Kobe Bryant Not Los Angeles Lakers MVP: Pau Gasol Now Center of Value in LA

Justin EisenbandCorrespondent INovember 23, 2010

SACRAMENTO, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Kobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers walk off the court for halftime after the Lakers made a last second shot against the Sacramento Kings at ARCO Arena on November 3, 2010 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors, Pau Gasol was perfect. He shot 10-of-10 from the field and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.

Gasol also added nine rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots while turning the ball over just once. If you want to really go into details of the perfect performance, he didn't even commit a single personal foul.

Pau Gasol is the most valuable player that the Los Angeles Lakers have this season.

Part of this can be attributed to a slight decline in the play of Kobe Bryant, but most of it relates to Pau Gasol having a career season. Gasol is averaging a career-high 22.8 points per game, and his field goal and free throw percentages are at career highs in his 11th season.

It's not just his shooting and scoring efficiency that has improved; Gasol has improved across the board in every facet of his game. Aside from just averaging a double-double for the second consecutive year, Gasol has improved his statistics in rebounding, assists and turnovers.

One reason Gasol is able to produce such statistically significant numbers is because he is able to stay on the court. Throughout his career, he has been able to average just 2.4 personal fouls per game. Consequently, without being sent to the bench early for foul trouble, Gasol is able to remain on the court and rack up the stats.

Looking at Gasol's ability to stay out of foul trouble compared to Dwight Howard demonstrates how underrated the category of personal fouls can be in evaluating statistics. Howard has averaged 3.9 personal fouls per game this season. As a result, he is playing almost five fewer minutes per game than Gasol, and thus his relative statistics have suffered.

But this is not about Pau Gasol versus other top centers in the league. Pau Gasol is by no means the most valuable player in the NBA, although his numbers so far do deserve some consideration.

This is about how Pau Gasol is the most valuable player that the Los Angeles Lakers have. Of course, the implication here is that Kobe Bryant is no longer the centerpiece of the organization.

At 32 years old, Kobe Bryant is around the age where an NBA player traditionally begins to decline. Certainly, the Black Mamba has not seen any kind of extreme or even conspicuous deterioration; however, looking closely, Bryant may not be the same player he has been over the last few seasons.

Bryant is averaging his fewest amount of points since the 2003-2004 season. His blocks, steals, assists and field goal percentage have all experienced real declines this year. Perhaps the most important decline statistically is Bryant's minutes, which have dropped more than six minutes per game.

Even in the playoffs last year, one could see how Bryant was not always the best player on the floor for the Lakers. Game 7 against the Celtics is proof of that.

Bryant is still one of the best players in the NBA. Whether he is the best player on his own team though right now must be questioned.