Looking at what led to Pau Gasol's best statistical month in February
Thinking out loud, Lakers forward Pau Gasol wondered how he could become more consistent; his ideas included playing more aggressively, demanding the ball or attempting more shots.
"I got to do something," he said.
A month later, he has.
Gasol statistically capped his most productive month of the 2010-2011 season by averaging 20.5 points on 59.2% shooting in February, numbers that are drastically different than the ones he posted in January, when he averaged 16.8 points per game on 50.8% shooting.
February was Gasol's most productive month since November, when he earned Western Conference player of the month honors by averaging 20.3 points on a 54.1% clip.
It's worth noting that a 16-points-per-game average still currently rounds out in the top 48 in scoring, and that a 50% rate ranks in the top 20. The Lakers have found out much of their success hinges on Gasol's production as well as Kobe Bryant's, with Gasol averaging 19.7 points on 53.8% shooting in the 43 games the Lakers have won and 16.2 points on 50.4% shooting in the 19 games the Lakers have lost.
Those wondering what's led to the turnaround shouldn't go to Gasol for the explanation.
"Still doing the same work and shooting the ball a little bit better, except the last game," said Gasol, referring to his 12-point effort on three-of-10 shooting in the Lakers' 90-79 victory Tuesday over Minnesota. "Other than that, just working like the rest of my teammates and understanding what point of the season we're in and how important it is to finish up in a good spot in order to have a better chance down the road."
Coach Phil Jackson and Bryant offered two possible explanations, explained below the jump, on what's led to the turnaround.
Gasol no longer feels fatigued
All during the preseason, Jackson made several suggestions that Gasol should be ready to handle a larger workload. Jackson frequently cited Bryant's surgically repaired right knee, Andrew Bynum's 24-game absence while recovering from offseason surgery and Gasol's effort level in hopes of sparking him to take more ownership of the team. At first, it appeared to work. Through November, Gasol scored at least 20 points in 10 of the 18 games and recorded 14 double-doubles. His stat line of 28 points on 10-of-10 shooting and an eight-of-eight clip from the free-throw line marked the sixth time in Lakers history that a player secured a perfect shooting percentage when attempting at least 10 shots.
"What's next?" Gasol asked, jokingly.
He followed that up by shooting below 50% in three of the next four games, contests in which he played at least for 40 minutes, finishing up a month in which he averaged 39.7 minutes per game.
There are numerous reasons why Jackson has said Gasol should have been able to handle those heavy minutes. Gasol rested all of last summer after three consecutive Finals appearances and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His increased playing time didn't drastically exceed the minutes he logged in the 2009-2010 season (36.97). And the nine games he logged 40-plus minutes was partially offset by the four contests he played below 35 minutes because the Lakers' coasted to double-digit victories.
Still, that led to inconsistency. Even when Bynum returned to the lineup on Dec. 15 and assumed a starting role 12 games later, Gasol's play in December (16.3 points on 49%) and January showed that the reduced playing time didn't completely make up for the heavy lifting he performed during Bynum's absence.
"I think it's a second wind for him," Jackson said of Gasol. "He burned out and played a lot of early minutes in the season when Drew was out. Now that Drew's back, minutes are down and he has a little bit more energy and playing a little bit better."
That's most evident when Gasol receives plenty of rest between games. Consider the discrepancy in points in his 12 games after a back-to-back (17.5), 39 games after one day of rest (18.9), six games after two days of rest (18), three games after three days of rest (19.3 ) and two games after more than three days of rest (21.5). It's also seen in his mid-range jumper, seemingly because the increased energy enables him to have better lift. According to Hoopdata.com, Gasol has shown a drastic improvement in his shots from 10-15 feet and 16-23 feet from January (38.7%, 42.9%) to February (51.9%, 61.9%).
Gasol has shown more aggressiveness
It may be well documented, but it's worth repeating.
After the Lakers' 109-96 loss Jan. 30 to Boston, Gasol lamented the offensive chemistry. He argued that the Lakers' need to play a more balanced offense that emphasizes utilizing the front line. Gasol by no means faulted Bryant's 41-point performance on 16-of-29 shooting, noting that Bryant's individual play was rooted in his own lack of aggressiveness in getting open looks that contributed to a five-of-13 clip.
Yet, it's a topic Gasol admitted he hadn't addressed with Bryant, saying, "I'm just trying to do the right thing."
Instead, Bryant approached Gasol and told him he needed to be more aggressive by demanding the ball, making sharper cuts and remaining engaged in hustle plays. Gasol responded by scoring at least 20 points in five of the first six games in February, notching three double-doubles and shooting above 50% in all six games. Even in the Lakers' embarrassing 104-99 loss Feb. 16 to Cleveland, Gasol actually showed up, posting 30 points on eight-of-15 shooting, a 14-of-14 mark from the free-throw line and 20 rebounds.
"It's a long haul," Bryant said. "It's a long season. He's certainly had long years. So I'm sure a little bit was him pacing himself, but also he has an aggressiveness switch, where, depending on the circumstance and pressure of the game, he becomes more assertive and more aggressive. He's been doing that on a more consistent basis."
-- Mark Medina
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org
Upper photo: Pau Gasol powers his way to a shot against Nick Collison in the first half of the Lakers' 90-87 victory Sunday over Oklahoma City. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA
Middle photo: Gasol has the ball knocked from his grasp by Chris Kaman in the first half of the Lakers' 108-95 victory last week over the Clippers. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Lower photo: Pau Gasol confers with Coach Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant during a break in a recent game against the Celtics. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times