn’t true for all of the bigs in the league despite how much sense it makes. There are several players whose eFG% is well under the league average for bigs while the percentage of shots taken at the rim are well over the league average (read: Ian Mahinmi and Zaza Pachulia). On the flip side, there are bigs who have been considerably efficient shooting the ball despite taking a small percentage of their shots around the rim (Ryan Anderson, Dirk Nowitzki and Channing Frye all fit this mold).

For Gasol to turn things around, the onus is essentially on himself. Gasol has been put in the same P&R situations as Jordan Hill who is shooting 83.8 percent of his shots near the rim (albeit a lot of his shot attempts come off of offensive rebounds), but Gasol doesn’t dive nearly as often as Hill in either high or side P&R sets. The pick-and-pop has become a staple in Gasol’s diet of shot attempts instead of eating near the basket — where he was essentially asking for more touches last season. The complete fix for Gasol’s struggles this season aren’t as easy as just taking more shots in the paint as he’s been dealing with injuries and inconsistent point guard play, but if he’s going to start anywhere, it has to be near the basket.

(Corey Hansford helped with the data collection for this post. Statistical support for this post was provided by,, and
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  • Gregory Choa

    Pau’s struggles exist in direct proportion to the status of his health, particularly where it concerns his feet and ankles, plain and simple. When he’s not 100%, which has disappointingly been more often than not over the past couple of seasons it seems, his tendency is to shy away from contact. When he is shying away from contact, his offense suffers and – more importantly – his defense becomes non-existent.

    Pau has never been a guy who has been a physical defender, I don’t understand the people who somehow expect him to be that guy now, as if by magic…never gonna happen. That said, I do think we’re going to see Gasol’s overall game improve once he finally gets his feet and ankles healthy. He’s just not there yet, but I do think that time will come, and when it does good things are going to start happening for the Lakers.

    This is an important season for both Pau and the Lakers as Gasol is essentially playing for a contract – be it with the Lakers, or with another team. I honestly don’t think we’ll see Pau wither away into obscurity. This is still a former All-Star and (IMO) Hall-Of-Famer we’re talking about. Lakers fans need to exercise patience with Pau, as hard and as frustrating as that may be to us all. I truly believe the dividends are still coming with respect to this key cog on the Lakers roster.

    • Paytc

      Gregory Choa with all due respect….Man it’s a shame we have to keep bailing Pau Gasol out with an injury excuse. He may indeed be injured?If so don’t step on the court until your ready to play. Then remember part of playing sports for a living requires you to play through some pain. I question his heart and desire personally.

      Gasol is a quality 7 footer, once a superstar. I personally would like to see the return of the superstar. Or trade him and get us some help at the price we pay him.

      • Gregory Choa

        Paytc, I hear you loud and clear…and I’m not trying to make excuses for Pau in playing the injury card, but it’s clear to me that he’s playing on a bum wheel right now. I DON’T question his heart and desire. If anything, I question the coach’s decision to play him when he’s less that 100%, but given the lack of depth at that position, I understand it and accept it. All I’m saying is that I believe he’s going to eventually round into form, and that we can’t really judge his relative worth to this team based on his current form.

        • Paytc

          The coach can’t make an injured player play. Gasol is obviously telling the coach he is well enough to play. There are not many active NBA players who are 100%. Try playing pickup basketball for a couple of weeks and see if you’ll be 100%? Then consider how tough it is to play in the NBA and play consistently at 100 %. You gotta play through it, or sit out till your ready.

          Now I know quality 7 footers are not just dropping out of the sky. And Gasol was once considered a superstar. I would love to see him return to top form,but the years waiting keep passing by. I know Kobe’s #1 goal is to get Pau Gasol playing up to his capability. Time is of essence.

          Many of us feel the same way Kobe does. We want to return to the top now and later,not put things off till later

          Step up now, or Step out of the way if your unable to play.

          Go Lakers !

          • Gregory Choa

            Alright, perhaps the “100%” cliche was the wrong one to invoke, you’re right, no one is 100%, especially for a veteran like Pau. But can you imagine Gasol telling coach that he’s not feeling well enough to play? Or the kind of backlash that he’s get from just about everyone if he were to deem himself unwilling to give it a go? He’d be eviscerated in the court of public opinion. And, this is why I don’t question his heart or desire.

            I think he’s giving it all he’s got right now and that’s obviously not good enough, given the foot problems. But, he’s going to gut it out and let’s just hope that as he plays through it, he gets stronger as he goes – I honestly don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility. He’s never going to be that rim protector, and he’s never going to be that physical presence in the paint defensively, but I think he is a smart team defender and can more than hold his own offensively against his counterparts in this league.

          • Paytc

            Who should care about public opinions?Most are negative band wagoners,or worse.When your winning or doing great you get all the support in the world. When not, you gotta suck it up and show em what your made of.

