LOS ANGELES CA - JANUARY 17: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers has his shot blocked by Jeff Green #22 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Staples Center on January 17 2011 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Kobe Bryant/Pau Gasol dynamic is about as well worn at this point as the tires from a stock car that ran the entire Daytona 500 without changing. On the one hand, you have Kobe Bryant who, despite his considerable greatness, will never be the most efficient player on the court, because a majority of the shots he takes are difficult looks. If basketball were like diving, with degree of difficulty playing a role in figuring out the final score, Kobe Bryant would easily be the best player in basketball history. Instead, a 20 foot turn-around step-back fade-away jump shot is worth the same two points as an uncontested layup.
Kobe is paired with Pau Gasol as part of the league's ultimate yin-yang. Pau Gasol, when he's on his game, is one of the most efficient scorers in the league. His combination of size and skill leads to an infinite number of ways for him to put the ball in the basket. Hooks with either hand, fade aways to either shoulder, drop steps, pump fakes, range up to 20 feet, he has it all, and he's got tremendous passing skills that punish a defense any time they focus on him too much. He's not the most athletic dude in the world, and he's nowhere near the strongest, but he has so many tools, at a position where one or two tools are usually enough, that he is downright impossible to stop ... when he's on his game.
Breaking down the dynamic to its most simplistic, this seems an easy equation; get more shots to the guy who does a better job turning them into points. But we all know the world involving Kobe Bryant is never that simple. Dictated by Kobe's role as the alpha dog, the shot distribution between the two players almost always leans Bryant's way. That's fine, but every now and then, for reasons that can be either team oriented or ego oriented, that distribution gets skewed even further towards the Mamba, usually followed by hundreds upon thousands of words about how Kobe Bryant's shot selection is flawed. Well, I think its high time we turn the dynamic on its head, because lately, Pau Gasol's shot selection hasn't been too great.
We all know when Kobe Bryant takes a bad shot. If you are a seasoned Lakers fan, you probably know a bad shot is coming before he even takes it (a few weeks back, I was watching a game with a friend and correctly predicted three straight possessions for both shot type and result at one point). With Kobe, poor shot selection is always, and I mean ALWAYS, a matter of the decision to shoot being poor. Shooting an 18 foot jumper fading away from a stand still after two pump fakes is usually a bad decision. So is dribbling between the legs, spinning and fading away from 20 feet.
Pau Gasol hardly ever takes bad shots. His thought process regarding whether or not he should shoot is so overly cautious that it can drive us mad. He shares almost as much responsibility for the Kobe/Pau dynamic as Kobe does, simply because at some point, if you want more shots, you need to shoot more. He follows the principles of the offense to a fault, and he makes far more poor decisions not to shoot (how many times have you seen Pau pass the ball back out to the perimeter with less than 5 seconds on the shot clock) than he does to take a bad shot. For better or worse, Gasol's shot attempts nearly always come within the context of the offense.
So what exactly am I complaining about? The type of shots that Pau has been taking lately. Speak ill about Kobe's decisions to shoot if you wish, but the one thing Kobe does spectacularly is in choosing which type of shot to take in a certain situation. Even when taking the stupidest of shots, his form is immaculate. If it gives him an advantage, he can go with the left hand, he can float it, finger roll, hook, whatever, and the type of shot he takes is always appropriate, even if the decision of whether or not to shoot isn't. Pau's decision to shoot is rarely poor, but the types of shots he decides to take are increasingly poor decisions. Specifically, I really think it's time that Gasol retires his fade away jump shot, because it's broke.
I know the fade well, because in the 6th grade I was drafted to play center on my league team because we had no tall kids (coincidentally, I stopped playing organized basketball after this). I was maybe 5 feet at the time, but I was the only member of the team who knew how to do things like box out, so I took one for the team. I was usually matched up against kids at least 6 inches taller than me, so the only way for me to score was with a nice fade away jump shot I developed to either shoulder.
Clearly, the fade away jumper is close to my heart, and every time I see Pau attempt it, I cringe. The Dream, he is not. His footwork in taking the shot is all wrong, and his strategy plays right into the hands of his opponents. The purpose of the fade is to create space so that you can take a jump shot without fear of being blocked. It's a tricky shot, because you are adding a combination of side and backwards velocity that must be compensated for in the shot's release, and therefore, a consistent fade is very much a rhythm shot. Except when Pau takes the shot, it has no rhythm or consistency at all, because of a seemingly conscious decision on his part that makes no sense.
