Friday, January 27, 2012

State of Laker Nation: Can we all lay off Pau?

"Pau needs to shoot the ball more"

"Pau needs to establish deeper position in the paint"

"Pau needs to finish when fouled"

"Pau is too soft"

It seems that no matter what the statistics say, the accolades he's received or the titles he's been pivotal in winning, the labels always stay the same with Pau. I feel like he's Donny in the Big Lebowski. No matter what he does, or how innocuous his play is, people are (figuratively) telling him to shut the eff up and that he's out of his element.

Now keep in mind, that any player that wins a title with the Show will always have a longer leash with me. Win two titles, and your leash turns into a long rope. Win 5 titles, and your rope turns into a bomb shelter...made of rope. Regardless, I think that most of the knocks on Pau most seasons, but especially this one, are unwarranted. Let's look at the tale of the tape though, shall we?

2012: 16 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 bpg, 51.8% shooting on 12.9 shots per game
2010-2011: 18.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.6 bpg, 52.9% shooting on 13.7 shots per game
2009-2010: 18.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.7 bpg, 53.6% shooting on 13 shots per game
2008-2009: 18.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.0 bpg, 56.7% shooting on 12.9 shots per game

The problems are relatively obvious here: he's not scoring as much, his shooting percentage has fallen every year and he's taking almost a full shot less than he did in 2011. His rebounding is down a board and while his turnovers have remained relatively static, his assists are down as well.

The most prevalent complaint I hear about Pau is his inconsistency on the offensive end. Fans rail Pau on not being able to score more effectively and deeper in the paint. They often say that he's easily pushed around in the lane and in the post, and that his moves to the rack are not nearly aggressive enough. They complain about his persistent whining to the refs, and that he too often lingers on the calls at the cost of his performance. I've heard that his defense ranges from substandard to downright poor. I've heard that he isn't getting enough touches because he isn't demanding the ball enough, especially in light of the fact that key subs Lamar Odom is now in Dallas and Shannon Brown is in Phoenix, and in their place are Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono. In essence, I've heard that Pau is a huge, whiny wuss, who is too easily pushed around.

The truth is that they're partially right. He does whine a lot and sometimes lingers on non-calls for too long, allowing himself to be distracted from the game at hand. Sometimes on single coverage he gets pushed around far more than a 7 foot, 260 pounder should. A guy with his skill set of post moves and shooting acumen should be scoring more than 16 points a game, regardless of if his teammates are named Kobe and Drew or even if they were named Jerry and Wilt.

However, there's a lot of reasons that we're all being too hard on Pau. Yes, his play has degraded from his 2011 All-NBA 2nd Team honored season. But I'm not sure he can be held fully accountable. Why? Check this out:

1) New team, new coaching staff, new system, zero practice time and a billion games

The Lakers, with the a brief 4 month layoff in 2004-2005, have been under a singular offensive and defensive system since 1999. They've lived and breathed Phil Jackson's (and his disciples) mantras since before Y2K.

With the Zen Master gone, Mike Brown has introduced a new offense and completely different defensive schemes. The lockout, more than any other contender, really messed with the Lakers' collective time to improve and come together as a team. The Lakers just finished a stretch where they played 18 games in 31 days. They've played 4 more games than the Clippers. Last Tuesday was their first practice since training camp. First practice!

This team has so little time to get adjusted to each other and their new coach, Pau included. Along with the wear that an intense schedule is having on every other team in the league, the Lakers and Pau are dealing with so many other issues. Just on this alone, we should cut not just Pau, but the entire team some slack. 11-8? We should be so lucky.

2) As a result of the new system, our role players have been awful

We've gone over this before in another State of Laker Nation post, the Lakers have the worst scoring bench in the league. They have no explosive offensive punch whatsoever. But the problem goes beyond the bench players. With the exception of Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts on the defensive end, the Lakers role players have been pretty awful this year.

With Mike Brown's new system comes both positives and negatives. By far, the biggest negative isn't even a comparative issue, but rather the mere fact that it's a new system all together. On the court, the Lakers are finding that without the triangle, ball movement and open shots suffer, but do so at the expense of more offensive freedom in regards to individual play and decision-making. That's great for Kobe and Pau, two guys that can get their own shot, but what about for everyone else? How is Derek Fisher responding now that he's not constantly open? Is Metta World Peace playing better because he doesn't have the triangle to give him open lanes?

The answer is no. The Lakers role players are finding that life outside of the triangle is actually much more restrictive of their games anything else. As Kenny was saying last night on NBATV, with the triangle offense, no point guard is needed for the team to get open shots and run plays; the system is the point guard. As my dad always says, a bonus feature of the triangle was that through a complex series of cuts and passes, ideally, every member of the team would get to touch the ball on every possession, getting more guys in rhythm and feeling like they were integral in every moment of the game. Without that, a lot of the Lakers aren't finding those open shots that made them into the players they were under the previous regime.

With this, there is a domino effect. If the role players, even if it's just a few of them, are feeling uncomfortable or are confused on offense, they stop making shots. Without the role players to provide spacing, the Lakers are much easier to defend. Which leads me to my next point...

3) Pau can't beat 3 guys

The Lakers are amongst the worst shooting teams in the league, in regards to jump shots and not just lay-ups. We are still the worst shooters from long at a crackling 25% (!). Thus, teams are slacking off on our perimeter shooters and packing the paint, specifically on Pau. This season he's been double and triple teamed more than ever in his 4 year Lakers career. As gifted a player as Pau is, if my eyes are telling me the true story, there's just no way a man can overcome those odds, no matter who he is.

Also, there's the issue of the new offense. Without a point guard and with the Lakers playing at such a slow pace, Pau isn't getting as many easy baskets as he was last year. Largely the offense is carried out in slow half court sets, where Pau is given the ball at a standstill, and is expected to push, shove and muscle his way for every point. Quite frankly, that's just an exhausting task to carry out 18 times in a month, for 40 minutes a pop.

4) Just like the ball, stats don't lie

For those people demanding that Pau take more shots, he's taking just as many as he has been in previous seasons. For those people demanding that he take more shots because of Lamar's departure, there's a reason why Andrew is shooting 12.1 times a game rather than the 7.6 he averaged with Odom on the squad. Yes, his accuracy has gone down, but that's a consequence of being triple-teamed every night. His rebounding is also down, but again, playing increased minutes with a rebounding-savant like Andrew has to be taken into account.

Yes, I am making excuses for Pau, but I think that most of them are valid. I do wish he's take more contested shots and go to the line more often than the 3.6 free throw attempts he averages a game. He is lacking aggression at times, but I feel like that's a bi-product of not only being tired from the schedule, but also from having to take on half of the team's on-floor lineup at one time. Regardless, I wish Pau would bring it more every night.

I'm not sure what the answer is for some of Pau's ailments other than for the other members of the team members to wake up and start hitting open jumpers like they're paid to do. I can only hope for a trade for a better ball-distributor and pace-pusher so that Pau (and everyone else for that matter) will get easier baskets. The real problem here might just be that the Lakers aren't that good. But I'm not ready to concede that yet.

I'd give Pau's performance so far 3.5 MAMBINOs out 5, and 1 MAMBINO for the Laker fans that criticize him. I know LA faithful want to find a scapegoat, but if anyone, it's David Stern's and the owner's fault for this incredibly rigorous (and detrimental to basketball games) schedule.

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