Make no mistake about it, you don’t lost someone the caliber of Dwight Howard and not suffer talent-wise. While the Lakers struggled to mesh as a team last year, they were certainly be worse off without him this year. There’s a reason they campaigned hard to bring the big man back.
By the same account, the Lakers did the best they could in replacing him, bringing in Chris Kaman on a large discount. It’s no doubt Kaman fits better into the Lakers offense than Howard did, but that comes nearly by default as Kaman will actually run the offense Mike D’Antoni wants. But it’s also a fact that Kaman and Gasol have similar play styles, that being both are versatile big men who can play inside and out. While Gasol will finally be the featured big man for the first time in his career, Kaman will complement him perfectly and could create an interesting duo for the Lakers this season.
Part of what makes Gasol such a great player is his passing ability. Ask any Laker fan and most NBA fans and they’ll tell you it’s second to none among big men in the league. Don’t believe me? His career average assist percentage of 16.26% ranks 42nd among active players, but behind only Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett, Lamar Odom, and Tim Duncan among active big men. Despite his struggles last season, he still posted a 19.9% assist percentage, his highest as a Laker.
Chris Kaman isn’t too bad a passing big man himself. Just two seasons ago, he posted a 14.0% assist rate. More importantly, he’s as versatile as Gasol, having an ability to play outside and inside. Simply take a look at his shot chart, which shows just how potent he is with an outside jumper.
Despite playing just 20.7 minutes a game last year, Kaman was apart of two of the three most used lineups for the Mavericks, included the top offensive one. Pair that with Gasol, who was apart of three of the Lakers four most used lineups and one of the team’s best defensive lineups. While it’s still not for certain that these two will start together, we’ll certainly see the two of them together. But what can we expect from these two versatile big men?
Gasol is great at running high-low sets, with his skill set shown most notably in his times on the court with Howard last season. His soft touch and superb vision, Gasol sees the floor like a point guard, lending himself to making the spectacular play to set up a wide open player. Let’s look at a few examples.
These two videos show how great Pau is in the pick and roll from all positions. In the first video, Nash and Howard run a pick and roll, where Nash comes off the screen and hits Gasol in the middle of the court. This pass forces Gasol’s man to close out, leaving the middle of the floor wide open for Howard to dunk it home. Not a moment of hesitation by Gasol, who knew exactly how that play would unfold.
In the second video, Gasol is the one setting the pick, which he slips as Bryant goes up for the shot. Gasol catches at the free throw line and, knowing that Howard’s defender will have to help on him, sends an immediate lob to the big man who catches and finishes with ease. Again, Gasol knows how the play will unfold before it even happens.
We know Kaman and won’t be able to finish in the manner that Dwight did, but he brings a different dynamic to the squad, one that Dwight didn’t. His ability to consistently knock down the jumper is something that will make he and Gasol extra deadly.
In our first video, Dirk Nowitzki gets the ball on the block, is double teamed, and finds Kaman for the easy jumper. This is a scenario we could see a lot of for either Kaman or Gasol. With each having a great ability to knock down a jumper, if either are double teamed on the block, their counterpart needs just to flash at the high post and will have a wide open jumper to knock down.
The second video doesn’t necessarily pertain to the Lakers, but is a set the Mavs ran on a game-to-game basis and often resulted in at least one or two baskets from Kaman. The ball handler comes down and passes to a wing player, who was often Shawn Marion. While this is happening, Kaman is setting a screen for the player in the corner before receiving a screen from the point guard. He comes off the screen to the elbow, catches the pass, and knocks down the jumper. While I doubt the Lakers run this next year, it’s just another example of how good of a jumper Kaman has.
I’ve only listed these four examples of the versatility of these two, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We’ve seen for many years what Gasol is capable of, and Kaman has a somewhat similar skill set. While he doesn’t have the passing ability of Gasol, he has an equally consistent outside shot (maybe even a better one), while also having a high basketball IQ, meaning he knows where he needs to be to put himself in the best position to score. While watching film on Kaman, there were countless times he’d slide up to the high post or take a couple steps another direction to free himself for an open shot. He knows how to use simple, subtle movements to allow him the best possible shot offensively.
As a fan of post play, I’m most excited to see what Kaman and Gasol do together. While fans may want and expect an up-tempo offense, don’t be surprised if Kaman and Gasol are starting together. There’s a chance that the two of them could mesh together and form a fun and successful offensive tandem in the block. Pairing these two with another dynamic passer in Steve Nash and the Lakers offense could look more like a Showtime offense than it has in many years.