Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant has had the type of career that almost guarantees that he will be a first-ballot NBA Hall of Fame selection. But can Bryant's teammate Pau Gasol eventually join him in that hallowed class?
It's doubtful that Gasol will enjoy the same first-ballot status as Bryant and other Laker greats like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have. But Gasol does compare favorably to another Laker great who became a Hall of Fame player.
Former Lakers forward James Worthy played on those same Showtime teams with Kareem and Magic, and in 2003, "Big-Game" James joined his teammates in the NBA Hall of Fame.
Worthy was named as one of the NBA's top 50 players of all time, but he did not make the Hall of Fame when he was first eligible in 2000.
Worthy played 12 seasons for the Lakers and averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, three assists and he shot 52 percent from the field throughout his career. Gasol just completed his 11th NBA season, and so far he has averaged 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and Gasol has shot 53 percent from the field for his career.
Worthy has four more All-Star appearances than Gasol, and he also earned one more ring playing beside his higher-regarded teammates Magic and Kareem. But Worthy was also the third scoring option on a team that included what are arguably two of the NBA's top three players of all time.
Without question, Magic is the greatest point guard to ever grace an NBA court and a definite top five all-time player. And while some may argue that there have been better centers than Kareem, his status as the NBA's most prolific scorer speaks for itself.
Not to take anything away from Worthy—who was truly a gifted player—but playing with legends like Magic and Kareem makes the game much easier.
Bryant still has an outside shot of being regarded as a top five player once his career finally ends, but it's easy to find merit in the opinion that Gasol is equally responsible for the Lakers' three consecutive NBA Finals appearances from 2008-10 and for their two championships.
When the Lakers acquired Gasol during the 2007-08 season the team went from a probable playoff team to a solid title contender instantly, and Gasol was just as important to the Lakers post attack as Bryant was to the perimeter.
In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that Gasol is actually a more complete and versatile player than Worthy ever was, if not better.
Worthy and Gasol played different positions, but while Worthy was defined by his explosiveness and athleticism, Gasol has been defined by his all around skill and his level of intelligence on the court.
Worthy was never much of a perimeter scorer, and many of his points were a result of Magic's court vision in the famed Lakers fast break.
Gasol often initiated the Lakers offense from the post in Phil Jackson's triangle scheme, and he has legitimate range on his jump shot from at least 15 feet.
Defensively, Worthy's quickness made him a terror in the passing lanes, but he was never really a great individual defender. His signature career defensive play may be the "steal" he was gifted by Fred Brown of Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Championship game.
Gasol has been called a soft player by some, but he is an excellent fundamental defensive player, and he has a keen understanding of defense and protecting the rim.
Most Lakers fans will never consider Gasol to be a better historical player than Worthy, but his career numbers and value to the team suggests that Gasol is just as deserving for the Hall of Fame selection that was awarded to Worthy.
And Gasol is still not finished.
There is a chance that Gasol will add to his ring total before he retires, as well as his All-Star appearances and other NBA honors.
Some people may think it is preposterous to even consider Gasol as a Hall of Fame player at this point in his career, but the truth is he may have already earned the honor when compared to another Lakers great.