The Los Angeles Lakers have started the 2010-11 season with an impressive 7-0 record, and forward Pau Gasol's play has to be one of the major reasons the team's quest for a third straight championship has begun so well.
This is not the first time that honor has been bestowed upon Gasol, as there is a contingent of people who feel Gasol is directly responsible for the Lakers' recent string of success, but this may be the first time that Gasol's numbers actually support that claim.
Gasol is the Lakers leading scorer at 24.1 points per game, the second leading rebounder at 10.9 rebounds per game, he shoots 54 percent from the field, and more importantly, Gasol leads the team in assists at 5.0 per game.
It's pretty impressive when your most dominant interior presence is also your best playmaker, and although Gasol's numbers make a very strong case in his favor, there are a number of other factors that must be considered.
The first is Bryant's knee injury and the manner in which he has looked to start this season as a facilitator as opposed to the Lakers' primary scoring threat.
Gasol not only leads the Lakers in scoring, but he has attempted more shots from the field than anyone else, which is evidence that Bryant is comfortable in his role as the second leading man, at least for now.
Also, the absence of injured center Andrew Bynum has played a major role in Gasol's early season dominance, because the versatility of forward Lamar Odom gives coach Phil Jackson more options in the post.
Odom's ability to slide to the perimeter often creates more space for Gasol to operate in the post, and it doesn't hurt that Odom has had the most efficient start to a season in his Lakers career.
Odom is the Lakers' leading rebounder, he shoots better than 60 percent from the field and has been the Lakers' best three point shooter so far this season.
The chemistry between Odom and Gasol is nearly perfect, and the fact that both players are comfortable playing away from the basket makes opposing defenses work harder, since it's impossible to use a stationary defender against either player.
All of these factors have contributed heavily to Gasol and the Lakers quick early start, but do his performances mean that he has surpassed Bryant as Los Angeles' top player?
Maybe for now, but I wouldn't count on that lasting for the entire season.
Bryant has finally grown comfortable trusting in his teammates and that trait has been on display so far this season, but who really believes that Bryant would not once again snatch control if the circumstances dictated it?
Bryant realizes the level of depth, talent and experience that surrounds him, and to be honest, it's not really necessary for him to be as assertive at this point in the season.
But Bryant has won the past two NBA Finals' MVP awards for a reason, and it extends beyond the numbers he has put up on the court.
Bryant's passion, drive and determination are factors that can't be measured by statistics, and regardless of how much talent Gasol possesses, those are areas where he will never equal Bryant.
Gasol has always been a great player but he was never recognized as an elite player until he was paired with another one.
Gasol can credit Bryant's criticism, advice and constant badgering for helping to elevate his game to another level, because in truth, Gasol had never before played with this type of aggressiveness or focus.
Or leadership for that matter—and that may be the main reason why Bryant is still the leading man in Hollywood.
Gasol has led the Lakers in most statistical categories so far this season, but it's still Bryant that everyone looks to for leadership, and when the games really start to matter, that quality will once again manifest itself.