Is Pau Gasol the Best Power Forward in the Game Today?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury what we will attempt to discover here today is a question that has been debated on bar stools and around water coolers since the beginning of sport, who is the greatest?  Over the years the burden of the greatest has shifted from one man to another throughout the sports world, some even making their names by declaring, without hesitation, that it is indeed they who hold that mantle.  Many candidates exist but only a few of them are able to logically be considered in contention for the top spot, and differences in sports and eras only further complicate the situation.  Therefore we will take a very narrow approach to this latest edition of Who’s on Top and look at one position in one sport and go from there.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if you will, follow me down a road of championships and post up baby hooks as we attempt to decide once more, who is the best power forward currently playing in the National Basketball Association.

What we first must decide is what qualifications an individual must have to be considered the best.  Is it statistics, leadership, championships, or a combination of all the above and possibly even more?  The basis of the argument must begin at statistics, because ladies and gentlemen, we all know that numbers do not lie.  I follow in the footsteps of others who also searched for this answer, one in particular is ESPN numbers geek John Hollinger.  Hollinger considers Dallas star Dirk

Is Duncan number one?
Is Duncan number one?

Nowitzki the most efficient power forward of the league according to his statistics.  However, Hollinger doesn’t even have San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan on his list since according to Hollinger, Duncan is a center.  What Hollinger fails to mention is that as a power forward Duncan has won four NBA Titles, winning the Finals MVP in three out of four, and twice winning the NBA MVP for the regular season.  Second on Hollinger’s list is Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol whom he has slightly ahead of Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors.  Now does this mean that Nowitzki, Gasol, and Bosh are the top three power forwards in the league?  Not likely.

Let us now step beyond the overwhelming realm of numbers and mathematics and look into something that statistics alone cannot measure, and that is that certain something that there is no statistic for, however we all know what it is.  Some call it desire, others call it instinct or will, but whatever it is, it’s important.  The unmeasured ability that results in championship rings and turns average role players into All-Stars is something few players possess, and something that truly determines greatness.

When people try to determine the best of one position ultimately the battle comes down to one thing and one thing only, rings.  The ability to win a title is what separates the great from the legendary.  When it comes down to it most sports fans follow a team, as opposed to an individual player.  This means that they cherish team accomplishments much more than individual accolades.  A perfect example of this is NBA guard Kobe Bryant and what he went through after the departure of Shaquille O’Neal in 2004.  Bryant broke all kinds of scoring records and put up video game like numbers for three seasons but barely kept his team above water, averaging just under forty wins a season and never out of the first round of the postseason.  The ability to win is something that numbers never measure, but coaches and fans do.  It is this reason alone that players such as Bosh, Nowitzki, and Amare Stoudemire can be immediately eliminated from this competition.  Ultimately in the discussion of the best power forward in the league today there are really only three men that have a chance, Tim Duncan of the Spurs, Pau Gasol of Los Angeles, and the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett.

So since we have looked into numbers and intangibles what else is there to separate the final three men and choose one? All three have been to the top, all three have put up impressive numbers, and most importantly all three are essential to their teams.  So how do we decide between three great candidates? Easy, we eliminate one.  Sorry Lakers fans but Gasol is a very distant third place in this race.  Even if we were speaking of today and not mentioning the past Gasol would still finish behind

Gasol is good, but not the best
Gasol is good, but not the best

Garnett and Duncan.  Consider this, while Gasol is a great compliment to the Lakers team, they certainly would not have been NBA Champions without him, he was only an above average player before coming to Los Angeles.  We must also not forget that he plays with that guy Bryant who isn’t exactly detrimental to the team.  However Gasol still put up very impressive numbers, 18.9 PPG while pulling in 9.6 rebounds en route to 67 wins for the Lakers.  There is no denying that Gasol has developed into a great player in the league and is able to be mentioned among the stars, but he is still a distant third to the two who are truly in a league of their own.

So ladies and gentlemen we come to it at last, the final decision and the ultimate declaration of who is the best is finally here.  We have two men left who easily stand above the rest of the league, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.  Now although Garnett spent the end of the 2009 season injured and Duncan couldn’t lead the Spurs out of the first round these two men are still the best, and while both are future Hall of Famers choosing between them is about as easy as a Jordan Crawford slam over LeBron James (sorry King but sometimes I simply cannot help myself).  The winner ladies and gentlemen, with no doubt in a thinking mans mind, is Duncan.  Duncan averaged 19 and 10 whereas Garnett put up 15 and 8 this past season.  Duncan also has the all important tradition of winning on his side. In pure, raw talent Garnett runs away with this contest but that is why statistics and physical tenacity alone do not determine greatness.  Duncan has won three more rings than Garnett, four total, and the Boston team that Garnett won with in 2008 was about as loaded as a Dick Cheney rifle. Also remember that SG Paul Pierce won the Finals MVP trophy in 08 and Ray Allen was arguably more damaging to the Lakers than Garnett was in the series.  When Duncan wins he does it like a surgeon from Nip/Tuck,  meticulous and precise, while taking a knife and beautifully sculpting a set of moves and skills unlike any other power forward we have ever seen before.  Some call him plain, he is even referred to as boring, but the wise men and women around the league know him as something else, the best.

So ladies and gentlemen we have reached our verdict.  While not everyone will agree with what has been decided here today there is something we can all revel in, and that is that tomorrow we can have the same discussion again and come back with a completely different answer.  For in the realm of personal interpretation there is never a right and wrong, which is what makes it so damn fun.

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