Upon listening to Mitch Kupchak’s optimism for the upcoming season, one thing really stuck out during the interview. Kupchak sounded very confident in Pau Gasol’s ability to become an All-Star. He’s able to play on the block with space, or pick and pop from 18′, 12′, 16′, and 14′. What hasn’t hit the media or Lakers fans’ minds is, is Pau Gasol the #1 option?
At least for now, the answer is yes. Kobe Bryant isn’t working on a timetable and there aren’t any other dynamic offensive options outside of Pau. He has a very unique skill set, which makes him almost equally effective on both sides of the low block and high-post area. He can finish with either hand, and has definitive go-to moves in the post. Last year, he was getting pushed around on the mid-block. It was obvious he couldn’t use his legs to gain any kind of post-base leverage on a defender. Considering his rehab and treatment, he looks to be nearing 100% healthy coming into the regular season.
One dynamic that was rarely exposed was a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop situation with Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Those who remember the Suns of 2006, remember how effective Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire were against the San Antonio Spurs. During the playoffs, the team would repeatedly shoot 60% over an extended period of a game. Duncan had issues stopping Amare Stoudemire in isolation situations from the high post, or defending the pick and roll. Granted, in the end, the Spurs won the series, but that was due to extra possessions and defensive rebounding, not offensive efficiency.
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol can give a similar dynamic. While neither player is as explosive as the 2006 Suns duo, Gasol provides more dynamic offensive skills in the paint. He doesn’t have to settle for 18′ jumpshots or a tw0-dribble spin-move for a shot at the rim. He has the jumphook, short-shot, up-and-under, and drop-step on both sides of the paint, with either hand. Ideally, this means better offensive efficiency with chip shots in the paint, opening up the perimeter for the newly acquired Laker free agents – Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, and Jordan Farmar – for wide open jumpshots. If this sounds like a pet play for the Lakers, it just might be. Kobe will find a way to integrate himself back into the team once he gets his health back in order. But, for now, the Lakers need to find ways to succeed on the offensive end of the floor and this looks like the best way to do it.
Mike D’Antoni was able to display his offensive flexibility late into last season and gave up his ego for team success. That was refreshing to see even if many Laker fans thought it was a bit too late. The team was injury plagued and both Steve Nash and Pau Gasol shared diminished roles. However, both handled the situation professionally and didn’t let it affect team chemistry like it could have. Now, with Kobe Bryant out, it’s their time to shine. Both Nash and Gasol have been #1 options before, so veteran experience comes into play. They know what it means to shoulder the load offensively and integrate teammates into the system. Both could really make an example of half-court execution knowing they share a common mentality of point-guard court awareness and ability to make the extra pass. This is just one more aspect of what makes the Lakers so interesting coming into the upcoming season. Kobe Bryant isn’t back yet, but for now, Pau Gasol is the #1 option.