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Monday, December 03, 2012

Gasol and Howard Must Match Bryant's Aggressiveness

Kevin Ding, the best and most insightful writer on the L.A. Lakers' beat, explains a major reason why the Lakers have been a mediocre team this season: Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the team's twin towers, have not been aggressive enough at either end of the court. Ding notes that Howard's well documented free throw struggles largely stem from Howard's preoccupation with being booed, resulting in him "shrinking under that pressure of everyone's expectations." After the Lakers' 113-103 home loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Kobe Bryant dismissed any excuses about Gasol's health and/or his role in the offense by emphatically stating that Gasol must "put your big-boy pants on" and have a bigger impact on the game. Throughout his career, Bryant has consistently challenged his teammates to be more aggressive and play with more fire--that was the real source of tension between him and the sometimes lackadaisical Shaquille O'Neal, not the soap opera nonsense propagated by most media members. O'Neal never trained or practiced as hard as Bryant but Phil Jackson's coaching and Bryant's drive brought out the best in O'Neal when the Lakers won three championships in four Finals appearances during the early 2000s. Ding questions whether Howard or Gasol can ever fully develop the fearless attitude that has propelled Bryant to so much success:

Well, Gasol is another player whose basic nature is to worry about what everyone thinks of him. O'Neal too was deeply insecure, though he tried to mask it with tenacity and force.

First O'Neal and then Gasol came to respect the quality a certain teammate who just does not give a bleep about those who doubt him when he trusts himself--a mindset that makes it much easier to excel. Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn referred to Bryant as "an extreme winner" before the game Sunday night--and then proceeded to carry out a game plan to take the ball out of Bryant's hands late and gamble on hacking Howard.

But did O'Neal and Gasol ever really learn to be like Bryant?

Could Gasol, splendid and skilled as he was in those title years with Bryant, have been the lead dog on a title team during that time? Hardly. And that brings us back to the question about Howard--with his Shaq-like physical superiority...and mental insecurity.

This is supposed to be the season of shift from Kobe's team to Dwight's team.

In reality, it's far more about Dwight shifting to be more like Kobe.

Ding made similar observations regarding Gasol near the end of last season and Ding even suggested that the Lakers should trade Gasol in exchange for younger, hungrier and more athletic players.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:40 PM

15 comments

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15 Comments:

At Monday, December 03, 2012 8:33:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I completely agree with Kevin Ding.

Neither Howard nor Gasol will ever "become more like" Kobe, because it's not in their character. While we've already seen the best from Gasol, and he might be better off on a different team that accommodates his talents better, Howard's game hasn't matured yet.

Perhaps he will recover to his pre-back-injury levels, and better yet for the Lakers, perhaps he will find a new focus for the game, a la Hakeem Olajuwon in the early 90s, but I doubt it.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 12:17:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

big men shouldn't expect plays run for them. if they don't get the pass for scoring opportunities, they should go get the ball. rebound. aggressively.
dwight should make his free throws. a lot of the laker problems on the offensive side stem from this dwight howard shortcoming. revisit lakers' game in the 4th quarter. kobe is taking the shots all the time the last 6 minutes. not that he is a chucker, but because he had to go all the way repeatedly during the pick and roll actions with dwight. kobe knows he has to do so to win the game. and the opposition can load up on him even more and this creates "pressure shots" for kobe. if only dwight can make those free throws, lakers will have unstoppable offensive options.
pau is a finesse player. he doesn't have the explosiveness of amare when amare was doing the pick and roll with steve nash in phoenix's effiicient and ultra explosive offense. well, if pau isn't an explosive roll player, he has to knock those mid range shots down during his pick and roll actions with kobe. just too much finger pointing. and excuses. run the action and knock down those shots. can't be blaming the coach when he is supposedly the most skilled big man with a supposedly reliable jump shot that extends outside the arc through all these years(media says so). pau is almost always open on the pick and roll action with kobe as kobe almost always attracts both opponents on that action. when pau receives the pass from kobe, he has to be decisive. either knock down the open jumper or one dribble and aggressively attack the paint. he is open during most of those actions. just too much excuses from an all world player.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 12:21:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

i don't believe nash's arrival will solve lakers' offensive problems(unless nash runs the pick and roll with kobe all the time). how does it change when nash runs it with pau and pau does the same things he is doing right now with kobe. knock the shot down pau. how does it change when nash runs it with dwight when opponents will just the same foul dwight and dare him to make his free throws. or even before nash starts the action and they foul dwight just the same.
both are earning close to 20m dollars a year and they can't dominate the paint? this is just nuts.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 2:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson888:

