Mike Brown brought change to the Los Angeles Lakers. The triangle is gone and the team has had to learn how to play a new offense with a relatively new team on the fly. It would be no surprise if someone got lost in the shuffle.
Without a facilitator like Lamar Odom on the roster, and a roster that favors the ball-dominating ways of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol has been that player lost in the shuffle for the Lakers. No player on Los Angeles’ roster has suffered more from the coaching change than Gasol.
Gasol is averaging a career-low 15.8 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. Gasol is a completely different player under Mike Brown than he was under Phil Jackson. And it is largely how Brown has decided to use him.
Former and longtime Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw noticed the difference pretty strikingly when he returned to Los Angeles with the Pacers this Sunday, as J.A. Adande of ESPN writes:
“I did notice that he’s out on the floor a lot more, a lot further away from the basket,” Shaw said. “So that kind of neutralizes him. Those two big guys [Gasol and Andrew Bynum], that’s always been the strength of this team. You want your biggest guys close to the basket.
“Their sets are a little different, they’re out there more on the elbow area — even sometimes Pau’s out around the three-point line. I think maybe it’s just going to take them a little time to get adjusted to the new places that he’s at on the floor. In the triangle they knew where their shots were going to come night-in and night-out.”
He has drifted to the perimeter more, taking 11 3-point attempts this season, the same amount he has had in his entire time as a Laker. Worse still, he has hit on only two of those 11 attempts.
According to HoopData.com, his shots at the rim have decreased from 4.5 per game to 3.3 per game. Gasol is taking significantly more shots from 16-23 feet with 3.9 attempts per game, up from 2.8 per game. Those are significant changes for a player who has been one of the best post players in the league for a long time.
Gasol has noted that difference. It does not sound like he is complaining about his new role, but Gasol recognizes what more he has to do to turn the Lakers’ season around:
“I would like to get a little more inside, myself,” Gasol told Adande. “I always like to have different looks and be able to attack from different angles. The second half I didn’t have one chance to attack from the post, so I was more of a facilitator. I got two jumpers, open, that I missed, and that was all the opportunities that I had.”
It is a much different offense and Gasol is learning that the hard way. His numbers, as noted above are down, and Brown is trying to use his passing ability as a high-low option with Andrew Bynum. Things have not worked out that smoothly though.
Gasol is averaging just 2.8 assists per game and has a career-low 13.3 percent assist rate. It has not quite worked the way everyone thought. While Andrew Bynum has flourished a bit in the low post and Kobe Bryant has returned to his ball-hawking ways (his usage rate is at a league-high 38.8 percent, a career-high too), Gasol has been lost in the fold.
It is a symbol of how poor Gasol has played. He has never had a high usage rate, but 20.0 percent just seems low for a player who has so many skills on the offensive end.
The path forward for the Lakers is not going to be easy. Gasol looks uncomfortable in the offense. Kobe Bryant is the only real perimeter offensive option. This is a team that has a lot of work that needs to get done before the team turns it around.
It might start with Gasol. It might start with changes to Brown’s offense. Or it might start elsewhere.
One thing is for sure, if the Lakers believe Gasol is the second best player on the roster, they have to find a way to use him more effectively.