The view from the top is a little weird. Recall the last time you were amidst a bunch of kindergarten kids and you’ll know what it feels like to be these two. Life looks different when you look at it from seven feet high. You have to duck to get into doors, curl your legs up when you sleep in small beds with your tiny teddy bear. They don’t even make a teddy your size. Everyone looks like midget teddy bears to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
Both are seven feet tall. Seven years Pau Gasol spent with the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded to the LA Lakers. Seven years Dwight Howard spent with the Orlando Magic before being traded to the LA Lakers. Seven is the number which comes after six, which is the number of championships Kobe must win to equal Jordan. Yeah I ran out of seven analogies here. Not as badly as Dwight Howard ran out of the Orlando Magic though. But both these big men have had it rough. It’s like these two have followed a parallel path of purgatory to meet each other in the city of Angels. And it’s a pairing made in heaven.
When we talk about one-two punches in basketball its usually a inside outside combo like Kobe and Shaq. Sometimes it’s something akin to Jordan and Pippen or James and Wade, a perimeter duo. Rarely are both pillars of deadly duos a combination of center and power forward. Understandably so, since it’s manna from heaven if you can hold on to even one franchise big man. In any given year, there are only about a dozen such elite big men in the entire league. So pairings of such deadly duos are rare.
Oden and Aldrige may have developed into a beautiful pair were it not for a feeble pair of legs under the former. Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler might sneak in but Chandler being as good as he is, isn’t necessarily a hall of fame baller. We had Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer back in the days. Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were another great pair. Most recently it has been David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the twin towers.
Those are perhaps the only pairs who can come into the discussion for the best frontcourt pairing. But what we are looking at with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, can put every other big man pairing to fade.
PF- Pau Gasol
Over a decade ago in 2001 a lanky seven footer from Spain ambled over to make his claim in the NBA draft. Pau Gasol was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks who traded his rights away to the Memphis Grizzlies. A 21 year old coming to a foreign country is expected to be wet behind the ears but this man had already led Barcelona to win the Spanish National Cup, and he was the MVP of that contest. He continued to mark his presence with the Grizzlies, winning the Rookie of the Year award. While the Grizzlies’s success didn’t mirror this individual’s to that extent, Gasol continued to grow and establish himself as one of the best 4s in the league.
When Pau Gasol was brought in to the Lakers in 2008, it was a trade which was lambasted as one of the most lopsided ones n NBA history, but has turned out to be a lot more equal since with the emergence of Marc Gasol. But Marc’s more physical style of play has only served to label Pau’s more polished game as soft.
Marshmellow. Soft. Euro style of play. Averse to rebounds. Those are the snide remarks Pau has to hear. And then he has to go and put up with Kobe on a nightly basis.
The big Spaniard has had it rough even with the Lakers. Being the man in Memphis and with Spain and then having to put up with Kobe putting up fadeaways left right and center takes a huge adjustment. He was the major reason why the Lakers won two titles. And yet the accolades went Kobe’s way. And two seasons ago when the Lakers imploded unceremoniously against the Mavericks, Kobe himself called out Pau Gasol for his lack of aggressiveness. This postseason, Bryant called out Gasol for passing up an open shot and forcing a pass which was stolen, and that cost the Lakers a pivotal possession and perhaps the game vs the OKC Thunder.
And look at #24 himself. Last season Kobe Bryant averaged 23 shot attempts per game. All I could think of when I saw that was:
If you have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the post why do you need to shoot, shoot, and shoot all over the place? The Lakers had one of the best, if not the best front courts in the league and they were woefully underutilized last year. This time around expect that to change with Steven Nash’s influence.
Now Gasol and Kobe are on the same page. At the Olympics Kobe said that “As long as I am a Laker, Gasol is not going anywhere.” Stars being on the same wavelength is the most important factor in winning a championship. And Pau is a superstar in his own right.
Now meet the other half of the duo.
C- Dwight Howard
If you look up Dwight Howard’s Wikipedia page, it’ll show you that his career with the Orlando Magic is divided into three parts:
2004-2007: Early Years
2007-2010: Leader of consecutive division champions
You read that correct. Even a page as objective as Wikipedia lists Howard’s last two years with the Orlando Magic as under ‘Frustration’.
