If NBA TV had a good reason for breaking up the studio duo of Chris Webber and Gary Payton, I still haven’t heard it. One of my favorite C-Webb/GP moments last year was when C-Webb lost his mind during a Lakers/Jazz highlight when Pau Gasol led a fast break, dribbled between his legs and flipped a no-look underhand pass.
That play is part of the reason Gasol has become known as maybe the most skilled 7-footer in basketball. Last night, during L.A.’s Game 3 loss at Oklahoma City, he pulled another one that wasn’t as spectacular, but that you would rarely see from somebody his size: In the third quarter, Gasol (17 pts, 15 rebs, 6 asts) had the ball with his back to the basket around the top of the key. Freezing Jeff Green with a ball-fake, Gasol wheeled around and got a step on his quicker, more athletic defender and hit a little teardrop that Tony Parker would have notarized.
Now, why the 7-footer’s instinct was to toss up a teardrop instead of wrecking shop at the rim is another question the Lakers can deal with later, but it added to the argument that Gasol has most diverse skill set — passing, handle, range, low-post, wheels, boards, defense — of any big man in the League. Is he really No. 1, though?
I stretched the definition of “7-footer” to include some guys who are listed at 6-11, but at least from what I’ve seen in person, are closer to a legit seven feet. And while some players might be among the best at one or two of the aforementioned skills, lacking in too many areas will cost them. With that, here are my 10 most skilled giants:
1. Kevin Garnett — Injuries and age can’t take away the fact that KG still brings more silverware to the table than any big man in the League. Along with Webber he helped define the prototype multi-faceted power forward, and other than losing some speed, hops and lateral movement along the way, he’s still got some sharpness to that Swiss Army blade.
2. Dirk Nowitzki — Shooting and range set Dirk apart from the rest, but he’s also an underrated rebounder and solid enough ball-handler. He just looks awkward doing it.
3. Pau Gasol — Among true low-post scorers, Gasol has the most diverse skill set.
4. Tim Duncan — Make an argument against it.
5. Andrea Bargnani — He’s not the Dirk Junior everybody wanted him to be when he got drafted No. 1 overall, but Bargnani is a dangerous three-point sniper and great passer who can play three positions. If Chris Bosh leaves Toronto this summer, Bargs gets his crack at being the Alpha.
6. Shaquille O’Neal — If you still think Shaq only dominated on size and strength, you only watched the highlights. I’ll never forget a Lakers/Sonics game a few years back when Shaq faced up on Jerome James and gave him a crossover straight from the Allen Iverson Academy before dunking on him baseline. Yeah, it was Jerome James, but still…
7. Rasheed Wallace — Just because he doesn’t use the skills doesn’t mean he doesn’t have them. There’s no reason ‘Sheed couldn’t have been just as accomplished as Garnett in this League, he just didn’t care as much.
8. LaMarcus Aldridge — He can beat guards down the floor, shoot threes (or at least long twos) confidently, hit you with a series of quick moves in the post, and go end-to-end with the ball without embarrassing himself. He’d rank higher if he got after it on the glass.
9. Andrew Bogut — Ambidextrous in the post, with passing skills and he plays tough defense. Bogut has the skills, but he also never lost the mentality of a banger.
10. Austin Daye — For real. He’s at least on the better side of 6-11, yet he plays a small forward’s game. Daye (5.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 13 mpg) isn’t going to make the All-Rookie Team, but with some time in the weight room he could become Detroit’s next Tayshaun Prince.
Honorable mention: Kevin Love, Troy Murphy, Yi Jianlian, Spencer Hawes, Andray Blatche, Yao Ming