Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Love’

LeBron James – Point Guard

December 6, 2014

Before this latest string of wins, there were a lot of opinions being thrown around about the state of the new Super Cavs.

On defense the consensus opinion seemed to be that Kevin Love should morph into a shot blocking defensive anchor, I’m guessing via some sort of exposure to radioactive materials, or maybe there’s a gene therapy he could get in Germany. Let’s ask Kobe Bryant for advice here. Alternatively, everyone not named LeBron James or Shawn Marion needed to learn to pay more attention at the defensive end. And frankly, James had been pretty lazy on defense for his normal standards too.

On offense, folks seemed to expect Kyrie Irving to take personality altering drugs until he saw the floor like Chris Paul and became as pass-happy as Rajon Rondo. People also wanted to see Love in the post more, which is a great idea as a first option in half-court sets, except that if Love is catching the ball in the post, LeBron isn’t. Everyone remembers that LeBron shot over 60% from two-point range since he moved into the post as a power forward for the Heat, right? You might want to exploit that particular little piece of amazing. Also LeBron in the post is a dramatically better passer to open shooters than Love.

BUT, LeBron is also vastly more versatile than Kevin, so they may just have to sacrifice that piece of James’s game. This is the trouble with combining a group of super-scorers. They can’t all have the ball in their favorite places at the same time, so the threat of everybody playing sub-optimal ball, or at least putting up sub-optimal stats, is real.

The concerns are a bit premature, but they are legitimate. The Cavs are currently the 5th best offense in the league (same as the Heat last year). They are the 15th defense in the league (4 spots worse than Miami last year). Their margin of victory is only 3.8 points at the moment. It’s always good to have that number be a positive, but historically championship contenders have an MOV of about twice that number. There’s still lots of time.

The competing voice in the Cavs debate always maintained that it was just a matter of time. Talent wins out in the NBA, and these guys were bound to figure it out, or LeBron would just give into the impulse to take over and simply carry them into relevancy on his own. What no one seemed to anticipate, and what has clearly taken place is that James has assumed a new position this year.

The official Cleveland starting line-up looks like this:

PG – Kyrie Irving
SG – Shawn Marion
SF – LeBron James
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

In actual execution that line-up amounts to this:

PG – LeBron James
SG – Kyrie Irving
SF – Shawn Marion
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

First, let’s clarify the basic difference between a guard and a forward in traditional position assignment. Guards are ball-handlers. Forwards work for points off the ball and generally play closer to the basket unless they are playing a “stretch” role as a jump shooter. Shawn Marion is no guard. He is a classic tweener or swing forward capable of rebounding with bigs and running with quick wings. He can defend big guards, but he cannot serve that role on offense. LeBron on the other hand has the ball-handling skills of an And-1 champion. The idea that Marion is the starting two guard and James is the starting small forward is as ridiculous as the old days when skinny, three point shooterRobert Horry started at center next to post-scoring, shot-blocking, rebounding machine, Tim Duncan. It’s non-sense.

In fact, not only is James starting at guard, he is clearly the primary playmaker on this team. You see it when you watch them play. He’s orchestrating. He’s handling the ball. He’s making things happen for others. It’s also clear in the box score where he’s leading the team in assists and turnovers. That’s a point guard. Kyrie is ball-dominant, but he’s using his guard skills primarily to create scoring opportunities for himself. This is fine. Allen Iverson won an MVP and helped an offensively challenged Sixers team reach the finals while playing that style. The question-mark is with LeBron. Should he be playing the point?

When the Heat were going through their growing pains, LeBron took over point forward responsibilities for a time (Miami always started two true guards – Dwyane Wade and one of Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, or Norris Cole), and he did not like the role. I don’t recall that James gave an explanation for why he didn’t want to be the point man on the team. Too tiring, maybe? Wanted a system for sharing the ball better so as not to alienate Wade? Not sure. But it looks like that’s where the Cavs are now, and I wonder if James didn’t intend to take this responsibility on from the get go. He did take it on himself to lose a ton of weight this summer. He looks more like a guard than a power forward now.

