As much as the Denizens of Kobe Bryant‘s Crawl Space would like to believe their hero won his last two NBA championships “on his own,” the fact is that Pau Gasol was as important to Kobe’s fourth and fifth rings as Shaquille O’Neal was to Kobe’s first three pieces of championship jewelry.
As the Lakers have struggled recently in their quest for another three-peat, Gasol’s value is finally being realized. In a Dec. 28 loss to San Antonio, Gasol had only eight field goal attempts and scored nine points while Kobe jacked 27 shots. The next night against New Orleans, Gasol only took five shots, although the Lakers won that game. And in a Jan. 2 blowout loss to Memphis, Gasol took nine shots while Kobe took 22, and L.A. coach Phil Jackson criticized Kobe after the game for playing too much one-on-one.
Just about every NBA player wants the ball more often and wants more shots. As Shawn Marion told me in Dime #57, “I don’t care how talented you are. Any player in the League who’s averaging big numbers, they ain’t averaging 20 points if they ain’t getting 20 shots … If you get shots, you can put up numbers in any system. If you get touches, you can put up shots in any system.”
But not every player need more shots. Here are a few who do:
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PAU GASOL, Lakers — He ranks 27th in the League in scoring while taking 14.1 field goals per game. The only players in the Top 30 who take fewer shots are Chris Bosh, Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce, Dwight Howard. And yet Gasol is considered the most skilled offensive big man in basketball.
DWIGHT HOWARD, Magic — You want to see an exercise in frustration? Listen to Hubie Brown call an Orlando game. The fact that Dwight goes several possessions in a row without getting so much as a decent entry pass drives Hubie up the wall. You can’t blame him: Hubie won an ABA championship coaching a team that featured Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel. He was Patrick Ewing’s first NBA coach. He took a Memphis Grizzlies team headlined by Pau Gasol to the playoffs. He knows you have to get the rock to the big guy.
RONNIE BREWER, Bulls — Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng will get their looks, but Chicago needs another wing aside from Kyle Korver who can spread the floor and make it so Rose doesn’t have to take 20 shots a night as a point guard. In a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Boozer said about former Utah teammate Brewer (4.9 FGA per game), “He comes off the bench and gives us points, rebounds and steals. He scores the ball, steals the ball and defends the ball. He’s one of our better players.” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau described Brewer’s mid-range game as “excellent,” and said he wants Brewer to take more corner threes.
DeMARCUS COUSINS, Kings — As Tyreke Evans has been inconsistent due to a lingering foot injury, the Kings need to lean on Cousins more often. He is their best interior scorer and a future building block for the franchise. Cousins (12.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) started the season slow, in part because he couldn’t stay out of foul trouble, but lately he’s played like a guy who would be in the Rookie of the Year discussion if Blake Griffin wasn’t playing like the Incredible Hulk: Cousins has averaged 21.6 points on 56 percent shooting in his last three games.
WESLEY JOHNSON, Wolves — On a young team, the rookie Johnson is actually one of the more mature guys: At 23, he is older than Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington. In Minnesota’s nine wins this season, Johnson has averaged 8.4 shots and 12.3 points per game. In their 26 losses, he’s averaged 7.7 shots and 8.4 points. The Wolves need a third scorer to step up alongside Love and Beasley, and Johnson is as talented offensively as any of the realistic candidates.
Who do you think needs the ball more?