Howard is an All-World player (or at least an All-NBA First Team caliber player) but he is not completely healthy. When he gets his explosiveness completely back I think that he and Bryant will be a very dynamic duo.

Gasol has been a bit overrated by many members of the media. He only made the All-Star team once before joining the Lakers and he never won a single playoff game in Memphis. Gasol, in his prime, was a very good second option but--as Ding correctly noted--Gasol was never capable of leading a team to a title. Gasol has been declining for the past couple years; it is not clear if the problem is mental, physical or both but he needs to play better for the Lakers to reach their full potential.

Nash's healthy return should help the Lakers because it would free Bryant of ballhandling responsibilities and thus place everyone in their proper roles. If Nash runs a screen/roll with Howard and Bryant is on the weak side then the defense is in big trouble: trap Nash and Howard gets a dunk, trap Howard and Nash either buries the shot or passes to Bryant. If the Lakers run that play 20 times a game then the Hack-a-Howard is not feasible because half of the opposing team would foul out.

The elephant in the room is that the Lakers' real problem is defense, not offense; I said that before Brown was fired and I will say it again now. The Lakers scored 103 points against Orlando and that should be more than enough to win. Even Brown's much-criticized offense produced plenty of points and a reasonably high field goal percentage. Yes, turnovers have been a problem throughout the season but Nash's return should minimize that issue. The real concern for the Lakers is that they have yet to establish a defensive identity. The Lakers need for Howard to completely regain his mobility/explosiveness but they also need the coaching staff to implement a sound defensive system.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 3:44:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

david,

i agree with you on many points but there are a few issues i disagree with you.
lakers have quite a few defensive issues, but their offensive deficiencies are really quite obvious.
i do believe that defense wins championships and offense wins games. so no arguing there that lakers are still quite behind in terms of sufficiently implementing coach mda's defensive philosophies. just like you, i do not like those number crunching guys who propose some system and input the players' raw numbers to come up with their analysis of players' supposed value. you have discussed that quite extensively and i do agree with you on all of them. but i do believe in points per possession in the analysis of a team's defense. and the lakers are not that bad now(top 10 i recall) and will get better once dwight is 100% and lakers as a team rotate instictively(once lakers all buy into coach mda's defensive philosophy). but i disagree that nash's arrival will result in lesser laker turnovers (nash just like kobe is a playmaker and routinely average many turnovers a game). and those turnovers can really kill a team(stops lakers' offensive momentum or feed into opponent team's offensive momentum). basketball is a game of runs, that i believe. but i do believe that nash's arrival will result in better offensive numbers
overall since kobe can now assume his scorer role and lakers can play at a faster pace even if only because nash routinely pushes the ball up quickly or throws forward passes instinctively that catches opponents off guard. lakers' defensive problems can be cured once they start rotating instinctively according to coach mda's defensive philosophy(we can rouitinely see dwight comlaining about helping out on a drive and nobody picks up his man resulting in offensive putback situation for the opposing team). and once they start rotating and cutting down on the opposing teams' offensive rebounding numbers, they can be quite elite in terms of points per possession surrendered. i also believe kobe has to step up defensively. kobe is an outstanding help defender. and he is still an outstanding on the ball defender when he wants to(look at all laker 4th quarter games except blowouts). i understand his line of thinking of allowing a bad shooter an open shot in the first 3 quarters(but i also believe that almost all nba players are good shooters once left open... watch pre game warmups). but watch kobe close out on shooters in the 4th quarter... with 1 step and his long wingspan, without jumping he can really cover his man even while serving as a roamer. i just think that kobe could do a lot more defensively as a leader so that dwight and pau will follow suit. metta is pitbull all 4 quarters defensively.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 4:11:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

