Breaking down Pau Gasol's return: Defense and transition offense

Jeff Gross

In part two of our Pau Gasol breakdown we take a look at how he does defensively in pick and roll, isolation, and team sets, as well as his performance in transition offense.

In part one of our Pau Gasol breakdown we took a look at how he, and the Lakers, operated in their half court sets. There were plenty of positives to take away from what the Lakers accomplished when they involved Pau in their attack. He moved well and made sound decisions within the offense. The biggest test of just how "back" Pau is lies in what he was able to do defensively and in transition. Prior to his rehabilitation efforts Pau was moving like a tortoise in both of these facets, and the Lakers struggle in these areas. Without further adieu,

Pick and Roll Defense

Play #1

We begin with a basic high screen from Charlotte that pulls Pau out. Worth noting is the difference in space given to each of Meeks and Kobe's assignments. Kobe Bryant sits in the post while Jodie Meeks stays within arms reach.

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Pau hedges hard on Kemba and Byron Mullens immediately begins his roll to the basket. Since Kobe stays so far off his man he poses a threat to stop Mullens, but only a minor one.

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Kemba hits Mullens in stride for an easy flush. Having Kobe to help simply isn't enough, and should Mullens have felt crowded, he could have hit either corner for open 3's.

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Play #2

Another high screen from Charlotte to pick on Gasol

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This time Gasol doesn't hedge and challenges Sessions to drive or shoot as Kobe gets a healthy dose of Haywood to the face.

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Sessions decides to take the shot over Pau who does a reasonable job forcing Ramon to make a tough shot over his outstretced arm. Ramon Sessions misses this shot, success!

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Play #3

Another high screen to challenge Pau here. The Bobcats clearly wanted to test Gasol and the Lakers pick and roll defense with their quick ball handling guards.

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Again, Gasol doesn't hedge and sags back, challenging Sessions to either take a long shot or drive.

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Haywood sets a second screen and Gasol still keeps control of the play in front of him.

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Haywood begins rolling to the rim but Metta World Peace is already there to stop anything easy. Unfortunately that leaves his man alone on the corner. Kobe begins to cheat towards the paint as well as his man swings around to help a seemingly trapped Sessions. Look at Meeks on his man, though. Sticking to him like glue off ball.

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Sessions flings the ball cross court but Metta does a great job closing out and Jeff Taylor misses the corner three ball.

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Play #4

This is a super high screen. Gasol stands his ground and keeps the play in front of him, but is now mismatched against Sessions.

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Sessions decides to continue to probe now that he has the mismatch on Pau.

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Haywood has a mismatch as well with Meeks in the post, but Sessions sizes up Pau and knows the best option here is to attack the 7 footer who has been having issues moving all season.

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Sessions gets the inside track on Pau and drives to the rim. There are 3 Lakers around the rim already and Pau is keeping up, but Ramon wants to finish.

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Ramon Sessions goes up for the layup but Pau does a great job sticking with the play and blocks the attempt without fouling. This is no small feat for a player who could barely move just a few weeks ago. Say what you will about Sessions, but we also know how fast he is, so it's a great sign to see Pau effectively stop the play.

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Isolation and Help Defense

Play #1

Kemba Walker has Chris Duhon on the perimeter-- every point guards dream. Duhon has his stance opened as to funnel Kemba over to Dwight who is in position to contest Kemba at the rim. Pau has his eyes set on Kemba as well, with his man Mullens keeping the floor spread enough to cause concern for Pau.

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Or not. Pau steps in front of Kemba, who immediately hits a wide open Mullens who has all the space in the world.

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Duhon does his best to recover, but his efforts have no affect on the shot. Mullens misses, but this was a dodged punch for the Lakers. Something has to give here, and this goes to show the lack of communication as a team the Lakers have on the defensive side of the ball. With Duhon being beat so badly, and Pau in position to make the stop, Duhon needs to immediately get in the proximity of Mullens instead of attempting to recover. He has both Pau AND Dwight Howard in this scenario to help him. Good job by Pau to move and stop the penetration, but this was a risky play by both Gasol and Duhon.