And frankly if he did decide prior to making the move to Cleveland that he was going to go back to being the primary creator, it may have been a smart move on his part. James is such a great passer on the pick and roll, he has the ability to play to Love’s game this way, keep Andy and Tristan Thompson involved, and open things up for the guards to attack the defense with secondary penetration. LeBron can also push the ball in transition more when he is the first outlet receiver or making more end to end runs off his own defense rebounds. It’s tough to sacrifice all the easy buckets they get off of James’s leak outs, but Dion, Kyrie, and Marion can all finish on the break as well, and LeBron’s ability to see over the defense and make pinpoint passing strikes is unmatched in the game today.

Defensively, my only thought is that they still need to coordinate better and give more consistent effort. Not having a dominant defensive center isn’t a death sentence on defense. The Heat didn’t have one. It just takes more attention to detail and energy on the perimeter when there’s no shot blocker waiting at the rim. Either that or they need to make a move to get the shot blocker they are missing. One easy shift they could make is to consistently line up with Marion guarding the other team’s best wing player. This would give James more freedom to help on defense, and his speed and athleticism make him the team’s best cover up defender and ball hawker.

One nice thing that comes about if the Cavs do concede that LeBron is their starting point guard: Waiters wins his argument with Bradley Beal. The Heat would have the best starting backcourt in the NBA (Warriors have an argument). He just isn’t part of it.

Are the 2014 Cavaliers Championship Material?

September 29, 2014

One practice down, and LeBron James is already letting us in on how he expects the team offense to run. He expects it to run through Kyrie Irving. That is to say, Kyrie will play the point, and LeBron will get to work off the ball more than he did in Miami where he split shot-creation duties with Dwyane Wade and certainly more than he did in his last stint with the Cavs where Mike Brown’s lack of an offensive system put the results of every possession squarely on James’s tattooed shoulders.

This is good news for everyone involved. Kyrie is not necessarily best-suited to spending all game making entry passes to James and Kevin Love in the post and then playing a purely catch and shoot role. He’s too dynamic with the dribble to be confined to a Derrick Fisher role. And for James, this means he will get to be a finisher rather than a creator. His assist numbers will likely decrease, and his shooting efficiency may drop some as he won’t be in position to pick and choose his spots as much as he has been in the past. However, his energy reserve for end of game should be much increased. I recall when Phil Jackson instituted the triangle offense and moved the ball into Scottie Pippen’s hands, it had a detrimental effect on Michael Jordan’s efficiency and box score totals, but it also saved him the gas to close games for the Bulls on a more regular basis which I would say contributed to their championship success.

What should we expect the offense to be if it is not a steady diet of LeBron and Love on the blocks? New Cavaliers coach David Blatt is a master of Euro-ball, so we can probably assume that the majority of plays will involve heavy doses of pick and roll. He can set the floor a number of ways and run a lot of different off ball action to free up wing shooters while the primary pick and roll action happens thanks to the mobility of presumed starting shooting guard Dion Waiters and the outside shooting ability of both James and Love. If Kyrie runs a side pick and roll with James while Anderson Varejao and Love set a staggered screen for Waiters curling from the baseline to the top of the key, the defense has to a lot of bad choices to make.

Irving and James cannot be defended without a hedge or an outright double team from on of the other defenders. Kyrie is too good with the ball, and James is too big and athletic, especially at the small forward position. The defense can send Varejao’s defender to help, drop Love’s defender onto Andy, and hope Dion’s defender catches up to him before he gets a wide open shot, but then it’s a swing pass to Love in the corner for an open three pointer. The defense could drop Varejao’s defender to help on the pick and roll and just abandon Andy as the only non-shooter, but that leaves him to cut to the rim for a dump down pass or uncontested offensive rebound. It’s rough, and it’s a lot easier to set up than the synergies that formed in Miami because the pieces fit in more traditional ways.