When Gasol turns into his fade, his strategy seems to be to turn and create forward momentum instead of backwards momentum, which carries him directly into his defender. He absorbs the contact, and bounces off of it, which creates the backwards momentum he uses to fade. This is stupid for a number of reasons. The most simple reason is because it completely defeats the purpose of a fade away, which is to create space between you and your defender. If you are trying to create space, why in hell would you close down the space between yourself and the defender. Before he even goes up for the shot, he's cutting himself off at the knees.
Second, by creating his backwards momentum through contact instead of a smooth motion, Pau has far less control over how much, and in what exact direction, he is fading. Not to go all physics teacher on you here, but he's introducing far too many variables into the equation that calculates both the magnitude and direction of his fade. If he simply falls back of his own accord, he should be able to control both the direction and velocity of his fade fairly well, with the only variables being the position of his feet and the strength with which he leaps. In creating contact, he has both of those variables, but introduces a great deal more. Where exactly is the defender positioned? How much contact is absorbed, and how much of it is reflected into Pau's reverse momentum? At what angle does Pau's body make contact with the defender? Not only does this make the act of making a single shot more difficult, it also completely removes any level of consistency, because it virtually guarantees that Pau will never take the same fade twice.
Finally, we come to quite possibly the stupidest part of this strategy as it pertains to Pau Gasol. In creating contact with the defender, Pau is putting himself at a huge disadvantage. Pau's biggest weakness is just that: weakness. Dude isn't that strong. I'm not even trying to tell you Pau needs to get stronger, because the past two playoff runs have shown he can hold his own just fine when he wants/needs to, but that doesn't make the strength factor go away, it just shows that Pau is capable of compensating for the fact that his peers tend to be a bit more powerful than he is. I'm all for compensating, but in creating contact with the defender, Pau is actively seeking out the type of situation in which he is at his worst. He doesn't have the strength to properly absorb the contact, and unlike other situations where this applies, he doesn't need to have that strength, because that contact is his choice, and he can simply choose to avoid it.
What angers me most about the whole situation is that every one of those fade aways is taking away an opportunity for Pau to go to his most efficient and beautiful post move, the hook. He has a floating hook shot with either hand, and he's actually more efficient with his off hand than with his right hand. He goes through periods of struggling with that shot as well, but the form and consistency of the shot are so superior to anything he has going with the fade away. More than anything, you can see his level of comfort with the hook far exceeds that of the fade. A big reason why he seems to be favoring the fade more and more is because its range is greater than that of the hook. I've only seen him use the hook from about 6-8 feet, whereas he's willing to take the fade from as much as 12 feet. It makes sense; by having two hands on the ball instead of one, Pau gives himself more stability allowing him to add greater power to the shot without losing accuracy. However, not only does this reflect Pau's willingness to settle for shots from poorer positions on the court (a sign of his fatigue and/or laziness), the form that Pau takes on his fade is so poor that it removes all of these advantages. Statistically, he has fallen off in both attempts and success rate from under 10 feet dramatically from November to December and January. If he must take a shot from 10 feet, I'd much rather him go with the hook that can be very consistent than attempt a fade that I've never seen him hit on a regular basis.
Even worse, he seems to have forgotten about the hook even when he establishes strong post position of late. I don't know whether he's actively trying to commit to the fade over the hook, or whether it's a matter of losing faith in the hook because he hasn't taken them as consistently, but either way, I see way too many fades in situations where he has shown over time to be more consistent with the hook. As a post player, it's important to have multiple counter moves to keep your opponent off balance. I'm glad that Pau has a fade to turn to if he thinks his opponent is keying on the other moves in his arsenal, no matter how atrocious his form on the fade is. But he is repeatedly choosing the counter move over his bread and butter, and that just doesn't make sense.
There are times when Kobe Bryant takes stupid shots. Pau Gasol hardly ever takes stupid shots, but more and more, he is taking shots stupidly. And the results are just about the same.