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Play #2

This is a straight isolation between Byron Mullens and Pau. In the post, Pau is still considered an elite defender.

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Mullens puts a move on him but Pau moves his feet well and stays with his man without fouling. Something that would have been a miracle prior to him taking time off to account for the tendinitis in both of his knees.

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Pau stays with Mullens all the way, gets up, and rejects the shot cleanly. Not today, Byron.

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Play #3

Kemba Walker has Jodie Meeks on the perimeter in a very similar scenario to the 1st play in this section. Meeks has his stance opened to funnel and Pau is in the key ready to make a move if necessary.

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Kemba drives in on Meeks and Pau immediately shifts over to stop the drive. Kobe is there, but shouldn't be so far deep into the paint as his man has a TON of space should he receive a pass.

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Pau gets to the rim in time to block the attempt without fouling, another great sign that the time off the court helped him immensely.

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In fact, Pau recovers after the first block to get a SECOND block. A great sequence by Pau defensively.

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Transition

Play #1

The biggest test of how Pau's knees are feeling comes in transition. Look at all of the players just beginning to gather while Pau is already in full sprint mode down to the other side.

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Now you see him, now you don't.

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Before Chris Duhon even crosses the half court line, Pau is cutting baseline. Notice that Dwight has the attention of the only Bobcat in Pau's vicinity. Not bad for a 7 foot tall player who has been battling tendinitis in both of his knees.

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Kobe hits Pau who is set up a bit further out than he'd like. Still, because of his work getting up the court he creates a wide open look for himself. The shot misses, which is the main concern with Gasol in the offense. He's going to get open, especially if he books it down the court as he did here. It's a matter of hitting those wide open J's.

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Play #2

Pau hits the floor hard again in transition here, ahead of three Lakers and two 'Cats.

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As the play moves onto the other side of the court Kobe draws the attention of three Bobcats. Pau recognizes this and only has Byron Mullens in front of him. Ebanks loads up the corner to space the floor.

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Seeing an open lane and being ahead of the pack, Pau immediately cuts to the post. Kobe hits Ebanks with the pass, creating a perfect entry lane for Ebanks to Gasol. Dwight has Biyombo pulled out just enough to give Pau a post isolation opportunity.

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Pau faces up Mullens, gives him a jab step, and settles for a jumper that misses unfortunately. Regardless, his hustle up the floor created a post opportunity, which is something he's been calling for.

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Play #3

Just your regular old transition phase being led by Darius Morris...

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Meeks is the first one up the court, and sets directly in the corner in his catch and shoot stance. Notice the lone Bobcat just crossing half court. Morris passes the ball to Dwight at the top of the arc, drawing the attention of the only Bobcat in the paint who can slow him down. Unfortunately for them, that frees up Pau.

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With Howard drawing Haywood's attention, Gasol is alone in his perfect range. Howard passes it to Pau, but Meeks in the corner was also open and ready.

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Pau, being the great passer that he is, immediately hits Dwight with a touch alley-oop for an easy dunk.

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So the takeaways here? First and foremost, Pau Gasol is moving, and moving well. He's pushing up the floor in transition and is moving his feet well defensively. Second? When he's moving up the court so quickly in transition it creates opportunities for him as an individual scorer and for the Lakers utilizing him as a facilitator (DWIGHT SMASH!!!!). Third, the Lakers team defense is still poor. This is an aspect of their play that has been maddening to start the season and is still a (severe) work in progress.

Overall, with the way the Lakers looked while involving Pau in their half court offense and how he worked in defense and transition, it was a productive return for both him and the team as a whole. There are still wrinkles to be ironed out on both ends of the floor but there's no reason to believe this relationship can't continue to be mutually beneficial.

- Drew

- Follow this author on Twitter @BallReasons

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