Los Angeles Lakers: Why Marc Gasol’s role is tied to Anthony Davis’ health

Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol recently stated that he wants to stay with the team despite its decision to sign Andre Drummond on March 29th. Gasol told reporters on April 6th that he was committed to the team and willing to do anything the organization asked:

“I’m fully committed to the team. I’ll stay ready when my number is called. I understand that we have to get Andre acclimated to what we’re trying to do. We have to get back our two main guys, LeBron and AD, and get that groove going and get some chemistry going with the first unit for them. I’ll be ready, no matter what happens, whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, at whatever position.

How Anthony Davis’ health should impact Marc Gasol’s role with the Los Angeles Lakers

But now that Gasol is planning to stick around, what should his role be? Well, his role will likely depend on the short-term health of Anthony Davis. Davis has been sidelined for nearly two months with a right calf strain and Achilles tendon discomfort. The organization has some optimism that Davis will return to the court during the team’s next homestand.

If the timetable is correct, the Lakers’ starting lineup will feature two big men. Davis previously mentioned that he doesn’t like to play center due to the physical toll associated with the position. His hesitancy to play center should play into Gasol’s favor as Davis is the Lakers’ offense’s focal point.

Head coach Frank Vogel has implemented an offensive system centered around post-ups and pick and rolls. Los Angeles is currently second in the league in post-up possessions averaging 9.4 per game over the first 52 games. When healthy, Davis is responsible for 47.9 percent of the possessions averaging 4.5 per game.

On the other hand, the Lakers are 28th in pick and roll possessions averaging 16.6 per game. Davis has been the roll man during most of those possessions as he currently leads the team in the category averaging 3.1 per game.

Consequently, the big man who starts alongside Davis is likely to spend a significant amount of time off the ball. Unfortunately, Drummond and Montrezl Harrell haven’t shown an ability to stretch the floor as they have converted 20 three-pointers throughout their careers on a combined 171 attempts.

Therefore, the Lakers would be in the same position as last season as JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard couldn’t space the floor. Before the 2019-20 season, McGee and Howard had converted 8 three-pointers out of a combined 90 attempts. They only made 6 out of 11 attempts last season.

The inability to shoot contributed to Davis taking 9.1 contested shots per game, 49 percent of his shots. He converted 58.7 percent of his contested shots.

The lack of spacing limited how successful the team was with two non-shooting big men on the floor. The team shot 48.6 percent from the field on 19.8 attempts per game in 21.3 minutes. They outscored opponents by 1.1 points as Los Angeles created 51.3 points per game.

The team hasn’t improved their performance when Davis is on the floor with a non-shooting big man this season. They shot 50.1 percent from the field on 19.9 attempts creating 25.9 points per game. They outscored opponents by 0.9 points when Davis shared the floor with Harrell in 11 minutes per game.

The team has performed significantly better when Davis shares the court with Gasol. Before joining the Lakers, he shot 35.4 percent from behind the arc on 1.3 attempts per game. Before Davis’ injury, Gasol was shooting 32.1 percent from behind the arc on 1.9 shots per game.

Gasol’s shooting ability has made defenders stay closer to him. For example, Gasol stood at the top of the key early in the first quarter of a road game against the Thunder. While Gasol stood behind the arc, Davis was backing Darius Bazley down on the left block.

As this was happening, Lu Dort went to double team Davis forcing him to pass the basketball to Gasol to reset. After Dort cleared the area, Gasol gave the ball back to Davis. Once Davis got the ball, Gasol’s defender Justin Jackson thought about double-teaming Davis but decided to stay in between Gasol and Davis. Jackson’s decision led him to make a turnaround jumper over Bazley.

Gasol’s presence has contributed to an 8 percent decline in Davis’ contested shots as he is averaging 8.2 per game. He has converted 62.2 percent of those shots. Combining those factors has helped the team shoot 50.1 percent from the field on 32.4 attempts per game. They have outscored opponents by 3.2 points in 17.9 minutes per game.

If Davis’s return is delayed or re-injures himself, Drummond should be in the starting lineup as he will have room to operate around the basket. Most of Drummond’s offensive production comes from the paint, as he converted 62.9 percent of his shots in the restricted area from 2015 to 2020 on 8.2 attempts per game.

The conversion rate contributed to him scoring 12.8 points per game in the paint, 80.5 percent of his scoring output.