Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Los Angeles Lakers forward-center Pau Gasol will make his return Tuesday against the Charlotte Bobcats after missing eight games, and while it will be important to find out if the Spaniard has the spring back in his step, I'll be more interested to see if the team has any intentions of using him differently.
Prior to the shutdown due to tendinitis in both knees, The 7-foot, 275-pound Gasol, who has a career shooting percentage of 51.9, was moved away from the paint on offense, as if the Lakers wanted to turn Gasol into the next Byron Mullens.
Gasol only shot 42 percent from the floor in 17 games while attempting 2.3 fewer shots per game than last season. Only 23.5 percent of those shot attempts came from nine feet or closer. Gasol attempted 32.7 percent of his shots there last season.
The Lakers big man attempted 19.4 percent of his shots from 10-15 feet and 28.2 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line last season; this year that percentage has shifted further in favor of the latter. In 2012-13, Gasol has only taken 13.5 percent of his shots from 10-15 feet while attempting 34.5 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line. His free-throw attempts have also tumbled to 3.4 per game, down 0.6 per game from last season and 1.8 per game from 2010-11.
I'm curious as to why Los Angeles has used Gasol in this manner. Yes, the team acquired center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic in the offseason, but Gasol had no problem succeeding last season with Andrew Bynum at center. Bynum's 2011-12 shot profile is comparable to Howard's this season -- both players attempt more than 50 percent of their shots at the rim.
Gasol played 1493 minutes with Bynum in 2011-12 and shots 50 percent from the field. He has played 415 with Howard this season and shot 41 percent.
Gasol is also shooting a far worse percentage this season on shots from 3-9 feet (.280) compared to 2011-12 (.428). We could blame it on Howard clogging the lane but again, Gasol was fine playing alongside Bynum last season, so it might just be a small sample size.
The elder Gasol brother has been one of fantasy's best big men in his career, averaging 18.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.7 blocks and shooting 75.2 percent from the free-throw line. This season, he's at 12.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.5 apg and 1.2 bpg.
While fresh knees might help Gasol's game get back to that high level, I don't have much confidence right now in Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni to find effective roles for all of Los Angeles' stars.
Sure, there's a chance that when point guard Steve Nash returns everything will change for the Lakers and D'Antoni will get his old pick-and-roll game humming again, but even if that happens it will likely be Howard working as the roll man the majority of the time while Gasol stands around looking for 15-footers (a similar situation occurred with Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire in New York last season).
And with Kobe Bryant, Howard and Nash around, Gasol will be hard-pressed to find 14 shots per game again.
Even with Nash still sidelined with a fractured leg, Tuesday should be a solid indicator as to how D'Antoni plans to use Gasol going forward.
Fantasy owners just have to hope D'Antoni doesn't get any ideas from watching Mullens chuck deep balls against them.