The Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks for a multitude of reasons. The one that most chose to focus on was the subpar play of Lakers starting power forward Pau Gasol. And really, it would have been impossible not to direct some blame towards the Spaniard based on his averages against Dallas during the postseason: 13.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on a woeful 42.1 percent field goal shooting.
And thus, when #NBARank announced that Gasol had been rated as the 11TH best player in the NBA; it might have surprised some. It was far too easy to look at his performance during the spring and conclude that he was not worthy of such praise. Mind you, it’s extremely important when discussing the Lakers forward as well as any other NBA player to do so with a bit of perspective.
Indeed, Pau may not have played up to his standards during the playoffs, but he was certainly productive during the regular season as he showcased his tremendously polished post game.
For years, Tim Duncan owned the low block on offense. No big man could match his array of footwork, hook shots and drop steps. However, with the Big Fundamental’s skills declining, the title of low post king probably now belongs to none other than Pau Gasol. He has the ability to face up defenders and breeze past them for lay ups and dunks, he shoots a deadly perimeter jump shot (according to Hoopdata, Pau shot 49 percent from 16 to 23 feet during the 2010-11 regular season), uses terrific footwork to score on the low block with either right or left handed hook shots, adequately uses his reverse pivot to set up defenders for drives or pump fakes and also finishes well at the rim.
In addition, Gasol is a solid passer who is more than willing to give up to rock to teammates to create high percentage shots. Combine those facts with his ability to pull down tough rebounds in traffic as well as provide support on the defensive end and we are quite evidently talking about one of the premier power forwards in the league.
Put it this way: other than Blake Griffin and Dirk Nowitzki, would you want any other power forward starting for your team today? And let’s not forget, Gasol is often asked to play both the center and power forward positions on both offense and defense for the Lakers depending on the availability of Andrew Bynum.
Indeed, when the Lakers lacked their full complement of players during the 2010-11 regular season, they called upon Gasol to play harder, to be tougher and to play extended minutes to help the team find its way while dealing with injuries.
During the early part of the regular schedule last season, with Andrew Bynum sidelined and Kobe Bryant slowly trying to figure out his way physically, Pau Gasol helped the Los Angeles Lakers win 10 out of 15 games in the month of November, with averages of 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 blocks per game on 54.1 percent field goal shooting.
Pau Gasol is unquestionably one of the best players in the NBA and the numbers back it up. Have a look at the graphic with the 15 best player efficiency ranking figures (more commonly referred to as PER) from last season:
Gasol compares favorably to some of the best players in the league. The Spaniard had the 11th best PER in the league and yet had the lowest usage rate (John Hollinger defines it as the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes) of the top 15 players rated by PER.
One could easily make the argument that no top player in the league had to share the wealth more than Gasol given the amount of talent on his team and yet he still managed to thrive within his role.
Since arriving in Los Angeles, Gasol has helped the purple and gold reach three consecutive NBA Finals. The elimination at the hands of the Mavericks came as a shocker because many expected that the Lakers would repeat as champions once again thanks in large part to the play of their star forward. When the squad failed to advance, the majority of the blame fell on his shoulders, but that is a testament to how far he has a come and how talented a player he is.
Only a handful of big men could step in today and take Gasol’s spot on the Lakers; a surefire sign that he is close to being irreplaceable. He may not be your prototypical franchise player (think Kobe, Duncan, LeBron and Shaq in their best years), but he is the perfect big man to complement one.
#NBARank has decided that Pau Gasol is the best player not to make the NBA’s top 10 players list and really, his spot could not be more perfect.