The Howard to Lakers deal was in the works for a long while, but it almost got scrapped when Bryant and Howard had a conversation over the phone and Howard put it across that he envisions himself as a very integral part of the Laker’s offense, but Bryant reiterated that Howard would come in below the pecking order, after Kobe and Gasol. Howard took exception to that. But again, now both are on the same page.
The major difference between Bynum and Howard’s game is their defense. On the offensive end both of them average similar numbers, although with a very different style of play.
Andrew Bynum was no different in this regard, demanding a more active role in the offense. Where the two are different is that Howard doesn’t need to post up and take up the clock as much as Bynum does, Howard just gets his easier through cuts and by living above the rim.
The more crucial reason why Howard will be a better fit with the Lakers is that he can contribute more on the defensive end. Superstars want nothing more than to win. Regardless of the all star appearances, individual accolades and such, once these honours are earned the stars realize that their legacies won’t really mean much without a championship. Their main priority becomes to just win.
Then why do these players gripe about playing time and touches on offense? Because they have a deep belief that their chances of winning are best if they can contribute towards it. They look at their team and see a niche which they are best suite to fill.
A superstar gripes about a reduced role because he feels that he can help his team win best by doing something about it. Bynum wanted more touches on offense because he wanted to contribute. But Dwight Howard can contribute more on defense than on offense. He’s a jumping jack of a juggernaut on defense. The best in the league at rebounding, shot blocking and interior defense.
Even if Dwight Howard doesn’t get the number of touches he wants on offense, he will still be content because he will be making a contribution on the defensive end of the floor. Something Andrew Bynum was never capable of doing to the extent that Howard can.
Dwight has an engaging persona. He likes to keep it light off the court. But unfortunately that gives him a rep on the court for being more interested in fooling around than in being focused on winning.
If there’s one player on the NBA who can dispel that notion and make Howard more grim, it’s Kobe Bryant. His relentless intensity and borderline psychotic competitiveness forces his teammates to fall in line and it will be no different with Dwight Howard. Expect Garnett to be met by a blank stare when he tries to hackle Howard, that’s what Kobe’s burning obsession can reduce a kidder to.
Reasons why Gasol and Howard mesh like a dream
Having two elite big men can pose problems of sharing the rock and of spacing down in the paint. Bigger men require more space to operate. And there’s the 3 second rule to boot, to boot biggies out of the lane. But these two big men complement each other’s style of play with perfection.
Pau Gasol is one of the best players at his position in the NBA. He is the most versatile power forward in the league today. Dirk Nowitzki is right up there too, but in terms of the variety of things he can do and the different ways he can have an impact on the game, Gasol stands alone at the four spot. His post game doesn’t demand him to clog the paint like Howard’s does.
Dwight Howard is a post-up center, doing so 57.4 percent of the time last season. And he does a great job in those situations. Dwight prefers to get it down low to operate and to get his off rolls to the rim. Pau Gasol, last season, when cutting off of a teammate’s post-up possession, shot 63.6 percent. When spotting up off of a teammate’s post-up possession, he shot 58.8 percent. Those numbers alone make a Hoopanalytic salivate and rush to get in in your fantasy team. Taken in conjunction with Howard’s numbers and preferences, it’s a dream matchup. Howard led the league in points scored on rolls to the rim. He shot a whooping 73.6% while scoring 1.384 points per possession. And now he will be playing with a big man’s pick and roll dream point guard in Steve Nash.
Howard is scary effective down low and Gasol is an assassin from mid-range. According to Hoopdata, Gasol shot 46.4 percent between three and nine feet and 43.4 percent between 10 and 15 feet last season. Unlike having a three point shooting PF to complement Howard, Gasol will keep defenses honest and get his with ease. And he averages 3.2 assists per game. Imagine the lobs being exchanged between the two bigs!
Right now, they have a chance to obliterate the opposition completely provided both can stay healthy and Kobe and Nash can stave off old age, because the backcourt fuels the frontcourt. For this season at least when Dwight returns from rehab, for one season we may get to see the best frontcourt this league has ever seen in the Los Angles Lakers.