Setting baseline screens for LeBron off the ball would also be interesting, because he’s likely to have a massive size advantage, and if they can use Kyrie’s dribble attack as misdirection, they could probably hit James with unstoppably deep post position. All in all the offense ought to be very tough because of all the shooters, passers, and ball-handlers available.

Defense on the other hand could be an issue, but we won’t know until we see how they line-up. Kyrie looked decent as an on-ball defender in the World Cup, but he hasn’t had good defensive numbers or habits in the NBA. Love is another player who has not historically been a good rim defender or a one-on-one stopper. James is an All-D regular with the ability to lock up multiple positions, and Andy is a solid position defender as well. The team’s biggest weakness projects to be big guys with post games. However, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez, and Chris Bosh are probably the only players in the East capable of really taking advantage of that weakness, and none of their teams are expected to contend due to a lack of overall talent or an inability for key players to stay healthy.

I’d expect the Cavs to play a sort of late 80’s / early 90’s style where they pace the game to take advantage of their superior talent and then try to lock down teams for a few minutes at the end of each quarter to really build separation. Danny Ainge told Bill Simmons in a podcast that he felt the 1986 Celtics had a defense on par with the 2008 Celtics but that they didn’t focus as much energy on all-game defense. They exerted themselves more on offense and then locked down on defense selectively. By the numbers the comparison isn’t close. The 2008 team is up there with the mid-90s Knicks and early 2000s Spurs as one of the best defensive teams of the 3 point era. That said, the ’86 Celts were the best defensive team in the league that year (Jordan still dropped 63 on them in the playoffs), and that mentality of playing faster and allowing your offensive dominance to shine most of the game and then really focusing on getting stops, especially turnovers, in short bursts is tried and true. The Celtics did it. The Lakers did it. The Bulls did it. These Cavs could do it too. Maybe.

Forecasting Team USA without Durant

August 8, 2014

Losing Kevin Durant (don’t worry Thunder fans; he’s fine) is a serious blow to team USA’s goal of winning a gold medal in the newly minted FIBA Basketball World Cup. Not only was KD the best player in the entire tournament, he was also the focal point of Coach K’s offense and according to reports out of the Las Vegas training camp, the heart and soul of the team. He’s the guy everyone else looks up to. It’s a big loss to drop your most talented, most central, and most respected player.

Quick list of all the players that team USA expected to be available for this tournament who for various reasons are not:

Kevin Durant
Paul George
Kevin Love
LaMarcus Aldridge
Blake Griffin

That’s a full complement of big men, less Anthony Davis, and it is the two best wings on the team. Love, Aldridge, and Griffin have been out of the picture for some time now, but George and Durant comprised the team’s starting forwards as recently as last Friday. How will Mike Krzyzewski and his staff adjust their game plan, and who will make the final roster?

No one in the player pool or the rest of the world for that matter can approximate what Durant does. He’s a 6′ 10″ quick forward with guard skills and limitless range and possibly the best one on one scorer in the game today. You don’t just replace that skillset. In 2010 KD undressed the rest of the world with his combination of length, quickness, and shooting touch to the tune of 33 points per game (in a 40 minute contest). Without him the team will need to leverage athleticism for transition buckets and maybe use Duke’s motion offense to a higher degree. Thankfully the team is loaded with great point guards. Overloaded maybe.

Speaking of point guards, let’s take a moment to figure out that position and how losing Durant and George, two playmaking wings with range and speed, might impact which PGs make the final roster. The available pool contains: Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, John Wall, and Damian Lillard. The team has 12 roster spots, and it will need at least 4 bigs and 4 wings, leaving no more than four available slots at guard. At least one of these All-Star caliber guards is off the team. Rose is a lock. By all accounts he’s been the best of bunch since day one at training camp. Rose will function as a penetrating creator off the dribble and in the pick and roll. He’s also a quick-footed defender who can harass opposing ball-handlers in the open court. The most obvious candidate to back-up Rose and possibly pick up some minutes beside him is Steph Curry. Curry is the premier shooter off the dribble in the league and another strong pick and roll distributor. With the loss of Durant, shooting will be at a premium, and Curry seems like a sure thing.

