Pau Gasol: Saying Goodbye to a Laker Great

Watching videos of NBA media days finally brought about the sad realization that Pau Gasol is no longer a Los Angeles Laker. We knew he had moved on weeks ago, but seeing him wearing Chicago red and white finally meant he was officially gone from Lakerland.  As a Laker fan this is a sad time, with one of the best players in the franchise’s storied history moving on to another team. Pau has had his fair share of criticism over his years with both Memphis and LA, but he has been nothing but professional. Since he is no longer with the Lakers, I thought I’d take a look at his run with them to see where he stacks up against other great Lakers players.

I remember when I first found out that Gasol had been traded to LA, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They had somehow hijacked an all-star power forward and basically gave up nothing in return (unless you count the pick that ended up being Marc Gasol). The trade made LA instant title contenders and pushed them to the top of the West standing and an eventual Finals berth before losing to Boston. The pairing of Pau with Kobe Bryant made for one of the best one-two combos in the NBA and he complemented Bryant’s style and as well as fit into Phil Jackson’s triangle. In Pau’s first two full seasons in LA, the Lakers the Lakers won the NBA championship and he was an all-star his first three full seasons playing for the Lakers. Pau’s two titles and three all-star games while playing for the Lakers put him into some elite company when it comes to the franchise’s all time greats. His two titles with the team put him ahead of greats like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, and matched the number won by Jamaal Wilkes. The three all-star appearances are more than Wilkes had with the team, and just on shy of how many Goodrich and Chamberlain had while playing with LA.

An interesting question about Pau, is will his number be retired in Los Angeles? It seems that there shouldn’t even be a debate about this, but people have forgotten how great and instrumental he was in winning championships. In six and a half seasons, Pau averaged 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists playing as the second option alongside Bryant. When comparing the numbers Pau put up in LA to those whose numbers are already retired, it puts Pau into some prestigious company. The Laker averages of Goodrich (19 pts, 3 rb, 4.2 ast), Chamberlain (17.7, 19.2, 4.3), Wilkes (18.4, 5.4, 2.6), and James Worthy (17.6, 5.1, 3) are comparable to what Pau put up in his time in Hollywood. If conventional stats aren’t convincing enough, Pau’s put up a win share total of 59.2 while playing for the Lakers, with 0.185 per 48 minutes. His WS total is similar to that of Chamberlain (63.6), Goodrich (56.4), and Wilkes (50.6) in their time spent with LA. These numbers obviously don’t compare to other Laker greats who have played their entire careers in purple and gold like West, Baylor, Magic or Kobe,  or other Laker greats like Shaq and Kareem, but it shows that Gasol is at the very least in the conversation with some other Laker all-time greats. If averaging a near double-double throughout his tenure in LA isn’t enough to convince doubters, Pau’s playoff averages while winning his first title in 2009 were 18.3 pts, 10.8 rbs, and 2.5 asts, and during the 2010 title run bumped those up to 19.6, 11.1, and 3.5, respectively. Kobe doesn’t win his two “without Shaq” without Pau Gasol.

In all likelihood, Pau will find his number 16 hanging from the Staples Center rafters sooner than later, but what about in the Basketball Hall of Fame? His impressive Lakers averages and win shares totals put him into elite company within their franchise ranks, but what about his career as a whole? He may or may not get to the 20,000 point total in his career, with over 3,000 points to go, but what he has accomplished in the NBA and in international competition give him a pretty good shot at enshrinement. Gasol’s total win shares for his career total 113, enough for 54th on the all-time list ahed of hall-of-famers Kevin Mchale, Wes Unseld, and Alonzo Mourning.

His win shares per 48 minutes of 0.1684 puts him in the same range at 57th all-time ahead of Rick Barry, and future hall-of-famers Steve Nash and Paul Pierce. His career totals in the NBA along with two championships and four all-star appearances so far should be enough to get him to Springfield, but for those who want a little more, Pau has a collection of international medals and awards to top off his resume. He has two FIBA Europe Player of the Year Awards to go alone with a host of European Player of the year Awards. He has won two Olympic silver medals and a gold at the FIBA World Championships in 2006 as the unquestioned leader of the Spanish national team.
Lakers fans should be sad to see Pau Gasol go. He was one of Kobe Bryant’s favorite teammates, and was a professional his entire time in LA, amidst trade rumors and even one failed attempt to trade him for Chris Paul. Kobe and the Lakers owe Gasol for two titles and for being one of the franchise’s all time great players. It will be difficult to watch him in Chicago, but he will always be a Laker. I look forward to watching his jersey get put up alongside all the other Lakers greats, and hopefully one day, his entrance into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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