The Amazing Vanishing Pau Gasol

All of the great shooting data is via Basketball-Reference. In case you missed it, you can view each player’s shot charts season by season, for instance, here is Gasol’s 2012 season —

Pau Gasol is Playing Poorly

Gasol’s career stats, via the NBA Geek (average WP48 is 0.100, great is 0.200+)

Season MPG WP48
2013 37.4 0.114
2012 37.4  0.143
 2011 37.0  0.265
 2010  37.0  0.265
 2009  37.0  0.234
 2008  35.6 0.158
 2007  36.2  0.167
 2006  39.2  0.183
 2005  32.0  0.184
 2004  31.5  0.130
 2003  36.0  0.122
 2002  36.7  0.214

Alright, poorly is probably a bit harsh. The truth is Pau Gasol is playing above average. There’s a problem with this though. Gasol has gone from being a franchise changing player (Laker fans have forgotten that stretch between 2005 and 2008…) to merely being an average big. It’s easy to pull out the “poor” label, as Pau is a shadow of what he’s been his whole career.

If we examine Pau’s stats at the NBA Geek, we see he isn’t really playing that worse in most areas. Yes his rebounds, assists, blocks are a bit below his career average but not by much. And on the flip side, his turnovers, fouls,* and steals are actually above average. What’s the real cause of his decline? I was actually given the answer rather succinctly via Twitter:


Of course, where’s the fun in not digging into the data more (which shows the Team Rebound is spot on.) So let’s examine Gasol’s shooting. Let’s start with shot selection.

Gasol’s Shot Career Shot Selection (% from each location)

Gasol has definitely made a change in strategy. You see that spike in 16 footers to 3 pointers? Yup, that’s this season. In fact, it shows a frightening trend. Before 2012, Gasol had never taken more than 15% of his shots from that far out. The last two seasons, he’s increased the trend to 24% last season and now over 30%! Additionally, we can see Gasol’s shooting at the rim has hit a career low. This season is the first time in his career he’s shot less than 1/4 of his shots rights at the rim. And this is a bad thing as we’ll see when we examine his shooting percentages.

Gasol’s Career Shooting Efficiency by location

In examining Gasol’s shooting efficiency, it’s only really degraded in the 3-9 foot range. And we can see he is actually taking close to his career low in terms of shots from that region. His shooting both at the rim and from 16 feet to 3pt range ia in fact right around average for his career. Gasol’s decline is thus not his skills degrading, but rather his shot selection degrading. Whether this is the fault of the coach or the system remains to be seen. Regardless, the problem with Gasol becomes very simple when we zoom in.

Summing Up

I’m in the middle of Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association. I just finished reading about Slick Leonard (who deserves his own post, bug me if you don’t see one in the near future.) Slick Leonard was the Phil Jackson of the ABA. He took the 1969 Pacers, who had a 2-7 record, and ended up taking them to the Finals in his first season. His team went to 5 finals and won three of them. From Loose Balls, here’s a story that reminded of the Gasol situation:

He saw Mel Daniels take a jump shot from outside the foul line, and he stopped practice and just screamed at Mel. Then Slick took a piece of chalk and drew a circle near the basket. “There,” said Slick, pointing to the chalk mark. “That’s where you’re supposed to shoot from.”

Here’s hoping D’Antoni has chalk (although, the shot chart from his first game as Lakers’ coach doesn’t instill optimism) I wouldn’t give up on Gasol yet. In spite of his age and declining productivity (which lead me to say he should be traded.), the fact is we can explain it. If Gasol is no longer able to take close shots, then yes he’s not worth his contract. If Gasol can be convinced to take closer shots then there’s hope. All I can say is that it’s a bizarre year when Kobe is playing great and I’m advising Gasol to take a lesson from him.


* That’s right, I’m embracing the Oxford Comma, deal with it!

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