It’s weird I even have to say the Lakers should keep Pau Gasol. The only thing more absurd than saying the Lakers should trade Gasol is writing a (racist?) column bashing 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he has tattoos of Bible verses on his arm. Pau-Pau is, without question, the most versatile big man in the NBA. Sure, Dwight Howard is the best center in the league (not a problem for the Lakers since he’s on the team), and there are bigs in the Association who are more athletic, grab more rebounds, throw down monster dunks, and don’t look like a goddamn Llama. But you will not find a more skilled big man in the game today. Go ahead and try. I dare you.
The talk among NBA writers and pundits is the Lakers should trade Pau-Pau to the Atlanta Hawks for Josh Smith and Kyle Korver. The prognosticators of the basketball world want to tell you Pau-Pau isn’t a good fit in Mike D’Antoni’s system, or Dwight Howard needs to play in an offense where everyone else just spreads the floor and shoots 3′s.
The pundits and prognosticators are, per usual, dead wrong.
Claiming Pau-Pau is not a good fit in D’Antoni’s system is lazy and pointless. If D’Antoni can’t figure out how to use the most skilled big man in the NBA, how come we’ve been pretending he’s an offensive genius all of these years? I didn’t think D’Antoni was the right fit for this team in the first place, but you’ve got to be a moron to not figure out a way to utilize Pau-Pau on any team, in any offense.
If D’Antoni really is just a moron (I’m not ready to rule it out, and you shouldn’t be either), allow me to present a common sense outline explaining how to use Pau-Pau on this Lakers team:
In half-court sets, Pau-Pau—not Howard—should be the team’s primary option on the block. This is another one of those “it’s weird I even have to say this” statements: Pau-Pau is a better post player than Howard. He has more moves; he’s a better passer; Howard doesn’t come close to Pau-Pau’s touch around the rim; and most importantly, Pau-Pau’s a way better free throw shooter. The Lakers have lost five games this season where the number of missed free throws exceeded the losing margin. Those missed free throws are the difference between a 47.1% winning percentage and 76.5%. Aside from one game where the entire team shot poorly from the charity stripe, that shit is all on Howard. Howard is shooting 46.5% from the line this season.
It’s a shame so many have already forgotten the 2009 NBA Finals. We’ve seen Pau-Pau and Howard go head-to-head in the low post—and in all his Llama glory, Pau-Pau dominated Howard. This shouldn’t even be a discussion. Just like it shouldn’t have been a discussion last year when The Egg (Mike Brown) was giving Bynum the majority of the touches in the low-post over Pau-Pau. The scraggly Llama was the better option then and he’s the better option now. YOU WILL NOT FIND A MORE SKILLED LOW-POST BIG MAN IN THE NBA!
Howard should be the Lakers’ third option on offense. After Howard’s time in Orlando, the Lakers and D’Antoni should know he's not a great low-post player. The best way to utilize Howard on this team is by pushing the pace when the other team misses, forcing him to run the length of the floor, hitting him on back cuts, running pick-and-rolls (those will be deadly when Nash comes back), and putting together as many Pau-Pau-to-Howard alley-oop’s as possible. If we're honest with ourselves, Howard has one low-post move and it’s really, really shitty. Plus, the other team is just going to foul him any time he gets near the rim and he’ll continue to brick freebie after freebie.
Pau Gasol is not the Lakers problem, and Josh Smith is not the answer. Until D’Antoni and the Lakers start letting Pau-Pau run the low-post for this team, their offense is going to continue to look out of sync, and they’ll continue to lose games at the free throw line.
Lakers fans should renounce Lakerism if Pau-Pau is traded. Kobe would still be searching for his fourth championship if it wasn’t for Pau-Pau dominating in the post during the Lakers’ most recent back-to-back championship run. It’s a safe bet Kobe won’t tie Michael Jordan with six championships apiece until the Lakers go back to the reason they were winning just a short time ago: Letting Pau-Pau be Pau-Pau.
Every basketball pundit writing for ESPN.com’s 5-on-5 post about the Lakers’ recent struggles suggested the team trade Pau-Pau. While I respect each of them, they’re all wrong. Pau Gasol is the key to the Lakers’ success this season, and until D’Antoni starts using him in the offense correctly, this team will continue to struggle.
Addendum: I accidentally posted a different version of this column in this forum, and for that I apologize. It was, believe it or not, an honest mistake. I thought I copied the cleaner version, but mistakenly pasted the more offensive version instead. Please accept my apologies.