Lakers are to Clippers, as Pau Gasol is to?

How many of you remember taking the SAT tests in high school? If you do then you most likely remember the analogy questions. These were the questions I most often feared. My brain has always been wired to understand the math and sciences with relative ease, while the verbal questions were always quite difficult for me. The key to answering the analogy questions correctly was to understand the relationship between the first two words, so that one could select a fourth word which would hold a similar relationship with the third word. With that in mind I present to you an analogy:

The Lakers are to the Clippers as Pau Gasol is to ____?

A) White Swan

B) Blake Griffin

C) Spain

D) Marc Gasol

E) Llama

Usually three of the five answers could be eliminated relatively easily. These three answers held some relationship to the 3rd word (Gasol), but that relationship did not transfer to the first two words (Lakers and Clippers). For example, Pau has been known to be called a "white swan", but the Lakers haven’t been called the Clippers, so answer A can be eliminated. The same logic can quickly eliminate answers C (the Lakers are not from the Clippers like Pau is from Spain) and E (the Lakers don’t resemble the Clippers like Gasol does a Llama. That leaves two remaining answers, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol.

The answer "Blake Griffin" is somewhat tricky as both Gasol and Griffin are the starting power forwards for the Lakers and Clippers respectively, however that is not the relationship being asked. If the question were reorganized to be "Lakers are to Pau Gasol as Clippers are to ___" then it would be correct. This means the answer by default is Marc Gasol, but why?

There are actually quite a few relationships held between Pau and Marc that carry over to the Lakers and Clippers. The Clippers have often been viewed as the "little brother" of the Los Angeles Lakers, while Marc is Pau’s little brother. The Lakers and Pau have won NBA championships, while the neither the Clippers nor Marc have done the same. The Lakers are older than the Clippers, just as Pau is older than Marc. The most important relationship though may be surprising. One has to honestly ask themselves, have the Clippers passed the Lakers as the better team, and if so, has Marc done the same to Pau?

With regard to the Clippers, the answer so far this season is a resounding yes. A look at the current standings reveals the Clippers are 2nd in the West while the Lakers are 6th. In their two head-to-head match-ups, the results were one win apiece; however, the Clippers' victory was much more dominating. The Clippers' win was never much in doubt as they were up 11 points with a minute to go before a meaningless three cut the final deficit to 8. Contrast that with the Lakers' win in which they entered the final minute with only a two-point advantage in a game that could have gone either way. Finally, both of their preseason meetings were played with intensity like a regular season game and the Clippers thoroughly dismantled their Staples Center roommates. At this point in the season, it is safe to say the Clippers have been the better team.

The more difficult question to answer is whether or not Marc has been better than Pau so far this season. It may seem ridiculous to compare the two as Pau’s reputation is one of the most skilled big men to ever play the game while Marc has never had such praise thrown his way. However, perception doesn’t always match reality. Here are the stat lines for Pau and Marc this season; can you identify which is Pau’s and which is Marc’s?

Marc_vs_pau

It isn’t easy to distinguish between the two as they are very similar. The first is Marc while the second is Pau.

The basic box score statistics show Pau with a slight advantage in scoring, mainly due to taking more shots than Marc (13.3 to 11 FGA), and his scoring efficiency just less than Marc’s in both FG% and TS%. Pau's well documented passing ability has only translated into 0.2 more assists per game than his underrated little brother. Meanwhile Marc has been known as the more physical and defensive-oriented big man of the two and the stats support it. He has a small advantage on the glass but has nearly doubled up Pau in steals and blocks.

The advanced stats tend to give the advantage to the younger Gasol. He scores more efficiently, has a higher offense rating (points generated per possession used), and also a lower defensive rating (lower the better). The combination of efficient offense and superior defense have given Marc a slight edge in Win Shares per 48 minutes, a statistic the estimates the number of wins a player generates for their team. The only advanced stat that Pau has an edge in is PER, and that difference is minor and due solely to Pau’s higher usage rate as the Lakers look to him more on offense than the Grizzlies do Marc. Removing the difference in usage rates would result in PER tipping in Marc’s favor too. Statistically speaking, it's nearly impossible to support Pau as the better Gasol brother this season. The two are pretty close but so far Marc’s season, much like the Clippers', has been more impressive than his counterpart’s.

This leads to final relationship in the analogy--neither of the little brothers is likely to finish better than big brother this season. The Clippers have only a 1.5 game lead over the Lakers, have a lower average scoring margin (which is more predictive of future success than win-loss record) and have played a heavier home schedule than the Lakers. The Lakers also have been in a historically bad shooting slump from behind the three-point line that began to turn around in recent weeks. The recent improved shooting helped the Lakers to win 4 of 5 games prior to last night’s meltdown. As the season progresses, the Lakers should pass the Clippers and finish just ahead of little brother.

Similarly, I don’t anticipate Marc putting up better numbers than Pau over the duration of the season. Marc is having a career year and has improved from last year across the board. Pau meanwhile is having his worst season as a Laker. We should expect some regression to the mean as Marc declines slightly and Pau’s numbers gradually rise. In the end the difference between the two will be small, but the advantage should tip big brother’s way.

In basketball games that take place in driveways across this country, the little brother is always fighting for respect from their older and more talented sibling. This season we have seen two little brothers jump into the spotlight and even take a short term lead as the better basketball player. As the season progresses, the older siblings should be able to transform the talent that is still present within them into actual production for everyone to see, and rightfully reclaim their status at the top. Until then the light will shine brightly on the Clippers and Marc. No one imagined being able to even make the argument that the little brothers were the better siblings a few months ago. They have come a long way in a short period of time, even if one did come from an assist by the commissioner.

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