Why The Lakers Shouldn’t Trade Pau Gasol

The inevitable trade chatter surrounding the disappointing Los Angeles Lakers, currently sitting at 9-10 on the season, has ticked up a notch up over the last couple days, and most of that transaction talk surrounds the Lakers’ embattled power forward, Pau Gasol. Since Gasol was almost traded to Houston as part of the deal to bring Chris Paul to L.A. during the lockout of 2011, Pau’s been walking a fine line between indispensable and dispensable, but not for anything less than his fair market value.

Even with career lows in shooting percentage and points per game (on a per minute basis and overall), Pau Gasol is still really beneficial to the Lakers, and they should think long and hard before dealing him for anything other than a high return on his skills. Skills, it should be noted, very few teams possess these days.

The trade rumors for Gasol you heard about in this morning’s Smack seem to have been thwarted by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. The Lakers claim they’ve rebuffed potential offers with Toronto and Minnesota, but that might just be a ploy to up the offers from other potential suitors. It could be posturing as part of ongoing negotiations for Pau, and since the Lakers are almost guaranteed to offer Dwight Howard a max deal this summer, getting their other big out of an already clogged lane is probably on the agenda. Mike D’Antoni‘s offense is predicated on floor spacing, and Gasol and Howard together hasn’t really worked out.

Gasol has long been sought after by Houston’s GM, Daryl Morey, and he isn’t the only one. The Magic, Hawks, Raptor, and Timberwolves are all potential trade partners if they’re willing to part with enough to get Gasol. Why do you think that story about already rejecting offers was leaked to ESPN? Because the Lakers want more if they’re gonna part with Gasol. But the Lakers would be losing a guy that’s still one of the most helpful players on their team, and even though he’s getting old and his knees are shot, he’s an important part of their offense. It’ll be harder than a lot of people believe to replace him.

Through the Lakers’ first month, he’s only trailing Kobe Bryant in win percentage, per 82games.com. During the 529 minutes he’s been on the court this season, the Lakers have averaged 111.4 points per 100 possessions. During the 223 minutes he’s been on the bench, the Lakers’ offense drops to just 103.4 points per 100 possessions. It’s not just the Lakers’ offense Gasol adds value too. They’re giving up 102.2 points per 100 possessions when Gasol is on the court. While that’s not great, it’s still lower than the 107.9 points per 100 possessions they give up when he’s off the court. But what about the Lakers’ other heralded big man; the guy who everyone has been clamoring about for the last two seasons? Welp, through the season’s first month, Howard has not been nearly as beneficial as Gasol, even if his individual numbers are better.

The Lakers are actually worse on defense when Dwight and his shotblocking are on the court. Per 82games.com, they’re giving up 104.3 points per 100 possessions with Dwight on the court, and only 101.9 with him off. He’s not helping them on offense, either. They’re scoring 106.3 with him on, and a huge uptick, to 118.3, with him off. Those are some pretty incriminating numbers for the supposed future of the Lakers organization, but we can’t forget that Dwight is still getting back to where he’s been over the last couple years after offseason back surgery.

Another problem is the overlap in Gasol and Howard’s game. Gasol played center in Memphis before Kupchak fleeced Chris Wallace by acquiring him before the February trade deadline in 2008. Right now, Gasol is playing better in the center role than as a power forward next to Howard. His PER is 22.9 while at center and 14.9 at power forward, per 82games.com. Of the top five-man floor units the Lakers have trotted out this season, Gasol at the center spot or even as a power forward with the rebound-happy Jordan Hill as the five, all have a higher win percentage than the Howard-Gasol tandem that’s been the most popular combo for the Lakers this season; of the most used five-man rotations the Lakers have trotted out this season, the top four have featured a frontcourt of Pau and Dwight playing together.

But what about Gasol’s shooting, which is the lowest it’s been in his career through the first month? Even though Gasol likes to drift more to the perimeter than most guys his size, he’s still highly efficient shooting the ball, and has only shot under 50 percent over a season once, during the 2003-04 season when he shot 48 percent. Currently, he’s shooting 42 percent on the season, almost ten percentage points lower than his average over his career.

If you look at Pau’s shot chart (per NBA.com) from this season, he’s shooting 47.8 percent at the rim and in the surrounding paint area. Last season, Pau shot 57.1 percent from the same area, and attempted a higher percentage of his shots from there as well.

Gasol is averaging more attempts in the 16-23 foot range this season than he has over the last five years – 5.1 shots per game, per Hoopdata, after only averaging 4.1 there last season (the only other season he’s averaged over four attempts from that range in his career). Plus, as mentioned already, he’s only attempting 3.2 shots at the rim this season. Over the last five years, he’s never been under four attempts.

Basically, Howard is stealing his shots at the rim, and since Pau has to look for his offense farther out, that’s lowered his shooting percentage as a whole. Who do you think he’s taken the majority of the shots at the rim this season for the Lakers? Um yeah, that would be Dwight, who has taken 92 percent of his shots near the rim on the year (per NBA.com). Howard’s bread and butter is at the rim, where he can catch lob dunks all day over opposing bigs, but while that’s hampered Gasol’s stats as a whole, it’s not limited his effectiveness for the team.

Even with Gasol struggling alongside Dwight and getting fewer shots at the rim, he still has the second-best plus/minus on the roster, and he’s still one of the best passing power forwards in the game today. Let’s not forget that Steve Nash has only appeared in a couple games this season before fracturing his fibula, and the high screen-n-roll game Nash plays with such aplomb fits perfectly with Pau’s little jumper and court vision. When Nash gets back from his injury, look for more offensive opportunities for Gasol and an improved shooting percentage.

The long and the short of it shows that even while shooting a career worst from the field playing alongside Dwight Howard’s lane-heavy production, Pau Gasol is still bringing more to the table for the Lakers. Both on offense and defense, they’ve scored better and defended better when he’s on the court. Whereas Dwight is limiting the Lakers on offense and defense, not to mention the hack-a-Dwight strategy that teams have started to employ since he’s such a terrible free throw shooter.

While it’s inconceivable the Lakers would ever deal the former Orlando center who was such a steal this summer, Howard’s hurting the Lakers a lot more than Pau Gasol. If the Lakers are gonna trade anyone, it shouldn’t be Pau, who has still found a way to help his team even as his partner in the frontcourt has limited his efficiency on offense. The Lakers already fired their coach, and now their subpar record is leading many to believe Gasol is the next to go. They need another backup point guard after Steve Blake had surgery, and they’re still missing the three-point shooters that thrive in a Mike D’Antoni offense (hello, Ryan Anderson). But trading Pau Gasol, one of the most skilled big men in the game, doesn’t really translate to more success if you look at the numbers.

Should the Lakers keep Gasol?

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