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Why Pau Gasol is so Hot from Three

Pau Gasol has been lighting it up from three-point range as a reserve. The 36-year-old center has more than doubled his attempts per game since the All-Star break and has hit 58.5%, which is the highest clip in the league among players with more than 35 attempts in that stretch.

Gasol has hit 24 three-point shots in 16 games since moving to the bench after the All-Star break. That’s the same amount he hit all of last season, and that was a career high. Pau has never put up this many shots from distance, and maybe he should have been doing this all along considering his absurd efficiency. The 7-footer is shooting a completely unsustainable 87.5% from the corners during this run, and he’s hit “just” 51.5% of his attempts from above the break.

Gasol has radically changed his game, and it’s working out really well for him. He’s taking and making virtually the same amount of shots as he was before he moved to the bench, but he’s scoring two more points per game in fewer minutes because more of those shots and makes come from three-point land. Only 12% of his shots came from beyond the arc before he injured his hand, but since returning that number is up to 27%.

Part of the reason why Gasol has been so hot is that nearly all of his attempts come on high-quality looks. Every single one of his attempts has been of the catch-and-shoot variety, and 95% of these shots have been open or wide open according to the NBA’s tracking data. These are extremely high-percentage looks, and Pau is cashing in.

Gasol has morphed into a true stretch five, and that presents a dilemma for the centers that defend him. If they help in the paint, they’re giving up an open three to a scorching-hot shooter, but if they guard him on the perimeter, they leave the rim, and often themselves, exposed. When defenders choose the first option, Gasol has punished them.

In fact, every single three in this stretch was set up by a pass made when the player guarding Gasol was in the paint. Sometimes Pau sets a high screen and spots up at the top of the arc, and the ball handler draws a double team and passes out to the wide-open Gasol. In other cases he sets up on the low block and drifts to the corner when the center is forced to rotate on a drive or pick and roll. Occasionally, he trails the play or the defender just loses track of him out there.

Pau has developed good chemistry with the bench unit, as Manu Ginobili has assisted on six of these threes and Patty Mills has set up four. Surprisingly, the player who has set up the most Pau threes since he moved to the bench is Kawhi Leonard with ten. Gasol is usually one of the first guys off the bench for Popovich, so he gets a solid amount of playing time with most of the starting unit. Kawhi often draws multiple defenders with his attacking play, and when that happens Gasol finds the arc and Kawhi finds him.

The three-point shot is extremely valuable in today’s NBA, and Gasol knows that. Since moving to the bench and changing his game he isn’t just surviving, he’s thriving. By adding this new dimension, he spaces the floor better and has become a more efficient scorer, and both of those things are great for the Spurs as the playoffs approach.

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