If you consider minute distribution, there are only 80 total guard minutes in a 40 minute game. Rose, Curry, and presumed starting big guard James Harden could split those minutes equally between them and play less than 30 minutes per game each. If Harden picks up some minutes at the small forward slot, a move made more likely with the injury to George, that would make a little space for one of Irving, Lillard, and Wall. Of the three Lillard is the best shot-maker, Irving is most familiar with Coach K’s offense, and Wall has the most size and thus the best chance to defend big guards alongside another PG. Personally I think taking Wall is a no-brainer here. His size and speed add versatility to the position. Irving and Lillard both have their merits at the double secret reserve guard spot, but Coach K will probably go with the more trusted and familiar Kyrie.

Reports had the staff favoring energy bigs like Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee playing short minute bursts off the bench. Faried may have to start now. There are other options. Chandler Parsons has enough size to play a small-ball power forward in place of Durant, but he’s a poor substitute for the MVP, and the skills he brings may not make up for his lack of size defensively and on the boards. The team could also choose to play a bigger brand of basketball and pair Anthony Davis with either DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. Drummord shoots free throws worse than Dwight Howard on horse tranquillizers, so he’s probably out as a crunch time player at least.

Replacing Paul George is less of head-scratcher though the drop in talent is still an issue, and the damage to the team’s depth is incontrovertible. George’s role was to be the team’s wing stopper on defense, to finish on the break, and in the half-court to play off the ball with hard cuts and space the floor with spot up shooting. Klay Thompson, who seemed like a lock to back up both the shooting guard and small forward positions, is the obvious replacement. Klay is a good on-ball defender, has good size, and he’s a deadeye shooter. He’s not the athlete that George is, but he’s a good fit. Starting Thompson depletes the bench of one of it’s best two way players. Those extra minutes will be picked up by the combination of Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons, and Gordon Hayward. None of them is a proven defender at the wing, but I’d lean towards Korver who is the NBA’s premier distance shooter and smart enough to use Coach Boeheim’s zone defense principles to his advantage.

Final Roster Prediction:

G – Derrick Rose
G – Stephen Curry
G – James Harden
G – John Wall
G – Kyrie Irving
F – Klay Thompson
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Kyle Korver
F – Chandler Parsons
F – Mason Plumlee
C – Anthony Davis
C – DeMarcus Cousins

I would anticipate starters of Rose, Harden, Thompson, Faried, and Davis, but that PF spot could go a lot of different ways. I think team USA will still be favored to take the gold, but the roster and game plan have been compromised in some serious ways, and it will be a real test for some young guys who are unproven in international play.

Eastern Conference – Post LeBron and Lance Signings

July 18, 2014

Is it possible that I haven’t written an article since the before the end of round of one of the playoffs? All things are possible through our faith in LeBron, hallowed be his essay. But putting faith aside, I’ve had a crazy summer and am coming back with a vengeance today (possibly followed by another 3 month absence).

Let’s catch up on the things we’ve missed:

Spurs = incredible. Should be favorites to repeat until we see some kind of improvements among the Thunder / Clippers / Surprise WC Contender. Tim Duncan did not go to some other super-duper star level with this 5th championship. He was already there. Anyone who doesn’t view Tim as a top 10 player all time isn’t paying attention.

Heat flaws that we detailed during the season did come back to bite them just a bit in the Finals. Less aggressive defense than the last two years. More turnovers. Poor rebounding. Too much reliance on only taking excellent shots (layups, free throws, open threes), and when a good defense finally took those things away, they just weren’t used to taking tough contested shots (particularly James who could have been more assertive with his midrange game against a sagging Spurs defense). On the other hand, if Bosh and both PGs hadn’t gone ice cold from beyond the arc, the whole series might have been different.

Also a 4 time MVP and the consensus best player in the league just changed teams of his own accord and left the best team in the East for the 2nd time in 5 years. This is a bizarre league sometimes. I want to take the rest of our time in this post to consider the Eastern Conference in the wake of the dissolution of its 4-time Finals representative.

