Is Pau Gasol a better power forward than Tim Duncan?

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Is Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers a better power forward than the Spurs' 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 %
Pau Gasol 18.3 3.7 11.3 3.4 2.2 1.76 53.5% 79%
Tim Duncan 17.9 2.8 10.1 3.2 1.7 1.5 52% 72%

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.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    I remember in the late 90’s I was living in Chicago and Tim was the talk of the league. Everybody in that town would defend MJ non stop.

    It’s kind of the same thing now that Timmy has gotten old. We love Tim and we just don’t want anyone to forget how awesome he was in his prime.

  • B.D.

    2010 Gasol is slightly better than 2010 Duncan. Actually, Gasol’s excellence puts Kobe is perspective. A great big man is always more important than a great wing. Always.

    Anyway, 2010 Gasol is prime Gasol. 2010 Duncan is a declining Duncan. That says a lot about Duncan.

  • Joe

    Except that you completely leave out the fact that Dwyer’s article was about NEXT season, not the season that passed.

    Talking about your reader’s being perspective, perhaps you should look in the mirror.

  • Amused

    Yes, white folks, Gasol is better than Kobe. Can we now move on?

    I don’t get the obsession to make Gasol of preeminent relevance. He is a solid player and one of the top big men in the league. EVERYBODY gets that. Why the ridiculous positing that he is better than a way-over-the-hill Tim Duncan, which curiously is backed by numbers that actually make it debatable?? It’s as if people are trying to convince themselves. Let it go already.

    Gasol is one of the top big men – not the best (D. Howard). It is outrageous to think that a bad game or even series makes him a better or more dependable player than Kobe. I mean..it just discounts so many things as to make the debate nonsensical. How do you think Gasol would hold up as the Laker’s workhorse – managing double teams, starting the offense from the block, taking last second shots, taking key free throws, playing through injury to maintain playoff position, playing extended minutes to get a win – and doing all this all season long? Kobe is in the convo for greatest three players ever for a reason. With all above mentioned (and mangled digits) he still made phenomenal plays all playoffs other than 2 or 3 games. Get off the nonsense and enjoy the game.

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  • http://48minutesofhell.com JLPZ

    Let’s pretend you have the #1 pick in the draft and their’s 2 young players named Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol. Who would you pick? Timmy of course….Pau is ok but is a role player not a leader thats why Memphis was only decent with him as their leader….enuff said!

  • johnblazington

    Its the same situation with kobe and all the youngsters that are trying to pass him up. Duncan in his prime, yeah thats a different story but it is now Gasol in his prime while Duncan is at the tail end of his. As he gets older of course someone is going to pass him. I have watched Duncan his whole career and he has made the Spurs the team to beat for much of his time in the league. He is not the same player now, still great but not the same player. Pau has grown alot since his unguided days in Memphis. As a Laker fan I am proud to see something I thought I would never see and that is Pau getting to Duncan’s level. Hope to see you guys next year in the conf finals. Its never quite the same when you dont have to get by San Antonio to get to the finals. Blair will probably be a monster next year. Dont know anything about Splitter.

    Leave it to a celtic fan to not give credit when its due.

    You look real stupid when you make an idiotic and ignorant comment and follow that up with…enuff said!

  • Manolo Pedralvez

    Let’s see how the next season pans out, but I believe Duncan may still have something in the tank that he isn’t letting us on. Hopeless optimism? Not when you’re referring to San Antonio’s preeminent player.

  • The Augustus

    Doesn’t really matter to me who is considered “better” than the other, especially if we are discussing potential regular season performances. Let’s just see who is holding the trophy in June.

  • cheyenneharty

    Hmm, intersing and well written. But, I wonder about the post defense statistic. If that stat ignores help-defense, then Gasol’s numbers are inflated because he arguably has the best help-defense in the league– due to the Laker’s wealth of top-class bigs. So even though the stat suggests TD is superior to Gasol in post defense, Timmy’s skills may exceed Gasol’s in this department even more than the numbers suggest.

  • oscar

    Gasol > Duncan next season. No-brainer to me.

  • Rick

    Some of you guys are rather close minded. You point out that even at his age Tim had the same stats as Pau in less minutes so clearly he’s better. Come on, the world doesn’t exist in a vacuum. They don’t play on the same team and they don’t have the same teammates and in this discussion that makes all the difference in the world.

    Pau plays with 2 of the top 5 players at their position on his team and has some teammates that that the Spurs just can’t replicate. Let’s talk about Odom ripping 10 boards a game off the bench. Where do those go if not to Lamar? Let’s talk about Kobe dominating posessions, let’s give 5 more shots a game to Pau and assume +4-5 ppg. Bynum, the big up and coming center also has a tendency to benefit from Pau’s passing yet at this point in his career doesn’t return the favor. A bad big man not using possessions for himself or one that passes better and Pau is bolstered again.

    Tim has sick stats, even for his age, because he’s the only one on the team worth anything and Pau has a team full of all stars.

    Watch a game and you’ll see, Pau on the spurs would be an absolute monster. Prob 28/14 with similar if not better tertiary stats.

  • Marcus Swayne

    Lakers all the way dont hate

  • annie

    if Gasol can still be as productive as Duncan has into his 30’s then Gasol can perhaps be considered the best.

    If Gasol wins more titles, than he can be considered
    the best.

    And if he doesn’t which is distinct possibility, then Gasol will be second best.

  • frankie

    Geez – you Spurs fans are sensitive. Duncan has the better career – top 10 to 15 player. Gasol is better now. The big difference is – Gasol is still relevant due to the Lakers, Duncan isn’t.

    Keep dreaming though.

  • tim

    If you look at Duncan’s career, he was the better player, thus winning an MVP. Gasol will probably never match up to Duncan’s career because he isn’t the number 1 guy on his team. But the problem is that he has been the 1 guy in Memphis, but has never took them out of the first round, thus a unsuccessful season. But in the end both are great players, both are smart, and both are great assets for their teams.

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  • crazylakrfan

    OK!OK!OK! Huhh yeah i said it Duncan Clearly #1 any man who could put the moves on the Deisel when he was in his prime gets my vote anyday but right now Gasol will bust that dude up not that Duncan got old Gasol just got better but TD will kill the rest of his apponents come on SPURS lets get back to the top its lonely up here get healthy luckly the MOMBA finger is feeling a lil bit better cuz thats were the 6 ring is going LOVE CALI 3peat

  • go spurs go

    this article is stupid!