There is no doubt that Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki are the two best players in Europe. But who is better?
After leading Spain to a gold medal in the 2009 European Championships, you can make a strong case for Gasol as the best non-American player in the world.
Led by Gasol, named the “best player” of the tournament, Spain defeated Serbia, 85-63, in the championship game. Gasol finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, and was easily the most dominant force for the undisputed No. 1 team in Europe.
His performance throughout the championships served notice to the rest of the world that he is a legitimate superstar and belongs in the conversation when the topic of discussion turns to the “best players in the world not named Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.”
Though they are almost similarly built – both are 7 feet and right around 250 pounds – Nowitzki and Gasol have varying basketball talents. Gasol, 29, is a classic back-to-the-basket post player who can occasionally face up and hit the 15-foot jump shot. Nowitzki, 31, prefers to start his offensive moves away from the basket and loves to take his defender near the free-throw line, using his patented step-back jumper.
Gasol showed the NBA community that he is tough enough to play in the interior, helping the Los Angeles Lakers capture the Larry O’Brien trophy last June by outplaying Orlando’s Dwight Howard, a first-team All-NBA center, in the NBA Finals.
Nowitzki has long been recognized as Europe’s best player because of all his individual accomplishments. He is, without question, one of the top power forwards in the NBA and has earned the reputation for being a great offensive player (he averaged 25.9 points per game in 2008-09). He is a four-time member of the All-NBA first team, an eight-time NBA All-Star and is the only European-born player to ever win the NBA’s regular-season MVP.
Because the Dallas Mavericks superstar did not participate in this year’s European Championships (per Mark Cuban’s request), we never got to see the highly anticipated one-on-one matchup between the two European studs – although the end result would have favored Gasol’s squad because Germany is not in the same class with Spain.
It’s safe to say that Germany is a one-man team, boasting only two other NBA players on its roster compared to Spain, which fields at least seven players with NBA experience.
If I had a choice to pick between the two, I would take Gasol because he commands so much respect inside than Nowitzki. The game is still played inside-out, and Gasol is one of the best in the world at scoring in the paint and protecting the paint. Defense has never been Nowitzki’s forte and, at times, he easily gets flustered by a more physical defender. Gasol has learned how to play against bigger and stronger players, and his basketball IQ is off the charts.
Bottom line, Pau Gasol has surpassed Dirk Nowitzki as the best European-born player in the NBA. Gasol has an NBA title, a FIBA World Championship and European Championship to prove it.