I was recently debating a friend about Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol and where he belongs among the NBA's top players at his position, but the conversation quickly dissolved into a pointless argument with no resolution in sight.
In frustration, I asked my friend to name five players who are clearly better players than Gasol, and without hesitation he named Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, Amar'e Stoudemire and Dirk Nowitzki.
I was temporarily stunned because my friend had named seven players, rather than five, and it appeared he was obviously ready for my question.
It was easy for me to dismiss Duncan and Garnett, because they may be better all-time players than Gasol, but Gasol's 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 53 percent shooting from the field per game during the 2010-11 season wins the current argument.
In fact, Duncan's 2010-11 regular season averages of 13.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 53 percent shooting from the field were among the lowest of his career, and Gasol averaged more points, rebounds and assists per game than Garnett as well.
Nowitzki, Love, Stoudemire and Aldridge all averaged more points than Gasol last season, but only Love averaged more rebounds, and none averaged more assists or were as efficient shooting from the field.
Each of the players listed above is also his team's primary offensive weapon, with possibly the exception of Stoudemire, but Gasol is clearly the second offensive option on his team behind Kobe Bryant.
Gasol compares favorably or exceeds all of the players my friend mentioned statistically, which proves he is certainly in the conversation as one of the league's best power forwards, but his fundamental skills may thrust him into the NBA's top five.
Gasol may be the most complete power forward in the game today, and of the players mentioned, only Duncan is as skilled in the paint.
Offensively, Gasol can score with either hand, he is one of the league's best interior passers and he has shooting range that extends to 15 feet.
Gasol is often criticized for playing soft defense, but besides Garnett and maybe Josh Smith, Gasol is a better individual defender than any of the league's other top power forwards.
Some of my friend's criticism about Gasol was likely formed from his poor showing in the 2011 NBA postseason, and although Gasol's disappearing act was puzzling, it doesn't take away from what he accomplished during the season.
Many people, including myself, felt Gasol was arguably the league's best power forward during the Lakers' past two championship seasons, and even though he was not as dominant last season, his output suggests Gasol still resides among the league's best at his position.
There are certainly other players who can be compared to Gasol, but is there any evidence that proves he is no longer one of the NBA's top five power forwards?
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