Back in the summer of 2001, I took a flight from New York to Tennessee for a baseball tournament. The night before, the Memphis Grizzlies walked away from Madison Square Garden, and the NBA draft, with a pair of highly-touted prospects.
As I boarded the plane to Memphis, those prospects just happened to be in line with me.
They were wholesome, Duke favorite Shane Battier, and a tall, lanky, mysterious Spaniard named Pau Gasol.
When my teammates and I asked Gasol about his NBA goals, he pointed at Battier and said, "I just want to be like him."
Now, almost nine years later, Battier can't even shine Gasol's shoes. Battier's a glorified role player while Gasol is a legitimate star.
But how much of a star is Gasol?
Where does he stand in the grand scheme of the NBA?
Is he the best, all-around big man in the world?
Casual NBA fans will immediately say "no," because the demonstrative Dwight Howard comes to mind. The best rebounder and shot blocker has to be the best big man in the game, right?
Nope. Not necessarily.
Howard's a better rebounder and shot blocker than Gasol—he's also bulkier and more explosive—but Gasol is superior in (nearly) every other aspect of the game.
Gasol is a much better free-throw shooter (79 percent to Howard's 59.2), passer (3.4 apg to Howard's 1.8), mid-range shooter, and ball handler. Gasol also has a higher basketball IQ and boasts abnormally quick footwork in the post.
Gasol has the back-to-the-basket game that Magic fans wish Howard had. Howard will continue to develop with time, but his current offensive repertoire falls completely flat in comparison to Gasol.
Personally, I'm not choosing sides.
Offensively, I'd rather have Gasol, and defensively, I'd rather have Howard, so I guess that puts me somewhere in the middle. Others might throw Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, or Amar'e Stoudemire into the discussion.
I guess this debate comes down to personal preference. I look at it this way:
I think Gasol is closer to being a standout defensive player than Howard is to being a standout offensive player.
Gasol rotates extremely well defensively, has excellent lateral quickness for his size, great length, and the versatility to guard bigs at both the power forward and center positions.
Howard is a phenomenal, uncontested finisher at the rim (the best dunking big man in the universe), but relies too heavily on his soft, flip-like jump hook below the foul line. His arsenal is limited and he doesn't finish as well as he should in traffic. The ball often floats out of his hands as opposed to being guided with a purpose, like Gasol, Duncan, and Garnett.
In the end, the choice is yours.
What do you think?
(John Frascella is the author of Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land, the first and only book centered on Boston's GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon or follow John's Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)