Jan 25, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz power forward Derrick Favors (15) defends against Los Angeles Lakers small forward Earl Clark (6) during the first half at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol Needs to Embrace Bench Role

Jan 25, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) shoots over Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) during the first half at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There comes a time in every player’s career when he just can’t do the things he used to do.  Usually, the decline can be noticed first by watching a players’ rebound totals from season to season.  As the rebounds begin to fall off, so does the rest.

It’s a pretty safe formula for watching a guy devolve into a shadow of the player he once was.

Gasol’s rebounding has declined every season since 2009-10, and this year it is the lowest since 2007-08.

Pau Gasol isn’t quite on “shadow” status yet.  He did just, after all, dominate Team USA in the Olympics in the summer of 2012.  His game is still sharp.  He’s just adjusting to a role that doesn’t best befit his skill set, and also finding that Earl Clark may be on his way to becoming a solid starting power forward for the L.A. Lakers.

Truly, Gasol’s demotion is more about the promotion of Clark than it is rendering Gasol to linger in the Lakers’ second unit.

Moreover, with Jordan Hill out for the season Gasol’s role must change.  The Lakers do need a 7-footer off the bench to man the middle in the second unit.  Also, Howard and Gasol are still seeing minutes together.  Gasol’s benching by no means indicates he cannot play in crunch time when his experience may trump Clark’s superior defensive skill set.

Clark gives the Lakers a look that Gasol can’t.  He matches up very well against the more physical power forwards like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony; and even, not so much the physicality, Kevin Durant.

Clark had a tough time with Durant on Sunday (Jan. 27), but the Lakers emerged victorious on the strength of Clark defense that was just good enough to keep Durant from going totally unchecked.  Teammate Kobe Bryant played pitch perfect defense on Russell Westbrook, and if for one game only, the Lakers looked like the team that many projected them to be prior to the beginning of the 2012-13 NBA season.

Ideally, one must always remember the Lakers are a team with four future Hall of Famers.  At some point, talent is going to win out.  Chemistry takes time to develop, and it’s not as though a team that truly features three alpha dogs (and Steve Nash) is going to suddenly transform into the San Antonio Spurs.

Yet, that is exactly what needs to happen.

Manu Ginobiili has long been a top-10 NBA shooting guard, yet he is a sixth man, and was the example cited by ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy when he said that Gasol must learn from Ginobili.

Why does Pau Gasol insist that he can’t embrace a similar role?  Does he still think he is in the heart of his prime?

They are vastly different players, save the fact that both are international superstars.  Gasol would be doing it to give the Lakers some size off the bench and a more flexible (defensively) starting five.  Ginobili does it to give the Spurs a spark offensively off the bench.

Driving this further is the fact that Gasol could get more touches with the second unit.  Bryant doesn’t rest often, but when he does, Gasol should be on the court.  Mike D’Antoni will be wise to make use of Gasol the most when the other high usage players are off the court.

There’s a place for Gasol, and he’s not requesting a trade, so let’s hope that he embraces a Manu-like role in L.A. for the sake of the Lakers’ playoff hopes.


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Tags: Earl Clark Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol

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