Over the course of the playoffs, a case has begun to surface that the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol is the best offensive big man in the game. Some even go as far as to say he’s the best big man overall. I will concede this: Gasol’s play has been markedly great over the course of this postseason, and the suggestions of 2008 that he’s soft are long gone — the Lakers would not be close to where they are without his constant support.
Accordingly, it makes sense that people are crowning him the best right now, when he’s playing at his best. Unfortunately, a few playoff series make up too small a sample size to serve as a significant basis for the argument at hand. Let’s look at the comparison between Gasol’s postseason and regular-season numbers.
During the regular campaign, Gasol was solid on both ends of the ball. Injuries limited him to only 65 games, but he still gathered averages of 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field and 79 percent from the stripe. On defense, his length proved a solid deterrent to opposing power forwards, and he registered 1.7 blocks per contest.
In the playoffs, Gasol has been closer to inhuman. In the second round and the conference finals, Gasol dazzled spectators with a wide array of post moves, tip-ins, and an automatic mid-range jumpshot. During the first three rounds, Gasol could have made an argument for the best big man in the league, at least on offense. But take a look at Gasol’s matchups in those three rounds and some questions begin to arise.
In the first round against Oklahoma City, it was Jeff Green. Against Utah, it was Carlos Boozer. And against Phoenix, it was Amar’e Stoudemire. What do those three guys have in common? They’re all 6-foot-9, and Gasol has a three-inch height advantage on all of them. No wonder he was so dominant. He had a significant length advantage on all his defenders. It puts a damper on any nomination that he’s the best big man.
So when Boston came around, Gasol did hold his own in the first two games in Los Angeles. But when the series shifted to Boston, it was a different story. In Games 3, 4, 5, Gasol averaged only 15.6 points and 9 rebounds while shooting a measly 44 percent. It goes to show what effect a good defender can have on the supposed best big man.
But just looking at Gasol’s numbers doesn’t decide this. There needs to be some comparison. On the defensive end, the discussion starts and stops with Dwight Howard. He’s the best defender in the game; there’s no question. He blocks so many shots, but that doesn’t do him justice. The number of shots he effects or discourages has a profound impact on Orlando’s defensive game. Think of it like a big slugging hitter chasing a home-run record. If Barry Bonds didn’t get walked all the time, he could hit a lot more home runs. If opposing players took shots indiscriminately without considering Howard’s swat, he’d rack up a lot more blocks.
On the offensive end, you have to look at both Chris Bosh and Stoudemire. Bosh averaged six more points per game this year than Gasol. He’s much more athletic, his post moves are just as good, and his perimeter game’s even better. Some may argue that Gasol’s a better passer, and he is, but to whom is Bosh going to pass the ball? Sonny Weems? C’mon. As for Stoudemire, he may not have a back-to-the-basket game, but his face-up skill set is fantastic. He’s significantly more explosive than any top-tier big in the league not named Howard, and he has a better shooting touch than Gasol does.
So Gasol is clearly not the league’s best big man. And NBA fans shouldn’t let a few solid playoff games misguide them into thinking he is.