Josh Sexton: Pau Gasol
When thinking about the most underrated Lakers of all-time, the first two players who jumped into my head were Elgin Baylor and Jamaal Wilkes. But after thinking about it a little longer, I have come to the conclusion the most underrated Laker of all-time is currently playing for the team. I am talking about Pau Gasol, of course.
Typically there are two types of underrated players: those who play great basketball but are overshadowed by superior teammates (think Wilkes and Baylor) and players who can have a huge impact on a game without scoring, often flying under the radar (think Michael Cooper).
Gasol has undoubtedly been the second banana to Kobe, but it’s hard to say he’s been overshadowed. And he certainly hasn’t flown under the radar. Pau has been named to three All-Star Teams and three All-NBA Teams as a member of the Lakers. I consider Gasol to be the most underrated Laker because of all the unwarranted criticism he has received throughout his tenure with the Lakers.
After Gasol was outplayed by Kevin Garnett in the ’08 Finals (what power forward wouldn’t have been outplayed by KG that spring?), there were plenty of Laker haters, and lovers for that matter, who labeled him “soft.” He has had a hard time shaking the label ever since.
Outside of a small hiccup in the 2011 post-season, Gasol has played great basketball while wearing purple and gold. Pau has averaged 18 points a game, nearly 10 rebounds, has helped the team win two championships and led all players in the 2010 postseason with 255 total rebounds.
It’s also worth mentioning in the three seasons in-between Shaq being traded and Gasol coming to town, the Lakers did not win a playoff series. Kobe was on an island trying to keep the team’s head above water.
Maybe it’s Gasol’s gentlemanly demeanor that befuddles some fans. He doesn’t get in the face of his competitors or scream obscene things at referees. Maybe this contrast in comparison to other NBA players stands out more than his quality play. Gasol’s career in Los Angeles is not over. In time, maybe he will become more appreciated. If not, he will forever be underrated.
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