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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pau Gasol: The Key to Lakers' Dominance

There is no doubt that having Kobe Bryant in their lineup makes the LA Lakers a great team. However, Bryant alone can't make this team win a championship. One great player can't beat five opposing players, even with lesser talents playing on the same court for 48 minutes.

Even the great Michael Jordan couldn’t have won a championship without another great player—Scottie Pippen.

Let's look at the great NBA duos (or trios for the Spurs and Celtics and a quintet for the Pistons) in the past two decades.

Jordan had Pippen in Chicago. They made the Bulls the most dominant team in the '90s and had six championship rings together.

David Robinson had Tim Duncan earlier, and Duncan had Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker later in San Antonio. They made the Spurs one of the best teams of the 2000s by winning four championships between them.

Shaq had Kobe in the previous edition of the LA Lakers, and they made the Lakers the most dominant team early in this decade by winning three consecutive titles.

Chauncey Billups had four other very good Pistons players in Detroit, and they won a championship together.

Dwyane Wade had Shaq for one championship ring, beating a good Dallas Mavericks team featuring just one MVP player, Dirk Nowitzki.

Last year, Paul Pierce had Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The "Big Three" won the championship last season beating a Lakers team with one great player and another All-Star material who played very well in sweeping through the Western Conference playoffs but seemed to get "lost in Spanish translation" in the NBA Finals.

And Kobe? He had Caron Butler in 2004 and they failed to make it to the playoffs.

He had Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, Kwame Brown, and young Andrew Bynum. They made the playoffs but lost in the first round for two years.

Last year, he had Pau Gasol for half of the season. Immediately, the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, they lost to Boston's "Big Three."

Now that Gasol is playing a full season with the Lakers, the team is expected to achieve what it failed to accomplish last season—win that elusive NBA title!

But they can't do that while Gasol is playing as just a sidekick or an afterthought to Kobe. He has to dominate the same way, or at least close to the way, Kobe is dominating in his position.

Gasol is a very good player, especially now that he's playing mostly at forward position in a very balanced Lakers team. But he doesn't always play aggressively.

This season, Gasol averages 17.8 points on 55.4 percent shooting, 9.4 rebounds, and 12.1 field goal attempts per game. For comparative purposes, Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs averages 20.4 points on 51.6 percent shooting, 10.1 rebounds, and 15.5 field goal attempts.

Duncan is attempting more shots despite having two other stars in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. In San Antonio, you wouldn't know which of their three stars is the first, second, or third option on offense. All of them are good, reliable, and aggressive.

Of course, the Lakers have more wins than the Spurs. But can they win important games against championship caliber teams while Gasol is playing just a "second option" to Bryant? Their records show they can't!

To be a championship caliber team, the Lakers need more offensive contribution from Gasol. He shouldn't always defer to Kobe, especially in close games. Their recent victory against Golden State showed how Gasol can be dominating if he stays aggressive, especially when closing out games.

He needs to be as aggressive as Duncan and take more than 15 attempts per game. The Lakers haven't lost a game this season with Gasol taking more than 15 shot attempts.

In their six losses this season, Gasol took less shots (10.8 on average) than his tally this season while Bryant is taking the slack by shooting five more shots (25.5 per game) than his average (20.1) this season.

This is not indicative of "Bryant shooting too much to the detriment of his team." In fact, he scored more than his average (32.2 in losses vs. 27.0 average this season) in the Lakers' six losses while Gasol scored less in losses (15.7 average) than in wins (18.3).

Can you blame Bryant for scoring 39 points on 14-22 field goal shooting while Gasol only had 10 points on 3-8 shooting in their last loss against a New Orleans team that featured a shorter frontcourt?

Clearly, it's Pau Gasol that needs to be more consistent to provide the Lakers the "one-two punch combination" that Shaquille O'Neil was so proud of during his three-peat with Bryant. It was Shaq looking at Kobe as the "two" in his boxing analogy and claiming the Lakers to be "his team" that ended their run.

The Lakers are already dominant with Kobe Bryant, probably the best player of this generation. But it takes more than one great player to make a championship team.

If you still don't believe that, ask LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, who both went to the NBA Finals but lost to better teams featuring more than one great player.

Miami's one-two punch of Wade and O'Neal vs. Nowitzki's Mavericks in 2006 NBA Finals...

And San Antonio's big three of Duncan-Parker-Ginobili vs. James' Cavaliers in 2007...

It both instances, one is less than two or three...

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