Its no secret that Bryant has aged. He’s no longer the most frequent or creative dunker in the league or even his own team thanks to Shannon Brown.
He doesn’t have the stamina he used to and is far more reliant on his jumpshot and the occasional post up than he is on his ability to drive off the dribble.
Bryant will undoubtedly go down amongst the greatest to ever play the game and with the accomplishments he’s earned during his time in the league, he should be considered no less than a top 10 all-timer, but what many don’t realize is that those facts don’t take away from the fact that age has diminished overall game a bit.
Gasol on the other hand has jumped leaps and bounds since his arrival in Los Angeles.
To say that Gasol went from being pushed around in the 2008 Finals to holding his own against league’s elite is a trite understatement that doesn’t fully detail the transformation we’ve seen in him.
It's true that Gasol is meaner, more aggressive and tougher, but he’s also more skilled.
While pure size and strength plays a key part in securing rebounds, so does aggressiveness, timing and maneuvering.
Gasol’s increased comfort in the post, banging with other bigs and his increased effort on the boards has enabled him to increase his rebound average every year since he’s been with the purple and gold.
He averaged roughly eight boards a game during his first semi-season with the Lakers in 2008 (he arrived in February), 9.6 boards in 2009, 11.3 in 2010 and a career high 12.3 rebounds in this season so far.
Yes, Gasol’s stats will suffer with the return of Andrew Bynum, but the fact of the matter is that Gasol is the Lakers’ most consistently efficient offensive weapon and their most dependable post option in light of the wavering health of Andrew Bynum.
Having said all this, the Lakers are still Kobe Bryant’s team.
They just are. If for no other reason than seniority with the team and name recognition, this will always be Bryant’s team.
Bryant is still the team’s best option in the clutch, where Gasol has shown difficulty producing in the past, particularly at the free-throw line.
Bryant is still the heart and soul of the Lakers as a whole and a barometer for the team’s success.
But although this is Bryant’s team, Gasol is his copilot. He may not carry the same weight in the locker room, but should the Lakers capture a third straight championship, Gasol will be right at the center of it all, alongside Bryant.
Don’t be surprised if Gasol winds up snatching the Finals MVP away from Bryant this year though…