|Shoot at the rim, not for it. (Getty Images)|
How do you solve a problem like Pau Gasol?
After Mike D'Antoni officially joined his new team on the sideline, the Lakers won their first game under their latest new head coach by beating the Brooklyn Nets 95-90 in the Staples Center. Gasol looked great in the new system, recording 17 points to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists. It looked like he would fit right in with his new role in D'Antoni's system.
Since that game, Gasol has had just 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists while shooting 6-of-18 from the field in two consecutive losses for the Lakers. He's struggled to find his way into the paint and has just been relegated to taking jumpers.
He played so poorly Friday night in a 106-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies that D'Antoni took him out of the game with 1:19 left in the third quarter. Pau had picked up his fourth foul of the game and D'Antoni never wanted to go back to him after that moment. What was his reasoning? Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times had this quote from the Lakers' coach:
Gasol left for good after picking up his fourth foul with 1:19 left in the third quarter. Why?
"I was thinking I'd like to win this game. That's the reason," D'Antoni said.
Well, that's just a heaping helping of confidence for the Lakers' All-Star big man.
Whether it's a conditioning thing or a confidence thing or a consistency thing, one thing is certain with Gasol right now: he's not getting good enough shot attempts. It's not about the quantity of touches right now; it's more about the quality. He's simply getting far too many looks away from the hoop.
"All my looks are jump shots," he said. "I'm not a pure jump shooter. I can stretch the defense out and take a couple jumpers, but how I get going is by getting in the paint and creating off the post and things like that. That's historically how I've been very successful and how I've made a very good name for myself and earned my contracts. Hopefully I'll find a way…."
Looking at the HoopData numbers, Gasol has the second-highest success rate at the rim in his career with 72.2 percent. He's clearly finishing at an extremely elite clip inside. However, Gasol is averaging 4.0 attempts at the rim per game, which is the lowest of his career. And while he's making an extremely respectable 41 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet, he's taking 5.4 attempts per contest from that range. That's a career high and an increase of 1.3 attempts per game from his previous high set a season ago.
Gasol is right; pretty much the majority of his shots right now are jumpers. He doesn't take any type of shot more than he takes long twos. And it's only gotten worse since D'Antoni took over three games ago.
Here is Gasol's shooting chart before D'Antoni took over:
|Pau Gasol's shooting chart from the first 10 games. (NBA.com/stats)|
And here's his shooting chart in the last three games:
|Pau Gasol's shooting chart from the previous three games. (NBA.com/stats)|
In the restricted area, Gasol isn't nearly the 72 percent finisher he is directly at the rim, but he's still making nearly half of his shots. He had 6.3 attempts per game in the restricted area in the first 10 games. He's down to three attempts per game over his last three games.
D'Antoni made a comment after the loss to Memphis about guys needing to be able to run the floor or they'll find someone else to do it.
"Guys have got to get used to this pace," he said. "It might take a little bit, but we're going to run up and down. And if you can't run up and down and play quickly, then we'll have to find guys that do."
You can't help but think this was about Gasol, considering Antawn Jamison ran the floor a lot better against Memphis than the man he backs up.
If this is about conditioning and shots, it's very possible the two are a symbiotic relationship. If Gasol is running the floor a lot better, he's likely to get deeper position and more attempts at the rim. It's kind of like what we saw from him early on in his Lakers career when he was running the floor and showing a lot of open floor skills for a big man.
That's harder to do at 32 years old but it's still doable in key spurts. If Gasol can't keep up, then he's often going to be the trailer as a long-range jump shooter. Once Steve Nash and Steve Blake join back with the team, he'll also be more likely to get better shots and closer ones to the rim.
Until then, he's going to have to put extra effort into fighting for the attempts he feels are better for him.