During yesterday’s telecast of the Western Conference semifinals between the Lakers and Mavericks, TNT analyst Steve Kerr was surprised that the Lakers’ faithful were booing Pau Gasol- a man instrumental in helping them win the last 2 NBA Championships. Pau’s play has not been up to par thus far in the playoffs, and Lakers’ fans do have a right to be concerned. Here, I try to explain what might be behind his poor play.
First, the Lakers have not been executing their offense sharply throughout the playoffs. The triangle offense is predicated on ball movement and off-the-ball player movement, yet so far in the playoffs, the Lakers’ offense has looked very static. The Lakers have not been getting into their offense until late in the shot clock, and that negatively impacts Pau. Pau, in my opinion, is at his best when he is facing the basket so that he can take less agile big men off the dribble and either find an open teammate or draw a foul. The thing is that these kinds of plays take time to develop, as Pau needs to size up what the defense is giving him and where his teammates are on the perimeter. Getting the ball to Pau late in the shot clock hinders his ability to play off the dribble because the opposing defense is now able to get position around the basket, which forces Pau to either force a shot or pass it off.
Now, this is not going to make a whole lot of sense as it contradicts what I said above, but in this series against the Mavericks, Pau needs to rely on his post play in order for the Lakers to win. Pau is going to be guarded by Dirk Nowitski for much of this series, and Dirk is just as agile if not more agile than Pau, meaning Paul will never be able to put the ball on the floor against him. It is absolutely imperative that the Lakers swing the ball in this series in order for Pau to be successful. When the Lakers start passing the ball, it gives Pau space to run through screens and find space by the basket. He then can receive the ball in better position, and more importantly, it does not give Dirk and the Mavericks a chance to set themselves, giving Pau either an easy look at the basket or a chance to draw a foul.
Phil Jackson has been emphasizing this throughout the series, and on the few occasions that the Lakers did successfully swing the ball, he more or less raised his arms and shrugged, saying “look how easy it is guys.” I just don’t understand why they cannot buy into this. It gives space for Kobe, Pau, and their three-point threats: Fisher, Barnes, and Blake. Moving the ball from the top of the three point arc to a wing and then back to the thee point arc is not considered ball movement, it needs to be moving from side to side, and quite frankly, the Lakers are spending too much time dribbling the ball and trying to force shots when they don’t need to.
My next theory is based off of what I saw on KidVeesh’s facebook status a month or so ago. Essentially, the past three years have finally caught up to the Lakers and Pau Gasol both emotionally and physically. The Lakers have made it to the finals the past 3 years, and Gasol has had to face off against the likes of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, Dwight Howard, and Tim Duncan. Not exactly an easy bunch. This may sound like an excuse, but considering that the last team to make it to 4 straight NBA finals was the Boston Celtics from 1984-1987, you cannot completely discount it. Gasol’s legs may be starting to finally feel the effects of playing nearly 10 months of basketball each of the last 4 seasons, and his mind cannot be doing much better, especially with his own fans starting to question him. BUT with that being said, with a shot at history on the line, all of this should not matter.