LeBron James bolting for Cleveland completely disrupts the power dynamics in the East. Everybody outside of Miami is proud of LeBron for making this family / community decision and bringing his market growing powers to a city in need of a boost. I concur, but I’m a little disappointed that this Heat team won’t get its best chance to make it 5 straight NBA Finals, which hasn’t happened since Bill Russell’s Celtics.

The Heat, who managed to keep Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, still have a ton of talent (particularly if Wade can pick up his shot attempts without killing what was a career best year for shooting efficiency), and depending on how they revamp their system, might actually remain a contender to make the Finals. I genuinely think that 2011 team could have made and possibly won the Finals with Luol Deng instead of LeBron and an upgrade at center with the rest of LeBron’s salary. That was four years ago. This team’s chances hinge entirely on what Wade has left in the tank. If he can go back to being a 2400+ minute, 30%+ usage first option creator, they have a strong chance to make it to the Finals. If not, I don’t see it happening.

However, another transaction from a top East team has cleared the way for basically anything to happen. The Indiana Pacers lost Lance Stephenson, who was pretty clearly their second best player and the one guy with the most potential to join Paul George as cornerstones for the future. Lance was Indi’s most creative pick and roll player, most aggressive slasher, and a great wing defender who played two positions and even provided some back-up point guard skills. Without him the Pacers could slide back to the pack, and with the Heat a huge question mark as well, there has to be a lot of hope among the other teams out East.

Chicago is the default favorite in many expert opinions (Vegas has the Cavs) based on the signing of Pau Gasol and the return of Derrick Rose. I need to see both of them perform at a high level before I’ll get excited about them and this team in general. The rotation is interesting. Rose and Kirk Hinrich at the guard spots, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell and the rookie Doug McDermott at the wings, and Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson up front. They need to stay healthy or add a little depth, but they sound terrific on paper. The offense can’t be any worse than last year, and if the defense holds, they stand to improve. But Rose has to show us what he’s got before we can put them ahead of the pack.

Cleveland by virtue of LeBron is immediately a Finals contender. People who are concerned about his fit with this relatively young team need to relax. James can fill any skill gaps. We got used to him operating in that Hakeem Olajuwon mid-post, but if the Cav shooters aren’t up to spacing the court for him, he can do other things. Put him in a high pick and roll / pop set with Kyrie Irving, and good things will happen. Let him set a strong down screen for a curling Dion Waiters, and force the defense to switch a guard onto him on the block or leave Waiters open on the wing. He’s a man-mountain with all the skills the modern NBA has to offer. He’ll fit. Especially if they pull a trade and bring in Kevin Love to clear up that big man shooting issue.

Atlanta is interesting because people are probably not paying enough attention to their under-the-radar All-Star center pick up of Al Horford. This was a very well-coached team with great chemistry who competed at both ends last year, and they were missing their best player for most of the season. They are the Chicago of the South East division with much much much better shooting and not as much continuity and defensive dominance. Okay. They are nothing like the Bulls. But they are getting their best player back from injury, and they do have the potential to make a huge leap this season.

Washington lost Trevor Ariza, which I think will hurt them because he was doing a really good prime Bruce Bowen impression for them with more athleticism to boot. My main man Paul Pierce has lost a step and isn’t up to defending guards any more which means Bradley Beal and John Wall will have to guard their position every night instead of handing off the best opposing perimeter player. This is a very solid team with a spectacularly talented point guard and solid players at every position. Depth could be an issue, but they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

Toronto stayed the course, holding onto all the chief assets from last year’s run. They should be better with more experience together. Kyle Lowry was a top 4 guard in the East last year and may be again, and his back up is very solid as well. I don’t know if the overall talent level is high enough (what positions do they “win” against say the Wiz or Cavs?), but they have continuity and they compete hard, so in the upheaval of the Eastern Conference, you can’t write them off completely.

The Nets are headed downhill unless they get a remarkable return to form (from five years ago) from Deron Williams. That is really their only hope for getting better after losing Pierce.

