After the acquisition of Russell Westbrook and the following free-agent signings, it was made apparent that Rob Pelinka was trying to mold the 2021-22 Lakers into something more like the 2019-20 team as opposed to the team from last season. That’s seen within the details of the skillsets that are now on the team, while it is also seen quite literally in the fact that the Lakers now have more players from the 2019-20 roster compared to the 2020-21 roster, after Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo were brought back into the fold.
But there is one player who was not on the championship roster, but is set to return from last season: Marc Gasol. However, new reports, along with the moves the Lakers have made this offseason seem to indicate Gasol’s days as a Laker may be numbered.
On Monday, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that the Los Angeles Lakers may be suitors for DeAndre Jordan if he were to be bought out by the Brooklyn Nets. If the Lakers eventually signed Jordan, this would give the team three true centers along with Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol. This doesn’t even include Anthony Davis, who reportedly will play more at the center position this season.
With Marc Stein recently reporting that Gasol is “not a lock to return to the Lakers”, as well as a previous report stating that the team considered salary dumping Gasol in a trade with the Timberwolves, one could easily venture to guess that Gasol would be the odd man out if the Lakers were to bring in Jordan.
Update: The Lakers are set to sign Jordan when he clears waivers. Original story follows.
Would that be the right move for the team? Because although Jordan and Gasol play the same position, they’re extremely different in terms of the strengths and weaknesses they bring to the court. We may not be lamenting the decision that Rob Pelinka ultimately makes once the playoffs come around, but the decision could drastically change the types of lineups that would work for the Lakers given how different those two veterans’ skillsets are from each other.
With the way that Rob Pelinka has constructed this roster around LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and now Russell Westbrook, it appears that he wants to return to a similar style of play as the 2019-20 team played. Protect the rim, get rebounds, get out on the break, and attack the rim on the other end. And there’s no question that Jordan gives the Lakers a better opportunity to do that than Gasol does.
Now, there’s an obvious spacing and shooting advantage that Gasol has over Jordan. We don’t even need to trot out too many statistics, as Jordan is a non-threat beyond the arc — he doesn’t ever even venture out there — while Gasol made 41% of his 3-point attempts for the Lakers last season.
The Lakers were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA last year (21st out of the 30 teams). And the worries about their shooting only got stronger with the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, who has plenty of merits, but is one of the worst high-volume distance shooters in today’s NBA. Gasol could definitely help provide a viable pick-and-pop option alongside Westbrook in symbiotic bench lineups that would give the former some clean 3-point attempts, and the latter more room to get to the basket.
And although Jordan has always been a much better athlete than Gasol, you’re actually not going to get much better defense at the rim with him on the team over Gasol. Looking at B-Ball Index’s Player Comparison tool, the two are pretty equal when it comes to their interior defense. Their opponents’ field-goal percentage within 5 feet from last season also backs this up, as opponents made 62.2% of those attempts against Jordan compared to 61.4% against Gasol.
Even with all those caveats, Jordan would be better suited for this iteration of the Lakers than Gasol would be.
No matter what, I don’t think either of these two players will be seeing the floor much in the playoffs. Returning to the idea of Pelinka trying to take the Lakers back to the 2019-20 season, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard saw their roles reduced (to nothing at times) during the Lakers’ 2020 title run. Although the two played big roles in the regular season, the Lakers were able to reach new levels of success by playing Anthony Davis at the 5 more, something that he reportedly will be doing more often during the upcoming regular season, as opposed to only increasing his time there in the playoffs.
That reporting, obviously, lends credence to the idea that AD will play more center this season, but so does the roster construction. Pelinka has loaded this team with plenty of players who can theoretically “play up” to a position, with guys like Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza being able to play the 4 and 3, as well as players like Talen Horton-Tucker and Malik Monk who can play the 3 or 2. With all that versatility from 1-4, it only makes sense to have Davis at center more often to improve the spacing that will be negatively influenced by a bunch of Westbrook minutes. That’s something that Davis himself reportedly even promised Westbrook he’d do to make their fit work prior to the trade.
With Davis playing more at the 5, that leaves little opportunity for Gasol to bring his shooting onto the court. Rebounding will be far more necessary from the 5 position, and with two towers in Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan taking the minutes at center that Davis doesn’t take, the Lakers should be able to out-rebound their opponents often.
What can the Lakers do after securing those rebounds? Push the ball up the court, of course. And between DAJ or Gasol, B-Ball Index shows us that there’s no comparison between the two in regard to defensive rebounding.
In addition to sharing some similar talents in terms of protecting the rim (or lack thereof considering their opponents’ field-goal percentages exceeding 60%), both Gasol and Jordan are nearing the ends of their careers. That’s probably putting it lightly, as these two have been losing an edge on their athleticism and speed for a couple of years now. Look no further than Gasol getting cooked by the Suns in the first round, and Jordan not seeing the floor for a second last postseason. So as previously stated, this decision probably won’t have too much impact on the Lakers’ championship aspirations.
Still, it will probably be an “either-or” decision for Pelinka and the Lakers if Jordan becomes available. All signs point towards the Lakers choosing Jordan over Gasol, and that may very well end up being more beneficial to the team for the identity they want to take on with LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook at the helm. This team clearly wants to get bigger, stronger and faster again, and while Jordan may not be as individually skilled, he has the edge on Gasol in all three of those categories. That’s likely why the Lakers have been linked to him, and why he could make more sense if he’s ultimately bought out.