Over the weekend, I sat in on a debate about whether the Los Angeles Lakers had the the best power forward and center combination in the history of the NBA. While I normally laugh at such knee-jerk debates off, I had to take a minute and truly consider the idea. After lengthy consideration, I determined the idea (while based upon a total hypothetical discussion) isn’t so crazy of a debate.
Some of the older names thrown out were Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld (Washington Bullets), Tom Heinsohn and Bill Russell (Boston Celtics), or Luke Jackson and Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia 76ers). Not, in any way, do I intend to minimize the accomplishments of each of those fantastic duos, but for the sake of this article, I will stick to the 1979-80 season and on. For those wondering, most people consider that the start of the ‘modern era’ of NBA basketball, with the addition of the 3-point line.
In my humble opinion, the debate comes down to David Robinson and Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) or Robert Parish and Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics). Honorable mention to Rodman/Laimbeer(Detroit Pistons) and Olajuwon/Sampson (Houston Rockets). Championships, versatility, and overall impact upon the league were all taken into consideration. Success means a great deal, but can’t be the only criterion. Duncan and Robinson were truly the perfect fit in the front court.
Robinson was an established center with a face-up game better than many of today’s current guards. Duncan, upon entering the league out of Wake Forest University literally had it all. From post-moves galore to a turnaround or face-up bank-shot that prompted Shaquille O’Neal (a Laker at the time) to grant Duncan the nickname of ‘ The Big Fundamental’.
Duncan was and has been the prototypical power forward most future players at the position will at the very least be compared to. Full disclosure, I believe the 1980’s were the absolute pinnacle of NBA competition. That said, the fact that Robert Parish and Kevin McHale are both in the Basketball Hall of Fame, won 3 championships together, and were in their relative prime at the same time, they would be my choice for best duo in the front court (power positions) for the modern era.
Of course, we haven’t seen Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard play a single minute together, but I believe their numbers could be comparable to some of the more effective power-duos in recent history. While Gasol may not be in his absolute prime, he is still very close to it. Circumstances (Bynum’s emergence, lack of a viable point guard) limited his game last season. Much like Duncan, if featured at either position, Gasol can wreak havoc.
With the best footwork of any current big man, Gasol can also finish with either hand within 8-10 feet of the basket. With the addition of Nash, and the introduction of the Princeton offense during certain offensive sets, Gasol should be utilized in a much more effective and efficient way during the 2012-13 NBA season.
Dwight Howard is on another level, altogether. It isn’t often that the best or most dominant big man in the league gets traded or moved, but (to the dismay of non-Laker fans) it most often results in the Lakers benefiting from the transaction. Question his skill-set or free throw shooting all you’d like, fact is, Howard has been an extremely effective offensive weapon throughout his career, and has not even been playing with players anywhere near the level of Gasol, Bryant, or Nash. Not to disparage Howard’s former teammates, but if Hedo Turkoglu is in contention for the best player you’ve ever played with, then simply playing in the Finals should negate any criticism against Howard. Thing is, while highly effective on the pick-and-roll, Howard’s greatest contributions come on the other side of the ball. Quite frankly, Howard is one of the most dominant defensive players the NBA has ever seen.
The combination of Gasol and Howard, if permitted to play together for a few seasons, could be absolutely devastating. If Laker fans, enjoyed watching the Gasol-to-Bynum lobs and teamwork, then Howard/Gasol will be must-see-TV. Howard’s ability to hop in and out of the lane, vacate space quicker, and pass out of the double-team with regularity should be serious difference makers. Howard’s ability to actually defend and pressure the pick and roll could be the difference between an early exit, and an eventual shot at the title. Prior to ever seeing them play a minute of shared action on the court, I will refrain from making any bold predictions. I will say, if this Lakers roster can remain relatively healthy, I do believe we will witness one of the best power forward and center combinations of the era.