The Knicks are looking to 2015 and don’t even want to be great next year. I keep hearing from New York representatives that Andrea Bargnani is going to have a bounce back year, and I keep asking myself “bounce back to what?” Hasn’t the mystique of being a #1 pick worn off yet? Carmelo Anthony came back, and they picked up Jose Calderon for a respectable PG presence. Those two factors coupled with the institution of a system offense by Derek Fisher might be enough to make the playoffs, but they aren’t contending.

The one other playoff team from last year that looks to be improved is Charlotte. The HORNETSNOTBOBCATS picked up Lance Stephenson which adds a lot of strength and versatility to their wing rotation. They can roll out Lance, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with each playing in the low thirty minute range. That could make for some very nice perimeter defense and very shaky shooting. Losing Josh McRoberts will hurt as he was a legit 6’ 10” and could pass and shoot out of the high post. They need to find another complementary big to pair with Al Jefferson. Speaking of Big Al, he needs to come back healthy and repeat his excellent performance from last season. If Kemba Walker continues his upward trajectory, and they can plug a couple holes, this is a very solid team. Probably not a contender, but who knows. If Lance makes a leap, they could be a threat. Maybe. Unless Lance does something insane and Michael Jordan clubs him to death with a Brand Jordan 7-iron.

Best Power Forward in the NBA 2013-14

December 30, 2013

There was a debate raging on my Twitter feed @DoubleDribbleWP this weekend regarding who the best power forward is today. I did not take part in the discussion because I thought the topic deserved more than 140 characters worth of thought.

The debate centered around LaMarcus Aldridge, the long-armed forward-center post-up and spot up jump shooting specialist for the ass-kicking Portland Trailblazers, Kevin Love, the rebound savant with killer 3 point range and tremendous passability, and Blake Griffin, the multi-time All-Star with a great motor and all-around game who is best known for his devastating above the rim finishes.

The debate omitted the actual best power forward in the league. You know the guy. Won back to back MVPs and Finals MVPs the last two years. Took his talents to South Beach a few years back and now he starts on a front line next to Shane Battier and Chris Bosh and leads the team in rebounds per game. There’s a decent chance you’re wearing his best-selling jersey right now. LeBron James is in fact a power forward this year, as he was last year, and almost indisputably he’s the best player in the league. So while I guess it’s possible to define the role of a power forward and create some criteria to discredit LeBron, let’s just save the time and agree that he’s the best, and we’re actually debating who the second best in the league and first best in the West is.

If we ignore LeBron and look west, and also omit Kevin Durant, who does give minutes at the PF but starts and plays most of his time at the SF, then LaMarcus, Love, and Blake are the best candidates for the top PF spot.

The BBR stats are here.

Per Game:

Player Age MP FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
LaMarcus Aldridge 28 37.1 20.6 .472 0.2 .000 4.9 .801 2.4 8.4 10.9 2.9 1.1 0.8 1.8 2.0 23.4
Blake Griffin 24 36.6 15.9 .524 0.5 .375 7.3 .700 2.3 8.3 10.6 3.1 1.1 0.7 2.9 3.4 21.9
Kevin Love 25 36.3 18.6 .464 6.5 .386 7.7 .833 3.7 10.1 13.8 4.2 0.8 0.3 2.5 1.8 26.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2013.

Advanced:

Player Age PER TS% eFG% FTr 3PAr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48
LaMarcus Aldridge 28 22.5 .514 .472 .236 .008 7.2 24.5 15.9 13.9 1.5 1.5 7.2 28.7 110 104 .165
Blake Griffin 24 21.5 .574 .530 .459 .031 7.2 24.6 16.1 15.1 1.5 1.5 13.1 26.7 110 101 .177
Kevin Love 25 28.4 .595 .532 .412 .351 10.3 31.4 20.3 20.6 1.1 0.7 10.2 28.0 122 102 .278
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2013.

