How Will Pau Gasol Trade Affect Lakers Lines?
by Trevor Whenham - 02/06/2008
The Pau Gasol era started on Tuesday night for the Lakers, and the rest of the teams in the West must be terrified. Kobe Bryant had as bad a game as he has had in months - just six points, and he suffered a banged up finger to boot. In past days that would have been disastrous for the Lakers. Now, though, it wasn't seen as that big of a deal. Gasol stepped up with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and the Lakers rolled to an easy 15-point victory. Gasol seemed to have no problems fitting in, and, though it's probably a coincidence, Derek Fisher had his best scoring night of the year. The Lakers should be fine until Andrew Bynum returns to action, and they have a chance to be special when he comes back.
The first ripples of impact of the Gasol addition greeted us as we awoke Wednesday morning. In what seems like a bizarre over-reaction, the Suns have traded Shawn Marion to the Heat for Big Diesel. It seems a bit of a mystery how the lethargic Shaq is going to fit in with the high octane Suns (one thing we know for sure is that he'll do a lot of in-bounding, because that's the only way to hide his total lack of speed), and it wasn't obvious that center was the problem position for the Suns. At the very least, though, Shaq's experience will provide a boost to the team, getting rid of Marion lightens up the mood in the locker room, and the double teams on the big man will free up the plethora of Suns' outside shooters. It seems as if these moves are just some of the first we'll see from Western Conference contenders.
As interesting as this trade and the developments it will cause are to watch as a fan, they are at least as challenging to deal with from a betting perspective. Here's my take on the challenges the Gasol trade will create in handicapping the Lakers:
Too much excitement? - As good as Gasol is, it's a total lock that the public is going to overcompensate for the move. That should mean some inflated lines for a while, especially on the tail end of the nine-game road marathon that the team is currently on. There are several reasons for the overcompensation as I see it:
1) Gasol is a very good player, but he is no Michael Jordan. He will almost certainly play better than he did in Memphis, where he was increasingly frustrated and disinterested. The fact is, though, that his production in almost every major category is down this year from where he was last year, and he has only been an all-star once since winning rookie of the year. He will have a big impact, and he is a great secondary scoring option, but he won't move mountains.
2) There will be two periods of transition. The first game went amazingly well, but Gasol still has to get used to a quirky new offense and a new cast of teammates. Just as he gets comfortable with his new role Andrew Bynum will return to action, and the transition has to start from scratch. Bynum plays the position that Gasol is playing now, so it will inevitably take some effort to make things smooth. I have little doubt of their ability to make it work over the long term, but it could be rough in the near term.
3) Kobe is an X-factor. Bryant has said repeatedly that he wanted scoring help, and he has got it. If we have learned one thing about the guy over the years, though, it is that he doesn't always know what he wants. He is happy for now, but if things don't go like he hopes he could quickly make things difficult for Gasol and everyone else around him. Until we see clear evidence that Bryant and Gasol can co-exist effectively (and that Bryant won't be bothered by the dislocated pinky suffered on Tuesday), I will be hesitant to accept that this team is significantly better in the short term.
4) The team has been very good ATS so far. The fact that the team has been kind to bettors already makes it that much more likely that the public will go too far. The math will be simple in the minds of the vaguely aware - the team was good already, so with Gasol they will be a lock every time out.
5) The team is on a hot streak already. The Lakers have covered five games in a row, and they have done it comfortable in each case. That kind of a streak gets the public too excited. So does a trade like this. The two together could be deadly.
What does this all mean? I look at it this way - I am optimistic that the Lakers are going to do very well by this trade. They significantly upgraded their talent at little cost, and they have added a guy who seems to be easy to get along with. By the time the playoffs roll around the Lakers will be very tough to beat. In the short term, though, I will be very hesitant to back this team until the evidence presents itself that they are worthy of the support. I'll also play very close attention to lines that seem to big to start, or lines that move more than they really should.