Pau Gasol is one of the best offensive big men in the entire NBA, and while a lot of that has to do with Gasol's talent and ability, some of the credit needs to go to the Los Angeles Lakers and their head coach Phil Jackson. This is because Jackson and the rest of the Lakers' coaching staff put Gasol in a number of different positions on the court and run a variety of plays for Gasol, taking advantage of his many skills. Here, we are going to take a look at a few different ways that the Lakers use to get Gasol the basketball in a position to score.
Posting Out Of The Triangle Offense
A lot of NBA fans out there think that the Triangle offense is only in place to give Kobe Bryant isolation opportunities. However, that is not the case, and the Triangle is actually a very nice way to provide a very good center with post-up opportunities, which according to Synergy Sports Technology, accounts for 40.1 percent of Gasol's offensive possessions (353 out of 881 total possessions).
The set that the Lakers like to use the most for Gasol out of the Triangle is a simple post entry clear-out:
The play starts with Shannon Brown dribbling the ball into the corner. Once Steve Blake gets to the wing, Brown kicks it out to him and Gasol comes over to the ball side block. The Lakers now have their triangle set up.
Once Gasol comes over, Blake makes the entry pass into him. Once that happens, both Blake and Brown cut off of Gasol.
The purpose of the two cuts off of Gasol is to clear the area for him to operate. You now have four Lakers' on the weakside with Gasol on the block, and because of that, there is no logical way to send a double team.
Because no double team can come, Gasol now can back down his man and work on him one on one on the block. Gasol makes a move and is able to finish in the paint. Here is the play in real time:
When you watch the clip live, you can see how the double-cut off of Gasol just makes things so much easier for him. He makes the catch, looks around for the double, and if it doesn't come, he goes to work.
It looks like this is simple to stop, but what the Lakers are doing here is trying to bait the defense into a double team from one of the two cutters' defenders. If that double happens, Gasol is able to use his fantastic passing ability to hit the open cutter for an easy basket:
This set, as simple as it may be, forces the defense to make a very tough decision. Either let Gasol work one-on-one on the low block, or double team him and hope he can't find the free man. If you are a defense, this is a lose-lose situation.
The main reason why this is able to work is because this set takes advantage of what may be Gasol's biggest strength, his patience. Gasol never seems to be in a rush, and that is key when getting post opportunities out of the Triangle offense:
The subtle movement of Gasol is what makes his post play so beautiful. Gasol makes the catch, feels Brook Lopez on his back, and lets the cutters go through. As this happens, Gasol's foot is in the paint. He takes it out, resetting the three-second count and then goes right back to work in the paint, where he gets an easy basket because no double team comes.
This isn't the only way that the Lakers like to get the ball into the post out of the Triangle. Another thing the Lakers like to do is put Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol on one side, with the Triangle on the opposite side. This then turns into a two-man game that, like the double clear out, lets Gasol work one on one:
So as the rest of the Lakers form their Triangle on the opposite side, Bryant gets the ball on the weakside and enters it into Gasol. The reason why this allows Gasol to go one-on-one is because nobody in their right mind would leave Kobe Bryant to double the low post. I mean, look at all the room Gasol has to operate:
Gasol is just too good to give him all of this room and expect him not to score. That is what makes this such a good set for the Lakers to run through Gasol.
Off Ball Screen Out Of The Triangle
Another way that the Lakers like to use Gasol out of the Triangle is to put him on the opposite block and send a weakside screen for him:
The Lakers start this play in their standard Triangle set, but this time, instead of being on the ball-side low block, Gasol is on the weakside block.
Once the ball gets entered from Kobe Bryant to Ron Artest, the both Bryant and Fisher start to cut through, making it look like they are running their standard post set.
However, instead of cutting through, Kobe Bryant heads straight for Gasol's man, looking to get a screen set on him.
Once Bryant gets the screen set, Gasol curls hard off of the screen into the paint. This opens up the pass from Artest on the post into Gasol in the paint.
Gasol makes the catch and seamlessly moves towards the basketball. Let's check out the play in real time:
This is a nice little misdirection here from the Lakers. They are taking a play that they normally run, and change a few things around to get Gasol the ball on the move in the paint.
Trailing In Transition
The Triangle isn't the only way that the Lakers get the ball to Gasol. In addition to post ups and cuts (13.8 percent of Gasol's possessions), Gasol is able to use his shooting ability to get a good looks from spot-up opportunities, which accounts for 9 percent of Gasol's possessions. Gasol seems to get his cleanest looks out of transition, when he is trailing the play:
Gasol spotting up in transition is so effective because he seems to have a designated spot on the floor to get to when in transition. That spot in the top of the key. Every single time that Gasol is trailing a play, he spots up at the top of the key, letting the action take place in front of him. This is what leads me to believe that this is a designed strategy from the Lakers.
The works for a few reasons, first, it gives those out ahead space to drive if they want to. The second reason is because bigs getting back on defense are always taught to protect the rim first and then locate their man. So when Gasol spots up at the top of the key, his man is usually nowhere near him (which is exactly what happens in the two above plays). Gasol has the ability to hit the jumper and take advantage of this space.
Quick Hitting Lob
In addition to all of these sets in the half court and in transition, the Lakers have a quick hitter that they like to run to get lobs for Gasol:
To start this quick hitter, Lamar Odom brings up the basketball and once he crosses halfcourt, he enters the basketball to Kobe Bryant on the wing.
Once Bryant gets the basketball, Gasol comes up from the low block to set a backscreen for Odom. Odom uses the backscreen to get to the ball-side corner. As this is happening, Ron Artest comes from the weakside to replace Gasol on the block.
All of this movement is designed to clear the weakside. The reason why the Lakers are looking to clear the weakside is because once Odom uses his screen, Gasol cuts backdoor to the rim.
With the weakside clear, Gasol is able to get himself to the rim easily as Kobe puts a pass right on the money. Here is the play in real time:
This play works because Gasol has the mobility to go from setting a screen at the elbow to cutting back door and making a play on a lob pass at the rim. Again, the Lakers are playing to Gasol's strengths.
Pau Gasol does so many things well that he really makes things easy for Phil Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers. Because of all these strengths, the Lakers are able to use Gasol in a number of ways to take advantage of them. They work him on the block in the Triangle to take advantage of his passing, patience, and ability with his back to the basket, they have him spot up at the high post in transition to take advantage of his shooting ability, and they use him in quick hitting backdoor lob sets to take advantage of his mobility. With all of these different ways that the Lakers have to get Gasol in scoring position, there always seems to be pressure on the defense.
Sebastian Pruiti is the founder and editor of NBAPlaybook.com, a blog started in January 2010 that takes a look at the Xs and Os of the NBA. In addition to NBAPlaybook.com, Sebastian is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus and The Basketball Jones, and is the Editor Emeritus of NetsAreScorching. Before getting into blogging Sebastian spent a year as a volunteer assistant for the Division 1 Men's Basketball team, New Jersey Institute of Technology. He loves to look at the Xs and Os of the game and break the little things down.