that dwight is an all nba performer i completely i agree with you.
that pau is a bit overrated i also agree with you.
nash's return will help lakers offensively i totally agree with you. but kobe is doing an excellent job running the pick and roll action. he routinely knocks down the jumper or finishes at the rim on that action as he either uses the screen or splits the double. and putting jamison on the corner and meeks on the quarter court 3 point areas are good threats. could it be better with kobe at the wing and nash as the pick and roll runner? yes of course since kobe is still kobe. but utilizing kobe as the primary pick and roll runner is just as good or even better(this will raise quite a howl from people who consider nash as the preeminent pick and roll guard) since kobe has nash's passing instincts plus an even superior scoring ability(knocks down jumpers even with hand in his face and finishes strong at the rim). the problem is when kobe passes to the roll or pop player which is pau more often than dwight. pau hardly rolls, and when he does, he either passes to dwight or finishes meekly at the rim. the problem here is he finishes weakly. pau is not an explosive athlete so on many occasions, he either misses rim shots or gets his shots stuffed in his face(repeatedly in 1 game). and when pau pops on the pick and roll action, he doesn't consistently knock down the open jumper right now. who doesn't want an open midrange jumper? apperently pau doesn't since he is complaining right now about not being closer to the rim. pau just needs to knock down that open jumper and one half of the problem right now is solved. because kobe is efficient offensively right now(compared to last year, but he is efficient his whole career). jamison and meeks are knocking down open shots. so the bench is not the problem right now offensively.
the other half is dwight's free throw woes. just knock down 70% of those freebies and lakers might be 3 or 4 games above 500 right now. as coach mda said, lakers are leaving too many of those on the board. more than x and o's, lakers just have to knock down those open jumpers and those free throws.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 4:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson888:

I have no problem with team stats like points per possession, though I am not convinced that this particular stat is more meaningful than point differential or defensive field goal percentage; my main issues with the "stat gurus" are (1) that many of them claim that they can precisely (to the tenth of a point!) measure the value of an individual player, (2) that they provide no margin of error for their supposedly advanced statistics and (3) that many of them assert that their statistics are so powerfully accurate that watching games is not only unnecessary but is in fact counterproductive (Dave Berri has explicitly said this, while others have at the very least strongly implied it).

Whether you go by basic stats like ppg (sixth in the NBA) and FG% (seventh in the NBA) or "advanced stats" like "ORtng" (ninth in the NBA) and "efg%" (sixth in the NBA) the Lakers have good offensive rankings so far--better than their defensive ratings (14th in ppg allowed, 12th in defensive field goal percentage, 10th in "DRtng," 12th in defensive "efg%"). The Lakers' offense clearly has room for improvement and it is reasonable to expect that it will improve as Howard becomes healthier and Nash returns to action--but the Lakers' ability to contend for a championship will be directly linked to their ability to play effective defense on a consistent basis, something that they have not done this season.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 4:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson888:

I agree with you that Bryant is an outstanding (and very underrated) screen/roll player but I still think that the Lakers will be at their best with Nash running the offense as the primary playmaker and Bryant focusing on being a scorer. Bryant will still have many playmaking opportunities even after Nash returns.

