“As I mentioned the last game, Orlando goes to their interior game and I don’t think Dwight Howard is that much (more) talented than me and Andrew in the post. Indiana used their post game with (Roy) Hibbert and (David) West. I don’t think they’re much more talented than we are. Why don’t we? I think it’s always an effective way to play the game.” – Pau Gasol, speaking with OC Register on Jan. 24.
Pau Gasol is frustrated with his role in the Lakers offense this season. The quote above raises good points and it’s one he has been saying all year. The Lakers have two of the top 5 quality big men in the game. Why are they currently being underutilized in the Mike Brown offense? The answer of course is Kobe. But anybody off the street could have figured that one out. “Kobe shoots too much” is like saying the sky is blue or the sun rises in the west. It’s a forgone conclusion entering every season that Kobe Bryant is going to pull the trigger.
So let’s go beyond Kobe shoots too much. Let’s look deeper as to why Gasol is frustrated. Yes, Kobe is one of the reasons, but it’s not that he is shooting too much. It’s the type of shots of he is taking. Gasol is also not taking advantage of his own opportunities, which is leading to additional frustration.
Kobe currently leads the NBA in usage percentage (38.74%) by a mile. Carmelo Anthony, who has been publicly questioning if he shoots too much, is second at 33.60%.
I recently subscribed to MySynergySports.com, which allows me to watch video of every shot a player has taken this season. Naturally, Kobe was the first player I wanted to look it. Kobe’s advanced stats and video will give us a good indication as to why Pau is so frustrated.
Kobe In Isolation
According to mysynergysports.com, 30.9% of Kobe’s shots are in isolation (188 total, which is first in the NBA). He is cashing in on only 33.8% of those opportunities. What does that mean? That means that the Lakers are standing around or being called off screens to watch Kobe run down the shot clock and miss two-thirds of his shots. His isolation plays stop the ball and kill any semblance of offensive flow. Thirty percent is way too high. Now, Kobe bringing down that number doesn’t necessarily mean Gasol will get the ball more and when he sees a D-Leaguer on him or a hall of famer for that matter, Kobe’e gonna take him. But the fact remains Kobe needs to bring that number down because given his mileage and wrist injury, he is having more difficulty creating his own space. Give Kobe space and he is still dangerous. Mike Brown knows this and is doing everything he can to put Kobe in a position to score. In other words, screens, screens and more screens. In the Lakers last victory over the Clippers, Kobe only took four of his 17 shots in isolation. Improvement.
Kobe Off Screens or Dribble Hand Offs
Kobe is one of the best at getting to his spot. How he gets there is the frustrating part. There is a Ray Allen/Reggie Miller-type of moving without the ball — coming off numerous screens or in dribble hand off situations. Then there is the just running toward the ball with your hand up looking to shoot. When Kobe moves with purpose in the half court set, he is one of the most dangerous players in the league. According to mysynergysports, 13.5% of his shots are coming off screens and Kobe is shooting 54.5% on those possessions, good for second in the NBA. Kobe ranks first in shooting percentage coming off the dribble hand off (53.6%). Why does this work so well? Because Mike Brown has two seven footers who can create enough space for Kobe to rise up and fire. Remember this isn’t about Kobe. This is about Pau. In the triangle, Fisher would bring the ball up and feed Gasol in the post with a player on the wing. The argument could be made that the point guard of the Lakers was actually Gasol. He was the decision maker. This year, he is being used as a big body and although it seems to be working when in tandem with Kobe, Gasol’s frustration continues to mount because he is not as involved as last season. The truth is, he is involved, there just isn’t a stat for creating space in the box score.
Pau in the post
Statistically, Gasol’s numbers across the board are slightly down from last season. The frustration is understandable. The Lakers traded him only to have it rescinded by Commissioner Stern. He has a new coach who uses him to set screens rather than make decisions with the basketball and let’s not overlook the loss of Lamar Odom. Odom was another seven footer that could distribute the rock in the painted area and took pressure off Gasol on both ends of the floor.
Gasol is still at his best and most comfortable in the post. He wants the ball more in the paint and looking at the stats, he may have an argument. About one-third of his shots (31.9%) come from the post-up and he is making 52.7% of his attempts, good for seventh in the league. A solid passer, Gasol with his back to the basket can read the defense, see the double team, and react.
Pau in the Pick and Roll
Why isn’t he getting the ball in the post more often given the numbers above? As I wrote in a column last week, Kobe’s Gotta Eat. Brown would rather run plays that put Kobe in space rather than having Kobe try to create his own, which we now know isn’t working. Brown is known in NBA circles as a player’s coach. Having coached LeBron, he is more known now as a superstar’s coach. He appeased LeBron in Cleveland and as much as coach Brown would like to think Kobe is just any other player on the team, he is going to appease him too. Superstars first. This is a top down offense.
Since Gasol is setting more screens this year, he has to become more comfortable cutting towards the basket in a pick and roll situation. He is currently shooting 25.9% as the roll man in the pick and roll (includes pick and pops). Not good enough. This comes down to recognizing when to roll and when to pick and spot up. Gasol is frustrated. He just needs more shots to fall. The Clippers game was a great start. He went 9-13 from the field for 23 points 10 boards and 4 assists. He was also 1-3 in the pick and roll situation. Again, improvement.
Look, Gasol isn’t wrong here. The Lakers are 14th in offensive efficiency and 20th in points per game. The saving grace of the Lakers has been their defense. Something must change on the offensive end and I like to see Gasol lobbying for more touches and responsibility. By diving into the stats, we found that if Kobe can limit the number of isolation plays and if Gasol can improve on his pick and roll shooting percentage, there is more offensive output to be had for an 11-8 team that desperately needs it.