            That’s part of his problem IMO on the outside looking in. I think Gasol is a bit too sensitive. Instead of buckling down putting his hard hat on to go to battle, It appears he is listening to the media and public opinions. Example of that is the way he appears to pout when his name is thrown around in trade rumors.

            Keep your focus on the game and giving your best effort night after night for the current team your playing for. All that’s at stake is your name,legacy,and respect from your family and peers.

            I am in support of Pau too, but again when need him to bring the fire and desire or take some time off until he can. His moving to the side will allow a few other so call healthier and hungrier player the minutes to get confident and in sink as a team IMO.

      • A-Ron

        Paytc, I couldn’t have said it better… I’ve been preaching this for the last 2 years +… Pau has been a shell of himself ,ever since he was punked by Boston in the last Finals… He is done… The reason he doesn’t roll to the basket, is because he afraid of the contact…

        • Kracken

          punkd? in the 2010 finals? really? But I agree he’s been a shell of himself since Phil Jackson has been using him a lot in the 2011 season. He burned out during the playoffs and never was the same since then

        • Paytc

          I know it’s frustrating to watch. I can deal with the fact he won’t protect the rim. He never did. Bynum and Odom were the ones who did that heavy lifting more so than Gasol. And Jordan Hill and Kaman are there to do it now.

          But can we at least see the finesse guy who could grab some rebounds,make nice passes,and score points inside and out like the 7 foot Gasol use to do? Can we see some emotion? Heart,fire,and desire?

          • Paytc

            And Sacre.

  • Jim2.0KupchakGibson

    My biggest problem with the Lakers offense is they all shoot way too many jumpers.Pau gets bullied out of the paint,that’s why he is shooting stupid jump shots that go brick.The Lakers as a team are bricklayers shooting 44.3% but they do hit a good % of three pointers at 39.7 % from 3 pointers.

    Bad Jump shooting teams usually don’t win too many championships,the Lakers and MDA have some work to do.Take the ball inside the paint and get Chris Kaman back out on the floor the Lakers need a legit center post presence or else this going to be a long season with no playoffs.

    Only a delusional Lakers fan would think what we just saw the last 2 games is a recipe for a championship.Mike D’Antoni is as much at fault as are all the players on the team.MDA gets this team to win a few games and then all of of a sudden they lose a bunch of games.

    This is bad for the team to be a complete yo yo losing and winning all in streaks no consistency whatsoever.MDA needs to make sure the players cut to the hoop for layups and also add in way more post up plays.Because live by the 3 pointer and die by the 3 pointer is not how the Lakers should play IMO.It should be a much more in depth gameplan.

    The coach is stubborn and the players are not playing with heart or passion mainly Pau Gasol has no heart or passion anymore,Pau is a heartless SOB.I am done with this MDA run Lakers team.Pau needs to be traded because the whole team is paying for his laziness on defense.Play with some heart and passion please everyone.This is bad effort.

    • Al Haldie

      If I was Pau I would be looking for you calling him a SOB -you need to have your ASS kicked–if you know so much go talk to the man-jim buss and tell him how smart u think u are…. long time lakers fan

  • Al Haldie

    If you would look at last game box scores KOBE & PAU PLAYED THE SAME GAME BOTH SAME SHOTS POINTS THE ONLY REASON KOBE OUT SCORED PAU Is A FT. 8 OF 8 -PAU 7 OF 8 BOTH HAD THE SAME AST. KOBE HAS A BAD FOT PAU HAS A BAD FOOT it seem everyone wants an excape goat so why not PAU – and KOBE gets all the credit- im not saying kobe is not better then PAU but stop and think about it they play different pos. ones 7 ft tall the othe is 6,7–and the both want to win–.. long time lakers fan

  • Marty Susman

    You can believe whatever you like about why Gasol is not showing his abilities BUT whatever the reason, he “NEEDS TO BE TRADED FOR DRAFT PICKS”… The Lakers are done for the next two years, we need to lose as many games as we can & get down low in the draft…We need to shed Gasol & Blake & Nash & get rid of them getting back draft picks & then salary dump….

    • Paytc

      You may have made “one” good point? “STEP UP”,if not STEP ASIDE”, or “STEP OUT”. We don’t need a bunch of excuses. Business is business. The Lakers are not running a charity ball club or non-profit basketball team. If he is injured or too hurt to play be a “man” and state that as a fact so you can rest and get well enough to play like a 20 million dollar superstar 7 footer.

      There are a few capable players sitting on the bench. They can do for Gasol what they did for Nash and Kobe. They can hold it somewhat together until some or all the so call superstars return.

      Time is of essence,and this years team is capable. We just need to be healthy and get on a roll at the right time IMO.

      Go Lakers !