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Establishing Pau Gasol is key for Lakers' starters

The Lakers' starting five needs to learn how to lean on Pau Gasol to open games.

Ezra Shaw

It feels like the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers season didn't arrive opening night, but Wednesday night. On the second half of their first back-to-back the purple and gold were blown out of the water in the Bay. Klay Thompson jogged around the court, put up a career-high 30 bajillion points and it didn't feel like there was much the team could do about it. Steve Blake was simply too small, the team defense too disorganized, the individual talent not enough.

The starting lineup of Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol had no idea where or how they would score. Gasol, who was brilliant to start the Clippers game, went two-of-six from the field before hitting the pine in the opening quarter.

When the second-best player in the lineup is Nick Young (debatable) and Gasol is struggling, things can get out of hand quickly. And they did. The Warriors galloped out to a 26-16 first-quarter lead and never looked back. The Lakers need to lean on Gasol but didn't put him in position to succeed last night.

It's one game, it's a back-to-back, but it's worth keeping an eye on. If Pau isn't carrying the team to start games, who in that five-man unit is going to put points on the board? How are they going to establish some sort of presence on offense so the team can settle in and find their rhythm? Gasol spoke to media after the game and had this to say about the flow of the team's offense, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

"I try to be a focal point and make things easier," Gasol said. So far, I had a little bit of it. I'd like to see more consistency so I can help the team have a better flow and be more productive out there. It's just two games of the season. It's not that meaningful at this point. But I'd like to see more of that so I can be more helpful."

How do the Lakers do that?

"There has to be more organization and know what we're running and knowing where the ball has to go through," Gasol said. "If we don't understand that, we'll find ourselves lost out there making too many mistakes that we can't afford."

And Pau is right. The Lakers looked like a bunch of guys playing pickup together for the first time. They gave the ball to the tallest guy on the floor and moved out of the way. Pau's touches typically began near the high-post and mid-range area instead of in the low-post. Take a look at the distance Gasol was starting possessions from through the first quarter.

Here, the team isolates Gasol against Bogut and he's over 15 ft. out:


Gasol is partially behind the three-point line here:


This is his lone mid-range make to open the game:


Video of the play:

The Lakers again isolate Gasol against Bogut from 15 out:


He gets a look at the rim here as the trailer big in transition but misses the attempt:


Video of the play:

We're back to more isolations from the elbow:


And this is his only make/look in the low-post in the first quarter. He still started from about 15 ft. out despite ending the possession on the low-block, managing to create space after jab stepping and backing Bogut down:


Video of the play:

This is a two-part problem.

1. The Lakers are starting Shawne Williams partly because he can "spread the floor." Side note: Pau Gasol has more made threes then he does. What's the point of spreading the floor if Gasol is constantly starting possessions from the perimeter instead of in the low-post? That's not going to create inside-out synergy.

2. Gasol is more effective at the rim. Yes, he'll hit a few mid-range jumpers that will make it seem worthwhile, but those numbers have dropped every year. Slow down the pace with the starting lineup, let Gasol work on the block and slow down the pace.

Plopping Gasol down low isn't going to fix the numerous defensive problems from last night, but it can help the team start the game feeling in "control." A slower pace with Gasol in the post, especially against an uptempo team with elite wings on offense (Thompson, Curry) and defense (Iguodala), can help mask their weaknesses on the perimeter.

Otherwise, the Lakers might as well start Jordan Hill if Gasol isn't going to take command of the "unclogged" restricted area. If the team is going to force possessions to Gasol it should be in the low-post, not perimeter, whether by coaching design or player choice.

Same old song and dance.

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