The most notable NBA dynasties are often defined by superstar duos (or trios).
Bill Russell and Bob Cousy anchored the Boston Celtics in the 1960s. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish carried that torch for the C’s in the 80s, though Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led a pretty dominant Los Angeles Lakers group. Shortly after came Jordan and Pippen, Shaq and Kobe and plenty more.
The last decade was mostly defined by LeBron James and the Golden State Warriors. James won three titles, two with the “Big Three” Miami Heat and another with a modified big three in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Warriors also won three titles and made five consecutive NBA Finals appearances.
However, the 2010s began with the last act of an equally dominant but slightly less reputable superstar duo: Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The two became teammates when the Lakers swung a deal to land Gasol prior to the 2007-08 trade deadline. Just two years later, L.A. won consecutive NBA championships, with Kobe proving he could win without Shaq.
Given their achievements, where do Bryant and Gasol land in terms of the best duos in NBA history?
The Gasol Effect
To fully encapsulate this duo, we should do a sort of “before and after” breakdown of the Lakers before Gasol came to Hollywood.
The Lakers were a team in flux following Shaq’s departure after the 2003-04 season. Los Angeles missed the playoffs the very next campaign. While the Purple and Gold franchise would bounce back and make the playoffs in each of the next two years, they were met with consecutive first-round exits.
To make matters worse, Bryant demanded a trade in 2007. No deal was struck, but things were still slightly shaky when the Lakers began the 2007-08 campaign at 28-16.
Los Angeles acquired Gasol on February 2008, and the move totally altered the course of the franchise. The Lakers steamrolled to a 28-9 finish after acquiring the Spaniard, and they would march all the way to the NBA Finals before ultimately falling to the Boston Celtics.
Nonetheless, Gasol’s impact was clear. He gave the Lakers a scorer in the post, not to mention a gifted passer and interior presence on the defensive end of the floor. In essence: a less dominant version of Shaq.
It seemed the Lakers would be favorites in the Western Conference for years to come following their late-season rampage.
Indeed, the Lakers took their level of play even higher in 2008-09, winning 65 games and marching to the title. They won fewer games the following year, but they battled to a second straight title in a thrilling Finals victory over the Celtics — as highlighted in Episode 4 of “The Final Ring: Kobe & The Lakers’ 2010 Title.”
Remember, Bryant was still in the midst of his prime (29 years old) when the Lakers acquired Gasol. The Spaniard’s arrival not only gave the Lakers a second star, but one who became a perfect fit in the triangle offense and complemented Bryant’s gifts at the peak of his powers.
Pau dominated in the post while still allowing Kobe to be the primary offensive option. In fact, Gasol also took his game to another level in the playoffs. He averaged a double-double (at least 18 points, 10 rebounds) with two blocks in each of L.A.’s championship seasons, becoming the perfect second option and sidekick.
The Full Scope
The last three years of the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol partnership resulted in playoff disappointments. However, it is still hard to find a ton of duos who achieved as much and suited each other’s games quite as well as Kobe and Pau.
Gasol posted nearly 60 win shares during his time in L.A. Bryant posted over 62 win shares, including a 2013-14 campaign when he played just six games as he recovered from a torn Achilles.
Those combined 122 win shares are not on the level of duos like MJ and Pip, Cap and Magic or Bird and McHale. Similarly, Kobe and Pau were not as high-profile as, say, LeBron and Wade or even Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant during their short partnerships.
Conversely, there is also the argument they did not have the longevity of a duo like John Stockton and Karl Malone — though they were more accomplished. After all: two rings.
In conclusion, Gasol and Kobe deserve to be in the argument as one of the 10 best duos in NBA history. Gasol’s arrival in L.A. almost singlehandedly changed the narrative of Kobe’s career and cemented those Lakers teams as the definitive bunch of that era.