We’re not sure what Cleveland is going to do about Pau Gasol. It would have been a lot easier if Kevin Love were playing, but Gasol’s ability to knock down the mid-range jumper has gotten Cleveland scrambling any time he comes up to set a screen for Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, or Aaron Brooks.
Just look at Gasol’s shot chart from Game 1, when he went 10-for-15 from the floor, and spent a lot of time wide open in that nefarious mid-range section of the court Daryl Morey loathes and stat geeks malign.
Yeah, that’s a field of green in the mid-range. We’re apt to quote Wordsworth it’s so much verdure. Before we provide examples from Monday night, lets give you a little background on Pau’s mid-range efficacy so you know his performance was not just a one-note wonder.
This season, the first where Pau was voted in as an All-Star starter (reminder, he turns 35 in July), the elder Gasol has never looked more capable in what was supposed to be the twilight of his career. Instead of regressing, he connected on 47.7 percent of his shots between 16 feet and the three-point arc (a little over 23 feet). That’s a Dirk-ian percentage. Only Nikola Vucevic, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Paul shot better than Pau’s 45 percent from the mid-range among those players with at least 400 attempts during the 2014-15 season.
Among players with at least 50 possessions this season where they took a jumper without a dribble after setting the screen, Gasol is ranked No. 12 in points per possession that ended in a shot, turnover or foul, via Synergy data. He’s a gangsta in the mid-range, just like his brother Marc — No. 10 on that Synergy list. Synergy puts him in the 67th percentile for the no-dribble pick-and-pop, and that doesn’t take into account just how often he does it. Plus, Pau’s even more efficient when he just spots up and nails a set shot, which happened last night too; not all of them came after he set a screen.
Gasol’s ability to knock ’em down between the paint and the arc was particularly helpful when the Cavs finally got their act together late Monday night and started hitting three-pointers with an accuracy closer to their regular season clip. But the Bulls just countered with a high Gasol screen for D-Rose, Jimmy or Brooks — anyone who can put pressure on the defense when they scoot around a Pau screen free of charge.
Because Derrick Rose is suddenly deadly again coming around that pick, Tristan Thompson had to help baseline on this high pick with under five minutes to play. Pau calmly sank the resulting open look:
The same thing happened less than a minute later, with Thompson dropping down as D-Rose dribbled to the middle of the court. Pau got an open look near the baseline since Mozgov was stuck guarding Joakim Noah in the paint and couldn’t rotate in time (Moz is pretty quick for a seven-footer, too).
The EXACT SAME THING happened again on the next possession with Rose drawing Thompson and Kyrie Irving into the lane and leaving Pau wide open in his sweet spot:
And it’s not just the pick-and-pop that Pau’s high screen opens up. Before the avalanche of pick-and-pops suffocated the Cavs late, Tristan Thompson does a good job contesting a Rose jumper after Pau sets a high screen here. But Pau blocks out the much smaller Kyrie Irving and rolls unmolested to the rim — free for the putback, plus the foul.
The Cavs are going to have to come up with something if Pau continues to torch them from the no-man’s land between the paint and arc. Perhaps they’ll fight over more screens, or hedge high. If that happens, watch for Pau to slip the screen entirely and get open before the back line can rotate up to him.
Gasol creates so many mismatches on offense, his mere presence forces Cleveland to scramble. For a Bulls team that finally got its act together on offense this season (No. 10 in points per possession after floundering in the bottom third the last three years, including No. 28 last season), Pau as been the biggest difference. He certainly showed it in the opening game of their Eastern Conference Semifinal. Now it’s on David Blatt and the Cavs to counter. This series isn’t ending anytime soon.