SLAMonline Top 50: Pau Gasol, no. 31

by September 22, 2008

by Marcel Mutoni

I like having Pau Gasol on my team. Really, what’s not to like?

Dude scores at an All-Star level, is one of the League’s better big men, a guy with a feathery soft touch, he can find the open man with ease, rebounds well, he’s been reasonably durable over the course of his career, and has something of a preternatural feel for the game.

(OK, so he doesn’t play a whole lot of defense – more on that in a bit – but overall, he’s a damn fine hoops player.)

So, why don’t I love him?

Well, the defense (or lack thereof) is certainly a part of it. In the NBA Finals this past June, as the series wore on, the Lakers’ paint – that sacred area of the floor that must be protected at all costs – was invaded with impunity by the Celtics time and again.

Boston pushed Gasol and the rest of the Laker bigs around, grabbing boards, scoring in bunches, and generally just had a grand ol’ time down in the trenches. It was demoralizing.

Still, there’s something else there; something other than just a lackadaisical approach to defense. Pau Gasol strikes me as the type of athlete who’s blessed with a ton of skill, but lacks that special DNA ingredient that separates the very good players from the immortals. An edge if you will.

Part of being a great NBA player, a rather large part actually, is the inner (and outer) belief that you are the baddest motherf*cker on the floor. Swag, confidence, cockiness, arrogance. It may not win you too many sportsmanship awards, but it’s absolutely necessary if you plan on separating yourself from the pack.

Gasol, I’m afraid, does not have nearly enough of this. Which, luckily for him, isn’t a very big problem in Los Angeles. After all, he plays with a guy who has an overabundance of those missing qualities.

Even better for Pau, lord willing – picture me on my knees here, desperately praying to the hoop gods – Andrew Bynum should be back with a vengeance next season. And Young Andrew has an edge alright.

(You remember the little incident with Shaq from a couple years back, right? Only someone with a supreme self-belief would’ve had the gusto to go back at O’Neal like that, in front of national television audience no less. Well, that, or a crazy person.)

In many ways, Pau Gasol landed in the perfect spot after he was rescued from the basketball hell-hole that is otherwise known as Memphis last year.

Yes, Pau’s very good, but he may not have the necessary makeup to serve as the type of sidekick Kobe needs to hoist a championship trophy again.

Health permitting (knock on wood!), Bynum will allow Gasol to continue being the multi-talented basketball player that he very much is, while supplying the Lakers with the bad-assness they desperately need down low. Not a bad deal, huh?

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