The LA Lakers' amazing start to the 2010-2011 NBA season signaled a changing of the guard for the two-time defending champions. This is no longer just Kobe Bryant's team. The Lakers belong to Pau Gasol as much as they do anyone else.
Gasol has long been considered one of the premier frontcourt players in the league. Even so, there are some who believe that his play for the Lakers has gone undervalued by most fans. Opening this season, his easy dominance ensures that will no longer be the case.
In leading LA to a 8-1 start, the nine year veteran has taken his game to another level on each end of the floor. Gasol is averaging 22.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game this season, both of which are career highs. Additionally, he is fifth in the league in PER, posting a stellar number of 26.29.
It is no fluke that Gasol's increased offensive workload has coincided with the Lakers leading the league - by a comfortable margin - in offensive efficiency. Quite simply, LA is best when the ball is in the Spaniard's hands.
Acknowledging that Bryant is no longer LA's clear cut best, or most valuable player, is no slight to the superstar SG. Rather, its a confirmation of Gasol's ascent to the top of the NBA pyramid.
By all accounts, he has been one of the five best players in the league this season. There isn't a big man in the NBA who has been such a force, both scoring and rebounding the basketball, to start the young year.
It is time we start recognizing Gasol for what he is: the best all around post player in the world. In doing so, its vital to give him as much credit for the Lakers' early success as anyone else.
Kobe fans may not like admitting that his significance to LA has been, at least, matched by another player. However, given his early play, it appears even Bryant is willing to share the reigns with Gasol.
Bryant took fewer than 23 shots in the Lakers first seven games, a streak rarely matched throughout his storied career. In fact, he is averaging fewer shot attempts this season than he has since 2004. It is no coincidence then, that Gasol is taking more shots than he ever has as a Laker.
Gasol and Bryant becoming a true tandem is in the best interest of the Lakers. It saves wear and tear on the latter's achy body, and gives the team a more balanced offensive attack. Additionally, preparing for a Los Angeles team with two primary scorers, rather than one dominant force, is tougher for the opposition.
If Gasol's dominance continues throughout the season, Los Angeles will be the best its been since 2002, when the combination of Bryant and the league's best post player— Shaquille O'Neal—finished off a three-peat.
Behind Gasol's increased role, there's no reason the Lakers' new 1-2 punch can't do the same.