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The Value of Pau Gasol and Win Shares

March 9, 2009 | 12:15 pm

Posted by Ben Taylor -

Even small children in third world countries know who's the best player on the Los Angeles Lakers: one Entrapment Kobe Bean Bryant. But could Pau Gasol, who was recently named the Western Conference Player of the Month, actually be more valuable to the Lakers?

Since joining the team 13 months ago in the biggest heist since Catherine Zeta-Jones stole $8 billion in “Entrapment,” the Lakers are an astounding 71-17 (.807).

What's more amazing, and a testament to Gasol's value, is that they haven't missed a beat without Andrew Bynum in the lineup. The Lakers are technically better with Pau at center and sans Bynum, sporting a 35-8 (.814) record, including the Memphis game when Bynum went down in the opening minutes.

That's a 67-win pace.

A year ago, LA was 24-11 (.685) with Bynum roaming the paint. Quite good, but only a 56-win pace. Pau_reverse

Then Bynum injured his knee, and before the Big Spaniard came to the rescue, the Lakers limped along at a pedestrian 5-5. Granted, that's a small sample size, but clearly the Lakers are not a 56-win team without Bynum and Gasol. Between their 2007 record – 42-40 – and the 6-5 record last year without Bynum (he missed an early season victory over Minnesota with gastroenteritis), history shows that they are roughly a .500 team without Pau Gasol and their current roster. Perhaps they are slightly better than .500 - let's say somewhere in the 45-win range.

I'm no math major, but it appears as if Gasol adds about 20 wins or so. Of course, this is fuzzy math, given the return of Derek Fisher and the improvement of young talents like Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza, but clearly Gasol elevates the Lakers from a borderline-playoff team to a championship-level team.

It's hard to gauge where the Lakers would find themselves without Kobe Bryant and an otherwise healthy team, but I would be shocked if they weren't over .500 and still competing for a playoff spot. In a vacuum, Gasol's not better than Bryant. But for the Lakers, he is certainly as valuable.

Like Steve Nash running the Seven Seconds or Less offense, he is the rare case of a player's value exceeding his talent. Gasol has always been an all-star caliber player, but in Tex Winter's system, he supercharges the offense.

Like a hand in a glove, Pau's game is tailor-made for the triangle offense. It's hard to find a better high-post passer in the league.  He has a nearly automatic face-up jumper, and a deft touch around the basket.

Then there are the Win Shares. For my money, Basketball-Reference's Win Shares is the best metric in basketball at capturing a player's contributions on the court. Like any complex statistic, it is by no means perfect, but I challenge anyone to find a better stat that matches up with common sense better than Win Shares. Not points per game, nor Roland Rating, nor adjusted plus-minus will predict the quality of a player better than B-R's Win Shares.

How does this relate to Gasol? He is fourth in the league in Win Shares and actually leads the Lakers (scroll to the "Advanced" list at the bottom), despite playing one less game than Kobe Bryant. Last year, Bryant amassed 14.3 Win Shares, good for fourth best in the league (Chris Paul put up a league-best 17.3). Gasol joined the Lakers and finished with 4.7 Win Shares in 27 games. Pro-rated for an entire season, that pans out to, you guessed it, 14.3 win shares.

Kobebryantmvplakers_nc_2 He probably won't receive many MVP votes at the end of the year, but perhaps he should. In a league historically based on stepping stones – a team reaches the second round, then the Conference Finals, then competes for a title – Gasol arrived and helped LA jump from first round to final round. This year, he's been the Western Conference Player of the Month, leads the league in offense rating (a product of his increased offensive efficiency) and has helped power (or should I say finesse?) the Lakers to .800-ball despite the loss of Andrew Bynum. The team has yet to lose more than two games in a row since Gasol's arrival.

There is no question Bryant is the Lakers best player, but he might not be their most valuable.


Photo: Pau Gasol scoring a basket.  Credit: Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times
Photo: Kobe Bryant with the MVP trophy.  Credit: