The Lakers have been a punching bag through the first quarter of the season, taking beatings on the court in the form of losses and off the court in terms of media critiques.
Injuries have been a big part of their downfall with Steve Nash only playing in six quarters, Steve Blake also missing multiple games, and, more recently, both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill sitting out with nagging injuries. If you’re counting at home, that’s half of the Lakers presumed eight man rotation.
This team has fought through missing these players the best that they can, but have been anxiously awaiting the return of some of these guys. Well, reports say that they’ll get their wish today, at least in terms of Pau Gasol who has sat out the past eight games with tendonitis in both knees:
Before Gasol was put on the shelf, he looked like a shell of his former self. He missed countless inside shots and didn’t seem capable of making multiple efforts on either side of the ball. With him also being miscast as a stretch power forward in Mike D’Antoni’s system, Gasol was only an average (at best) contributor and was the first name mentioned as the player who needed to be traded in order to “fix” the Lakers.
Since Gasol has been out, however, the Lakers have clearly missed his skill set, even though he wasn’t 100% when he was playing. Per NBA.com’s stats tool, in the eight games Gasol missed, the Lakers were worse on the defensive glass, had a lower assist percentage, and were considerably worse on defense than when he was in the lineup.
Clearly, the Lakers have missed his unselfishness and ability to make the right read offensively. His feel as a passer and desire to involve his teammates has always been a good compliment to Kobe Bryant’s thirst for scoring. Without Pau in the lineup, Kobe had to carry a heavier burden as a playmaker for others and the results haven’t always been pretty. The Lakers have also missed Gasol’s length defensively, where he served as a secondary rim protector and rebounder to Dwight Howard.
When Gasol returns he’ll still need to find his way in D’Antoni’s offense. He’ll also need to prove he can stay healthy enough to be more effective in guarding on the perimeter and making the types of effort plays he wasn’t earlier this season. But having him back will boost the Lakers in multiple ways that weren’t evident until he was actually not able to play.
As the Joni Mitchell once sang, you don’t know what you have till it’s gone. And that was certainly the case for the Lakers and the Spaniard.