System Failure: Pau Gasol Must Come Off the Bench
Okay. So this topic has been beaten to death already, but Pau needs, for his sake, to come off the bench. There’s no need to get wordy about this.
The harsh reality is that Mike D’Antoni has been unable to evenly facilitate both Howard and Gasol’s superior talents, and unfortunately, their time on the court together has yielded less than desirable results. In a system that is predicated on speedy wings rather than rooted post players, Pau finds himself the odd man out.
It’s not that Earl Clark is certifiably better starter; it’s that Pau’s a better for the bench.
Allow me to explain.
Take a look at this shot chart for Pau Gasol this year:
Quite frankly, there’s a lot of red in there. And while there are plenty of misses in the paint, the vast majority of them extend beyond the free throw line.
Pau is simply playing out of his comfort zone too often, and it’s hurting not only his defensive intensity, it’s affecting his confidence in his own clearly talented game. I’m not a believer that Pau is finished yet, but in the wrong places, he’s barely mediocre.
Take a gander at these stupendous statistics!:
At the Rim: 64.7% (55-85)
3 to 9 ft: 31.1% (23-74)
10 to 15 ft: 32.5% (13-40)
16 ft to 3 pt: 41.9% (39-93)
3 pt: 28.0% (7-25)
Seriously? Long two’s (considered by most to be the worst shot in basketball) are what the Lakers want Pau, one of the best low post players in the game, shooting?
It’s unacceptable that such a valued resource is wasted on low percentage (below league average) shots. At the rim, Pau is clearly still performing at peak level. The problem is that he only shoots there 26.8% of the time. In the 2009-10 season? He shot at the rim nearly 40% of the time, and all of those shots were converted at the exact same rate that he’s converting now: 64%. Pau isn’t necessarily declining: his role is.
At this point, there’s no use whining about starting when it really comes down to wins. The Lakers can’t win a game. Seriously. And for the past five years, Pau has been really good at helping the Lakers win, especially when he’s put in the right situations. Pau needs to come off the bench. It’s not that he’ll be the difference, but the problems are abundant, and I believe this can help solve some of them.
And what do the Lakers lose with Earl Clark starting? In this system, not much.
Examine Earl Clark’s shot totals for this season. While his overall numbers are significantly less than that of Pau, it’s interesting to note that his percentages aren’t terribly different.
At the Rim: 61.3% (19-31)
3 to 9 ft: 25.0% (2-8)
10 to 15 ft: 33.3% (3-9)
16 ft to 3 pt: 41.4% (12-29)
3 pt: 62.5% (5-8)
Please take a moment to consider what this means. Because of the way he’s being played, Pau has been reduced to Earl Clark’s status. They are producing nearly identical numbers, and while Clark is being celebrated for his “success,” Pau is being crucified for the same output.
The difference isn’t in the player. It’s in the system. Obviously, this shouldn’t be news to anyone. Despite what Kupchak says, the typical NBA fan could have forecast the incompatibilities of the D’Antoni system and this Lakers squad. But the fact is that D’Antoni was hired. And the Lakers have to work with what they’ve got.
Earl Clark starting helps the Lakers in two ways. First, he’s demonstrated that he’s not incapable from beyond the 3-point line. While his shot totals are not close to being enough for a typical sample size, he’s still shooting better than Pau. That’s a plus for this system.
Secondly, Pau working with the bench can only help their relatively poor decision making. With Morris/Duhon holding the reins for the bench, Pau gives the Lakers a valuable asset in terms of basketball IQ. The guy’s a genius, and he can help an already struggling bench squad find some stability.
The numbers, for the most part, also reflect that the Lakers do well with Clark on the floor.
In the 71:12 minutes that Clark’s been on the floor with the starters, the Lakers outscore their opponent at a rate of over 18 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers’ FG%, 3P%, eFG%, FT%, DRB, TRB%, and AST all increase with Clark on the floor with the other starters over 100 possessions. The only decrease is in offensive rebounding. With Pau and the starters, the numbers are significantly worse. The most telling stat is that over 100 possessions, the Lakers are outscored by .6 points with Pau joining Bryant, Howard, Nash and World Peace.
Now, I don’t necessarily believe that statistics tell everything about the game of basketball. There are obviously chemistry issues, communication issues, and pride issues. But the Lakers need to look at what works. And when Clark is in with the starters, it seems they give themselves a little more breathing room.
Pau has given up more for this team than any other player on the Lakers. Sacrifice should be his middle name. But as far as I can tell, he may once again be the difference between winning and losing. If his pride will allow it, then the Lakers need him to sacrifice once again. Hopefully, the Lakers can reward his selflessness with victory.
All statistics from Basketball-Reference.com.