At first glance, it seems ludicrous to call an All-Star and reigning All-NBA Third Team player underrated but when you read the avalanche of NBA Finals analysis and previews, most analyst do not predict that Pau Gasol will dominate this matchup.
Most analysts straddle the middle or worst give the edge to Rashard Lewis which is flat out ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, Rashard is an outstanding player who caused match-up nightmares particularly for the Cavs. More than any other Magic player except perhaps Dwight, he is the reason why the Magic closed out the streaking Cavaliers in six.
Yet Rashard winning the four matchup is a laughable notion. No doubt he is far and away the better three point shooter. Heck even Marcin Gotat is the better three point shooter, with his one three pointer made on one attempt this season compared to Pau's one made on two attempts this season.
Rashard Lewis is also the better ball handler, even though Pau had his amazing "show time" moments while running the fast break. Rashard is also the quicker player.
That is it. In every other aspect, Pau is the superior player. He is a 7 footer who is near ambidextrous who can has a wide offensive repertoire. He has also pulled down 11.3 rebounds this post season including 3.2 offensive boards compared to Rashard Lewis' 6.1 rpg in the post season.
Yes it is true that Rashard will give Pau a hard time with his perimeter shooting while Pau loves the low post. On the other side of the court, Pau will make Rashard work hard defensively.
After a postseason of matching up against Ben Wallace, Andrew Varejao, Glen Davis, and Thaddeus Young, Rashard will finally meet a power forward who is a legitimate offensive threat and has more size than Rashard.
Pau Gasol has truly become the perfect Robin to Kobe's Batman this post-season with his combination of size, finesse and intelligence. He is equally likely to hurt you with a baby hook as he is with a sublime pass to an open teammate on the double team.
If Big Baby can explode for 21 and 22 points against Rashard, imagine how much damage Pau can do with his more complete offensive repertoire. The focus on Pau's inability to track Rashard on the perimeter is not matched by the fact that Rashard can't handle Pau's post game.
The All Star game where Shaq had a field day against Rashard should be indicative of Rashard's defensive limitations, even though admittedly the All Star game is never a channel to showcase defensive prowess.
The assumption that Dwight Howard will provide the backup to Rashard's defense is also flawed. Even though Bynum has not played up to those tantalizingly brilliant standards he did before going down with a knee injury, Bynum can muscle Dwight. If Dwight leaves Bynum to guard Gasol, Gasol will find Bynum for the easy lay-up.
When Gasol slides over to play centre, he matches up with Dwight. Physically, Superman will punish Gasol. But Pau "Don't call me soft" Gasol has really stepped up his aggression ever since Perkins cowered him into submission during the last finals.
After Game Four against the Nuggets, he actually asked for more touches. Given his demeanour and the fact that he plays with Kobe, this is indeed surprising but a welcome development. With a FG percentage of 63.3 percent against the Nuggets, he certainly earns it.
Even though Superman is more of a match than K-Mart, Birdman, and Nene, Superman usually flies alone.
What Gasol fails physically, mentally he uses to his advantage against Superman. By drawing the quick fouls, Pau can punish the Polish Hammer instead. Even though Gortat is a pleasant revelation, he is not Superman.
Not forgetting, Pau shares the front court either with Bynum or Odom and he will find them if they are open. That is a luxury Superman does not enjoy. By making Howard work on the defensive end, he limits Dwight's offensive energy as well as playing time if D-12 continues averaging 5.3 fouls a game.
Another forgotten statistic is that Pau has doubled his regular season blocked shots from 1.0 to 2.0 in the playoffs. He may not be in Superman's league but he is no D'Antoni defender either.
Exploiting the Gasol advantage is one of the keys to the Lakers victory. Bryant may still be the Lakers' biggest star but Gasol will be the difference maker.
If you limit his touches and keep Howard free to roam the paint, it means the Lakers will have to depend on their jumper. Force feed Gasol and he will punish the Magic either with a field goal, a pass or a valuable Dwight foul drawn.
Make no mistake, Rashard is a difficult defensive cover for Pau Gasol but the reverse is also true. Perhaps even more so.