Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pau Gasol the NBA's Newest Secondary Superstar

It has been said that he has the physical characteristics of an ostrich.

After last seasons NBA Finals, Jemele Hill called him Pau Ga-soft.

But I believe Jeff Van Gundy defined him most justly.

He's the NBA's best second best player.

As the Lakers prepare to embark on another run at the championship, let's take a timeout to honor the game's latest, greatest supporting player.

The Lakers are 86-21 with Gasol in the lineup over the past two seasons. The Spaniard has found his ultimate niche in Los Angeles - the steady seven footer, Mr. Consistency, with the all-around game, Mr. 19/10/4 on 57 percent shooting, serving as the Pinky to Kobe Bryant's Brain.

Last year, it was his arrival from Memphis that saved L.A.'s season after the season-ending knee injury to center Andrew Bynum - Gasol's skill level and basketball intellect making him a perfect big man for the triangle offense, which he picked up on the fly.

This season, Bynum went down again, to another knee injury - but once again the Lakers didn't miss a beat, thanks in no small part to Gasol, who moved back to center and upped his workload, even after playing into June last season, then leading Spain to the gold medal game at the Olympics in the summer.

Doug Collins once proposed the idea that Gasol was the most skilled big man in the game, and he very well may be. He is an excellent passer. He is an excellent shooter. He is a nightmare both facing up and with his back to the basket, where he uses craft and finesse to dominate stronger, more physical defenders. He has terrific hands and great touch around the hoop, where he can finish equally well with either hand.

But he's also toughened up. Gasol still isn't going to out-muscle anyone, and he does still fall down often - almost like a stage actress fainting during a play - but he does seem a bit more willing to pound bodies in his back-up. The dude had his manhood questioned after last June's debacle, and like the rest of his teammates, he will no longer be pushed around.

And if the Lakers manage a championship or two or three out of this bunch, the name Pau Gasol will join a list of great players who were not the best players on their teams. Before Gasol, there was Scottie Pippen, the greatest supporting actor of them all (Kobe doesn't count; he and Shaq were really more like two Brando's sharing the same movie). Before Pippen, there was James Worthy and Kevin McHale. There is nothing wrong with being mentioned with any of these men. It is an honor.

As was proved in Memphis, you can only go so far with Gasol as the best player on your roster - the Grizzlies were swept out of the playoffs three straight years in their only playoff appearances with Gasol as their franchise player (and the only three playoff appearances in team history).

But put him on a squad with Kobe Bryant, and suddenly, you are in serious business.

Throw in a Lamar Odom, and you are going to contend for the title.

Throw in a healthy Andrew Bynum, and there is no reason for the Lakers not to win the whole damn 'ship.

If and when it happens, Gasol will no doubt have played a monumental part, and if they can duplicate such success in coming years, he can start thinking about a legacy.

But first, we must hand out some awards:

M.V.P - LeBron James, Cavaliers. Duh.

D.P.O.Y. - Dwight Howard, Magic. I actually think LeBron is the best defensive player in the league - but to me, a great interior defender is always more valuable than a great perimeter one. So Howard, who leads the league in blocks and rebounds, gets the nod.

R.O.Y. - Derrick Rose, Bulls. Duh, again. Although there are several future All-Stars that will come from this rookie class.

Sixth Man - Jason Terry, Mavericks. I believe it is Kenny Smith who says the award should not go to someone who could actually start for his team. Jeff Van Gundy has expressed similar sentiments. Whatever. Terry gets 20 a game off the pine for a playoff-bound Dallas team. 'Nuff said.

Most Improved Player - Danny Granger, Pacers. Went from a very good young player to one of the five best small forwards in the league. Devin Harris a close second.

Coach of the Year - Mike Brown, Cavaliers. Opened up the offense, accepted the Phil Jackson doctrine of never panicking, and allowing the players to play through rough patches, rather than bail them out with timeouts. Before, the Cavs pretty much won solely because they had LeBron, and almost in spite of Brown. This year, Brown has hit his stride.

All-NBA first-team

G Chris Paul, Hornets/Dwyane Wade, Heat
G Kobe Bryant, Lakers
F LeBron James, Cavaliers
F Tim Duncan, Spurs
C Dwight Howard, Magic

All-NBA second-team

G Chauncey Billups, Nuggets
G Brandon Roy, Blazers
F Paul Pierce, Celtics
F Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
C Yao Ming, Rockets

All-NBA third-team

G Tony Parker, Spurs
G Deron Williams, Jazz
F Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
F Kevin Garnett, Celtics
C Pau Gasol, Lakers

All-NBA Defense first-team

G Dwyane Wade, Heat
G Kobe Bryant, Lakers
F LeBron James, Cavaliers
F Shane Battier, Rockets
C Dwight Howard, Magic

All-NBA Defense second-team

G Chris Paul, Hornets
G Rajon Rondo, Celtics
F Kevin Garnett, Celtics
F Tim Duncan, Spurs
C Kendrick Perkins, Celtics

All-rookie first team

Derrick Rose, Bulls
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Kevin Love, T'wolves
Brook Lopez, Nets

All-Rookie second-team

D.J. Augustin, Bobcats
Eric Gordon, Clippers
Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
Michael Beasley, Heat
Marc Gasol, Grizzlies


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