In any case, the Lakers' primary problem is on defense, not on offense. Nash's return will not help the Lakers defensively. Howard must regain his health and D'Antoni must implement a system that enables Howard to feel free to play help defense (after Nash or the other pgs get beaten off of the dribble) because Gasol or another big will help the helper (i.e., pick up Howard's man to prevent an easy dunk/layup). D'Antoni has never focused on defense but he also has never coached defenders like Howard and Bryant. If the Lakers do not implement a sound defensive scheme soon and figure out how to fine tune it down the stretch then they will once again not advance past the second round of the playoffs. The Lakers have championship potential but they obviously do not look like a championship team right now. Howard is about where I expected him to be at this point after back surgery but the injury to the formerly durable Nash is a surprise, as is the lack of productivity by bench players Jamison and Meeks. I did not necessarily think that the Lakers' bench would be great but I definitely did not think that it would be as terrible as it has been so far.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 4:27:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

my point is, lakers have to work with what they have. and stop making excuses. that is how life should be and that should also be what they have to do.
they still have the best shooting guard in the game who can play both sides. they still have the best center in the game who only needs to work on his free throws and trust his shooting stroke. and they still have a top 10 power forward in pau gasol(love, aldridge, griffin, randolph, melo, lbj, bosh, duncan, david west are all now ahead of him... even ryan anderson, david lee are playing better than him right now) who has all world skills at the post and supposedly respectable mid range shot. and a pitbull in metta... fat cat syndrome... many players taking plays off. finger pointing.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 4:33:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

david,

i might be wrong, but i do believe lakers bench has turned the corner so to speak offensively. meeks is knocking down open jumpers now(his only reliable skill) and jamison is scoring in different ways. might be just my perception but i think the lakers bench is a plus this year judging by the last few games.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 4:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson888:

I agree with you that if the Lakers maximize the assets that you listed then they can be a serious championship contender. The bench has been a major disappointment overall but you are right that Jamison and Meeks have recently shown signs of life.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 5:04:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

david,

really loved the old days when you routinely post game/player analysis more frequently. not a demand here bro but just a meek request. astute analysis you provide here.
and really loved those discussions you routinely have with people who disagree with you. intelligent discourse.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 5:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson888:

Thank you for the compliment about the "old days." I enjoyed what I did then but I also enjoy what I am doing now. I have shifted my focus from providing in depth analysis of single games to writing about broader trends. Also, I am working on more historical stuff (including the series about Erving's playoff career--which still has two more parts to go--and my ongoing series about the CHPB).

I enjoy intelligent discussions as well and I do not think that someone has to agree with me 100% to be intelligent; it is always interesting to hear various opinions, as long as those opinions are framed logically and expressed without ad hominem attacks.

 
At Tuesday, December 04, 2012 3:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcel

Everyone sees dwight is playing horrible. Can't make free throws, has no lift, no presence on d end so far, and not rebounding at all not even double digit avg Which is embarssing. But they scapegoating gasol cause they know They have to kiss howard butt so he will resign for them. Gasol been declining he soft Nothing suprising there, There bench is inconsistent There declining and older. Kobe would be mvp if They record was Better and lebron wasn't in league. I Think they gon turn it around and be formidable but it has to start with Dwight he needs to play like a Top flight player. He need to rebound and defend if They got any chance of beating spurs clip griz okc in playoffs.

 
At Wednesday, December 05, 2012 3:54:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

another third tier opponent, and yet another loss for the lakers.
you're right that the lakers need to improve defensively. i'm also right that dwight just needs to hit those free throws. lakers lose another close game and they left a lot of those points on the board from the free throw line. hack-a-dwight took any sort of offensive momentum/flow out of the lakers. and the rockets inched closer with every dwight missed free throws. on the other hand, if lakers defense held up, the rockets wouldn't be scoring on consecutive possessions after dwight missed those freebies.
kobe and dwight are both right. and they are also both wrong.
kobe noted that those missed free throws put a lot of pressure on the lakers defensive end. dwight noted that the lakers lost the game on the defensive end. both are right.
but both are also wrong. lakers defense didn't held the fort hence the rockets were able to score on multiple possessions(plus they gave up several offensive boards during last 6 minutes). might be more constructive if kobe were to recognize those facts instead of focusing on those missed free throws. and dwight has to recognize the fact that his missed free throws are costing lakers close games.
both need to look in the mirror and recognize shortcomings caused by each of them that led to this loss. no more finger pointing. lead, kobe. be accountable, dwight. and the lakers will be great once again. on both ends of the court.

 

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