Plenty of big men in basketball make their journey from the European leagues to the NBA. In history, only several have reached All-Star and even superstar recognition in the NBA. Out of these players, the NBA has had the pleasure of having Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki for the past decade.
Both big men are in their early 30s and still in their prime. Their level of productivity on the court both in the NBA and internationally has elevated their basketball status to icons worldwide. It goes without saying that they are the best European players to have ever played the game at the power forward/center position.
But which player can be recognized as the best European big man? Here are a few facts that might make that decision somewhat easier.
Dirk Nowitzki entered the league in 1998 and has played for the Dallas Mavericks ever since. Pau Gasol, who is two years younger, entered the league at the same age in 2000 and has since then split his time with the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers.
As rookies, Gasol had a much easier time adjusting to the NBA level of play. As a more traditional power forward, Gasol was able to dominate the paint in his rookie year, taking home Rookie of the Year honors. On the other hand, Nowitzki had a difficult rookie season, but quickly blossomed into a lethal scorer during his sophomore campaign.
After solidifying their level of play, both men took over their respective teams as the best player. Starting with his third year, Nowitzki has led his team to 10 straight 50 or more win seasons and playoff appearances. Also in his third year, Pau Gasol held his own by leading the Memphis Grizzlies to three straight playoff appearances and one 50-win season.
As Dirk Nowitzki gained more experience on the NBA court, and Dallas started building a solid team around him, the success of the Mavericks started climbing. In 2006, Nowitzki led his team to a Western Conference Championship, and an eventual loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. The following year, Nowitzki led the Mavericks to a franchise record 67 wins while obtaining MVP honors, but found no success in the playoffs.
At the time, Gasol has having a difficult time in Memphis after the team failed to advance to the postseason in 2007. But his difficult times took a drastic turnaround when he was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline.
This gave Gasol the chance to pair up with superstar Kobe Bryant. Since then the Lakers have reached the NBA Finals in three straight seasons, capturing championships in the last two.
Gasol and Nowitzki have had plenty of success in the league. Both big men shoot the ball efficiently, with Nowitzki having a carrier field goal percentage of 47.3 and Gasol having a higher percentage of 52.1. Both men are extremely gifted rebounders and underrated passers. Dirk Nowitzki’s offensive arsenal is more complete than Gasol’s, since he can score from anywhere on the court, and can step out for three-point shots that me makes close to a 40 percent rate.
Conversely, Gasol has a more complete defensive repertoire that allows him to protect the paint with better shot blocking and defensive awareness.
As far as the success of each man, it is difficult to compare which player can be regarded as the best. Gasol has become a two-time NBA champion and many experts will crown him over Nowitzki just for such feats. Statistically, it could be argued that Nowitzki has been the more productive player of the two and has had more success reaching the postseason in his career than Pau Gasol.
The comparison of both players took a drastic change in 2007 when Gasol became a member of the Lakers. While Nowitzki remained the No. 1 option in his team, Gasol went from No. 1 to No. 2. While Gasol’s contribution to the Lakers' championships is undeniable, it is not a fair comparison to Nowitzki. As a Memphis Grizzly, Gasol had equal or less success as the main option as Nowitzki. Many experts can agree that replacing Gasol with Nowitzki in the Lakers lineup would have netted them championships as well.
While Gasol has an edge over Nowitzki in terms of championships, Nowitzki has an edge over Gasol in terms of productivity. While this decision can go both ways in terms of the definition of success and productivity, it is necessary to consider all possible scenarios that could have changed each player’s career to determine who the best is.
With Nowitzki and Gasol both signing long-term deals with their respective team, fans and analysts will have several more years to argue about this topic, but more than that appreciate what these European big men have done for this league.
Please let your voice be heard by adding your opinion on this in the comments below. Weather is your personal opinion, or just a shout out for your favorite player, we want to know!