Top 50: Pau Gasol, no. 10
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
Pau Gasol. The best power forward in the NBA.
I mean, I know us followers of the League have known him to be good, and many times, he’d play very good. He certainly has been gifted. 7-feet tall, bulky enough for post play, but lithe enough to tip-toe around the basket. Sure, he played on some hopeful, but overmatched Memphis Grizzlies basketball teams. And when he helped the Los Angeles Lakers reach the NBA Finals, I think it’s safe to say that many of us felt he was a great stopgap for the absence of center Andrew Bynum; maybe we rationalized how he played as, “Well, the timing was right” or “His play was motivated by his disdain for the Grizzlies” or something to that effect. Maybe the clean cut look from his days in Espana and Tennessee fooled us first…and then the Don Quixote beard. But the best power forward in the League, Pau Gasol is? Surpassing the almighty Tim Duncan?
Yes he is. When he was talked up as the premier international prospect in 2001, late in my junior year of high school, I noticed. When he banged on Kevin Garnett as a rookie, I noticed. When he was busy playing all three frontcourt positions at various times for a woeful Grizzlies club, I took note. While Pau was getting his reputation bruised when observers would callously say that he was soft, despite never having a great partner in the post to share his load, I watched him on spot-up jumpers, athletic drives to the basket, and fearless finishes at the hoop. When he was scoring between 17 and 20 points per game and rebounding around 8 balls in Tennesseee, he wasn’t part of the in-crowd.
But then he went to Los Angeles, and we should know the story. Kobe Bryant is going to always get the praise, and Pau needed Kobe…but Kobe needed Pau immensely. Oh, the soft Spaniard with all those post moves? The one who was begging for his electric? He was quickly supplanting his rivals as the fiercest big man in whatever town he chose to visit, and now he’s a champion twice by great fortune and chance. He is the fiercest big man in the game now. Pau is not going to patronize his opponents, he’s not going to settle as being merely a talented scorer, and he’s unafraid.
Timmy D has declined, putting in legendary work for the past 13 years (now going on 14 years).
KG has maximized his time and is trying to put things back together in a knee that may or may not comply with his desires.
Amar’e is busy being Amar’e, in New York of all places, and while he was one time an heir in receiving the post player’s crown, he’s since settled for being an offense-first, defense-somewhere-else kind of guy.
In the meantime, our hero Pau has maximized his presence. Remember how some of his critics in Memphis said he didn’t dominate enough, or implied that he was too skilled for his own good, maybe a little too fundamental for people’s taste? Well, he’s killing people with his skills on-court; the passing, the nimble footwork on too-fast-for-you spin moves, the high-post J, the low-post J, awkward-angled dunks on fastbreaks and defensive breakdowns, the charges, the blocks from both the strong side and weak side? He’s better served today, and his career 19 and 9 don’t tell his story quite as well. He was the silent Rodney Dangerfield in the old South, but he’s could be singing his best renditions of Aretha Franklin classics, if he so chose–but that’s not Pau.
Pau’s a winner, and a worldwide winner at that.
And winning is fundamental.
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• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.