HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Mike D’Antoni is right. The Lakers have been much better with only one of their two $19 million big men on the floor than with both of them together.
That was D’Antoni’s explanation when he said before Monday’s game in Chicago that Pau Gasol would be coming off the bench until further notice. And the numbers back D’Antoni up, even after the Lakers lost to the Bulls by 12 in a game in which Gasol and Dwight Howard played just seven minutes together.
Lakers efficiency with Gasol and/or Howard on the floor
|Gasol + Howard||612||102.7||103.5||-0.8||-14|
|One of the two||1,065||108.9||100.7||+8.2||+144|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Offensively, with both Gasol and Howard on the floor, the Lakers have scored at a rate that would rank 12th in the league. With only one of the two on the floor, they’ve scored at a rate that would rank second.
Defensively, with both Gasol and Howard in the game, the Lakers are defending at a rate that would rank 19th in the league. With only one of the two in the game, they’re defending at a rate that would rank ninth.
Overall, with Gasol and Howard on the floor together, the Lakers have the point differential of a 37-win team. With only one of the two on the floor, they have a point differential of a 61-win team.
The question, of course, is why the Lakers can’t play well with two of the best big men in the league on the floor together. And it’s hard not to point at the coach, because things were OK before D’Antoni took over.
Lakers efficiency with Gasol and Howard on the floor together
Five games apiece for Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff are small sample sizes, but it’s clear that the Lakers’ early issues weren’t with their bigs. When they got off to a 1-4 start under Brown, the bench was more of a problem.
The big man issues under D’Antoni are on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Gasol is a different player when he’s on the floor with Howard. In those 612 minutes, just 44 percent of his 208 shots have come from the paint. With Howard on the bench, 67 percent of Gasol’s 109 shots have come from the paint.
D’Antoni’s system calls for three shooters around a point guard (who can also shoot) and a pick-and-roll big man. And Gasol can’t space the floor like a true stretch four.
Gasol’s shooting with Howard on and off the floor
|Howard on/off||FGM||FGA||FG%||%FGA paint|
|Howard on floor||83||208||39.9%||44.2%|
|Howard off floor||54||109||49.5%||67.0%|
Here’s the thing: Gasol played 5 1/2 seasons with Andrew Bynum. And with Bynum on the floor, Gasol still took 66 percent of his shots from the paint, because Phil Jackson‘s offense allowed for two post players. The Lakers were a very good offensive team with the two bigs on the floor together.
Defensively, the Lakers have breakdowns all over the place this season, mostly with guards Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. But there’s no clear explanation why they’re much better with only one of the two bigs on the floor. It may be a foot speed issue, and they may just be able to recover better with a smaller, quicker player at the four. Under Jackson, they were better defensively with Lamar Odom at the four than with Bynum and Gasol out there together.
Still, this is all kind of ridiculous. And it’s all too familiar. On the last team D’Antoni coached, he had two guys making about $40 million combined who couldn’t play well together either.
Under D’Antoni, the New York Knicks were a minus-137 and absolutely awful defensively in 1,506 minutes with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire on the floor together. The coach’s inability to get his two stars on the same page is a big reason he isn’t in New York anymore. Under Mike Woodson, the Knicks are even (plus-0) in 497 minutes with Anthony and Stoudemire on the floor together.
The Lakers probably aren’t going to be making another coaching change. Instead, Gasol is probably on his way out the door. And we can only wonder what might have been had L.A. hired Jackson when they let go of Brown in November … or if they had just kept Brown.