Is Pau Gasol a better power forward than Tim Duncan?
On Wednesday, Kelly Dwyer of the Yahoo! Ball Don’t Lie blog posted his list of the Top 30 power forwards in the NBA. The pride and joy of St. Croix, Tim Duncan, finished second on the list.
Who was number one? If you couldn’t tell by the photo and headline (I hope you readers are more perceptive than that), it’s Pau Gasol.
At first glance, the claim in scandalous. Pau Gasol, that skinny Spaniard who couldn’t win a playoff game in Memphis? He’s a better power forward right now than the greatest power forward of all-time?
Dwyer explains his choice of Pau Gasol:
Big men don’t get more versatile than this guy. He’s bad at absolutely nothing, and top gear in just about everything. Scores with either hand on either block. Dominates from the high post. Nails cutters, sets screens and finishes off the good or bad pass. He can play defense now, he’s worked his way into becoming a fierce rebounder and his brain is bigger than our brains are.
Even with Tim Duncan’s history, his smarts, his ability and his formidable all-around play, there isn’t a power forward in this league that I think can help me win more than Pau Gasol. He just does things too excellently too often to overlook.
I won’t argue one bit with KD’s assessment of Gasol’s skills. There are few players at any position who are as skilled as the Lakers’ big man. Where Pau has faced criticism in the past is the part of the game where Duncan excels, the mental aspect. Critics labeled Gasol as soft in the past and knocked his inability to win as “the man.”
Duncan, on the other hand, has been Teflon when it comes to similar accusations. The most adversity he’s faced on that front was in the 2005 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons, when the media accused the Spurs big man of choking because he missed six free throws late in Game 5 and the game-winning tip-in. (Side rant: Was this really a story, or did PTI just need to fill two minutes of airtime that June? I know a lot of people found that series boring, but damn.)
Some folks might look to accuse Pau Gasol of being the number two option on the Lakers behind Kobe Bryant, claiming he can’t be the best power forward in the league if he’s not the best player on his team. For that, I have two responses. First, watch the Finals again and tell me who the best player was. Second, the same argument could be said about Tim Duncan. When the Spurs were turning it around last year and peaking in March and April, who was the best player on the team?
KD doesn’t get into the numbers when separating the top two in his list, so that’s exactly what I’ll do. Here’s a look at both players’ season averages:
|Player||PPG||OREB||REB||Assists||Turnovers||Blocks||FG %||FT %|
So according to the box score, Gasol has the slight edge. But let’s dig a little deeper. According to Synergy Sports, Pau Gasol had 1550 possessions last season that ended in with Gasol getting fouled, or a shot or turnover from him. Of those 1550 possessions, Gasol scored 1.04 points per possession. On the flip side, Duncan had 1563 possessions of the same sort and scored 1 PPP.
In the post, Gasol ended 621 possessions and scored .99 PPP on 48% shooting from the field. Duncan scored 1 PPP and shot 49.5% in 669 tries. How about spotting up outside the lane? Gasol scored 41.3% of the time in 126 possessions. His counter, Duncan, had a 41.2% scoring percentage in 114 possessions.
Defensively, the numbers are just as tight. Overall, Gasol allowed .88 PPP in 792 possessions where he defended the player who took the shot, was fouled or turned the ball over. Tim Duncan conceded .86 PPP in 648 opportunities.
When isolated against, Gasol was scored on 41.6% of the time. Duncan? 41.7%.
Post defense was the one major area where there was a significant advantage one way or the other. Pau Gasol gave up .92 PPP when defending the post. Duncan on the other hand allowed just .79 PPP.
Upon first impression, you don’t think the two players are that similar. But when you look close, it’s tough to call. Gasol’s box score is slightly better while Duncan may have the edge in specific situations.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter. What it all comes down to is this: Pau Gasol has been in the last three NBA Finals series, and won the last two. So yeah, Gasol is the better power forward right now. And I’m sure Tim Duncan would be the first to tell you the same.