We’ve heard it all year long from both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. They’ve made comments through the media that the ball needs to move around more, ball needs to go to the post more often and that the offense should run through them. What we all inferred from their comments is that they needed to shoot the ball more and Kobe Bryant needed to shoot less.
When Kobe Bryant went down with the Achilles tear against the Golden State Warriors in the 3rd to last game of the season, it was both Dwight and Pau’s golden opportunity to take control of the offense and dominate like they knew they could all season if they just got the ball from Kobe’s tight grip.
Since Kobe Bryant’s season ended, it opened up an additional 20 shots and 8 free throw attempts per game. A better figure to look at to see how much Kobe dominated the ball is usage percentage which measures the percentage of a team’s play that a particular player is involved in per game. Kobe Bryant ranked 3rd at 31.9 percent usage, 2nd only to the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. Kobe is involved in 1 of every 3 plays while he is on the floor. As you can see, that is whole lot of plays that were up for grabs.
Dwight Howard for his career, has averaged 18 points, 11 shots, 13 rebounds and shot almost 58 percent form the field per game. In the last 5 games without Kobe Bryant, Dwight has increased those averages nominally to 20 points, 14 shots and 14 rebounds per game while shooting almost 56 percent per game. Very nice numbers for most players but not exactly what you’d expect from your superstar player whose team was in desperate need of leadership. It is definitely not the production you would want from the player that the franchise is planning to build around for their future.
While the expectations for Pau were not as great as Dwight when Kobe went down, Pau was the most vocal about Kobe’s shot output during the season. With Kobe gone, Pau has shrunk in the spot light. In the last 5 games minus Kobe, Pau has averaged a measly 12.8 points per game and shot a terrible 35 percent from the field.
It also seems the more the Lakers need Pau and Dwight, the more they let them down. Let us look back at Game 3 Friday night, with the Lakers back court decimated by injuries and having to start their 5th and 6th guards on their depth chart, Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, Pau and Dwight’s leadership and scoring was desperately needed. Dwight played well but not dominant; shot 16 times, scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Pau barely showed up at all; shot 10 times, scored 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Pau and Dwight learned the hard way what a dominate and constantly aggressive offensive perimeter player creates for them in the low block which is space for them to operate and attention from the defense that is taken away from them.
They learned that the responsibilities of being the focal point of an offense is one greater than either of them can carry.
They learned that the need Kobe Bryant or someone like him.
That defining moment was there for both Pau and Dwight for the taking and they fumbled it away badly. They get one more opportunity today to put forth a dominate performance and save the Lakers from the humiliation of being swept.
Had Pau and Dwight been able to play as big on the court as their talk off of it, the Lakers wouldn’t be in this position today.