Although I'm sure some people will disagree, it may be time to include Pau Gasol when discussing the best power forwards in the NBA.
The Spanish-born player capped off a brilliant year, while winning his first NBA championship, and cementing himself as a cornerstone on a loaded Lakers squad. This discussion would not even be possible had Gasol not been able to free himself from the relative obscurity of the Memphis Grizzlies.
He was a great player in Memphis, but the team was dreadful, although Gasol can be credited to leading them to the playoffs in three of the six seasons he spent there.
When Los Angeles was able to trade for the Spaniard, it was called the steal of the century, and to call it theft may be doing the profession a discredit. The Lakers gave up an ineffective Kwame Brown, an untested rookie, and the rights to Pau's younger brother, Marc.
Gasol immediately improved the Lakers, who were dealing with the first of Andrew Bynum's knee injuries, and helped propel them to the 2008 Finals.
In my opinion, the only other power forwards that are in Gasol's class are Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, and what they bring to the table are skills that are comparable to Gasol's.
Tim Duncan is known to be one of the most fundamentally sound big men in the league, and he excels on both ends of the floor. He will go down as one of the best to ever play the position, but this is not based on career achievements, but on the present. Even so, if you were to compare their career numbers, you would find that they are similar. Duncan carries a 21.4 points per game average, and an 11.7 rebounds per game average. Gasol has averaged 18.8 points per game, and 8.7 rebounds per game, which is less than Duncan's, but in the same neighborhood.
Garnett's career averages nearly mirror Duncan's, but Garnett is coming off major knee surgery, and you can expect him to tail off at least a little.
Gasol is as fundamentally sound as Garnett and Duncan, and in a few areas, he may actually be a little better. For one, he possesses the best court vision that I have seen from any big men, in quite some time.
Once he became comfortable in the triangle offense, he was often the trigger that made it work, usually operating from the post and displaying a superb intellect for the game.
He is a gifted passer and his seven foot frame allowed him to be dominant once he received the ball in the paint, able to finish equally with either hand. The fact that he plays with one of the best players in the league, in Kobe Bryant, allowed him to mask the few shortcomings in his game.
There has always been the perception that Gasol was soft, mainly because of how he was handled in the Finals by the Celtics. You could notice that he worked on that last offseason, because he started 2008-2009 like a man possessed. He was determined to show that he could hold his own in the post, and the defensive job he did throughout the playoffs and the Finals was admirable.
His defense on Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, was important, because he was able to guard Howard one-on-one, which prevented the Magic from getting their customary wide open looks from three point range.
The argument could be made that he was equally important as Bryant, because when the Laker offense became stagnant, it was often Gasol that they looked to for a score.
Much of the talk in L.A. has centered around the acquisition of Ron Artest, and the continuing drama that Lamar Odom has provided. Gasol's quiet nature shadows the fact that he may be the most important piece to the Laker's bid for a repeat.
While he may not be the best power forward in the league, Gasol's play has certainly earned him a viable spot in the discussion.