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L.A. Lakers' Pau Gasol Better Bet Than Kobe Bryant for League MVP

This Is the Big Man’s Season to Shine

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Regardless of what many readers and ex-girlfriends think, I am not an idiot. I know that Kobe Bryant is a better player than Pau Gasol. And so are about 10 other players in the league.

But given the circumstances of the season, Pau has a really good shot at winning the league's top award.

The NBA's MVP Award may actually be the most coveted of all the awards in all sports -- not counting the Best Actor Award they give out in soccer. So it would take a heck of a season from Pau to make it happen. They're not just going to give it to him, like they did Steve Nash … twice!

Many people think that LeBron James is the favorite to win the MVP again, but I don't think that's true. Not because of talent or even production, but because it is very rare that the league lets someone win the MVP three years in a row. They stopped Michael Jordan doing it … twice!

Any award voting situation is susceptible to personal bias. We know who wins the scoring title because the numbers are what the numbers are. Voting for awards tends to skew toward being a popularity contest. The numbers help us see who the best players are and then the voters pick based on a wide variety of arbitrary preferences.

Kobe Bryant -- or The Kobot, as I call him -- is coming back, almost miraculously, from tearing his Achilles tendon. It's hard to imagine that there won't be some lingering effect from that recovery that keeps him from being full-Kobe.

Pau's numbers the last couple years have certainly not been MVP-level and one could argue that his production doesn't even get him in the discussion of the top 20 players in the league.

But…

He had both of his knees repaired and they are reportedly at 100 percent for the first time in a while. That's a good start. He's also moving over to the center position. This is where things get interesting. When the team brought in Chris Kaman, it seemed like maybe Pau would be stuck at power forward again.

However, coach Mike D'Antoni is on record that not only is Pau the team's center, but also that he's the best center in the league. That's debatable since Dwight Howard is still in the league. It's a heck of a vote of confidence for Pau, while also being a subtle middle finger to Howard.

In the 2012 Olympics, Pau played center for Spain and was dominant offensively, pushing the team to a silver medal. He's considered somewhat soft defensively, but his passing, shooting and rebounding are a perfect fit at the center position.

When Andrew Bynum started the season injured a few years back, Pau was a monster -- averaging around 25 points and 11 rebounds a game. That's exactly the kind of production that an MVP needs to put up.

Yes, he's 33 years old and the MVP Award usually goes to guys in the 30-and-under crowd. But Michael Jordan and Karl Malone both won MVP Awards in their mid-30s. So it's not unprecedented.

Actually, Malone provides a great corollary -- after a career of excellent-but-not-MVP-level production, he won the award twice when others were more deserving. Again we see the personal bias of voters rear its unpleasant head.

Sometimes what a player does off the court affects the perception of what he does on the court. You'll see voters pick "with their hearts" in everything from MVP Awards to the Academy Awards to political elections. It cost Kobe at least one MVP Award and James Cameron an Academy Award for Avatar.

With the voter's distaste for three-peats of the award and the general, though misplaced, spite for LeBron, the MVP is up for grabs. So, all Pau has to do is get himself into the discussion and the way the team is constructed, that is a very real possibility.

Quite possibly the biggest obstacle for Pau will be whether the team even makes it to the playoffs. The team has so many questions that any prediction about how the season will end is really just old-fashioned guessing. The team is very similar to Anchorman 2 -- there are very good pieces in place, it did very well previously, and it could be a huge hit. Or it could be a complete bust.

Pau would need the team to at least be a mid-level hit for him to have a shot. And he needs a thousand little and big things to line up, but, so far, they certainly have and he is in position to be the league's MVP.

Jed Rigney is a Los Angeles-based award-winning filmmaker who also fancies himself a sportswriter. You can see him on Twitter @JedRigney.

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