Great per game stats for everyone. Each player is putting up 20 PPG and 10 RPG.  Each player is maintaining at least a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio which is what we expect from a big man in the NBA.

Statistically there’s no question that Kevin Love comes out on top. Love plays the shortest minutes and amasses the highest points, rebounds, and assists per game. His field goal percentage is the lowest of the bunch, but that’s only because more than a third of his shots come from beyond the three point line. His TS% is much better than the others at a beefy 59.5% thanks to his great three-point shooting and a high free throw rate (2nd highest of the group behind Blake).

In terms of play-style, Love has no real historical comparison. His rebounding and passing are reminiscent of Charles Barkley, but he lacks Barkley’s ball-handling skills and low post dominance. He makes up for those two failings with Dirk Nowitzki like shooting touch and basically limitless range. No one has ever done what he’s doing.

The easiest argument against Love is that his team isn’t winning as much as expected (I guess Love isn’t ALL you need – sorry). Even that you could counter with the fact that Kevin’s raw plus / minus is the best of the group:

Love +7.7
LA +7.1
Blake +5.1

It’s kind of hard to fault Kevin for his team’s lack of wins when he puts up the fantastic stat line he does and has the highest on-court point differential (which is all that an unadjusted +/- really shows us). Also when you look at the advanced team stats, Minnesota is actually rated higher than you’d expect. They are a .500 team, but their SRS projects them to be a top 5 in the West, behind both the Blazers and the Clippers but ahead of current playoff-bound teams such as the Rockets and Suns. Maybe the lack of actual wins when the team is performing well on paper should be placed on Love’s shoulders. Perhaps this is one of Bill Simmons’s leadership issues where a team falls apart in key moments. On the other hand it might be what happens when your point guard is the worst shooter in the last 50 years.

The real counterargument to Love’s statistical dominance is the matter of defense. He’s not great at it. The question is whether or not Blake or LaMarcus is significantly better on that end of the floor.

Until the adjusted plus / minus stats are available, it’s tough to credit LaMarus with an overabundance of defensive potency. His team’s defensive rating of 107.6 is in the bottom 10 leaguewide. His personal DRtg isn’t bad at 104, 3.6 points per 100 possessions, better than his team’s average and 1.3 better than the league average; however, both Love and Griffin rank better than him in DRtg. Where Aldridge does surpass them is in versatility on defense because he can defend both the PF and C positions one-on-one. This could be a major advantage in a defensive system that refused to double the post.

Aldridge’s best quality is probably his one on one scoring, which is excellent and the best out of the three. His efficiency marks aren’t as good as Love’s or Blake’s, but in terms of getting a bucket one-on-one against a set defense, he’s probably the best low post scorer in the league behind Brook Lopez. He’s also got that Kevin Garnett / Tim Duncan mid-range jumper game that opens things up for his teammates on pick and pop possessions. He has the type of game that impresses analysts who are former players or coaches because it translates to the post-season where transition scoring is more difficult and half-court buckets against a set defense become a real premium.

Blake Griffin is the only player of the group that the stats really support as a plus defender. His team defensive rating is top 7, just ahead of the Miami Heat, and his individual DRtg of 101 is 4 points better than league average and 2 points better than his team’s average. The Clippers play a couple different styles of defense on the pick and roll, sometimes asking Blake to drop back into coverage and sometimes asking him to show so hard that he actually switches for short periods (just like Kevin Garnett did for Boston under Doc Rivers). His blocks and steals still seem a little low for a player with his athletic gifts, but overall I think he ranks out as the best defender of the three, at least until the adjusted plus minus numbers become available and give some additional clarity.

Offensively Blake is the bottom of three statistically. This is primarily due to his lower usage and higher turnover rate. The Clippers do play at a pretty high pace, 6th fastest in the league, and high pace can lead to more turnovers and a more even distribution of usage. That said, the Timberwolves have an even faster pace than the Clippers do, and Love’s usage and turnover rate don’t suffer.

Blake’s in an odd position in that he plays with a ball-dominant, pass first point guard. On the one hand this can be very good for a player statistically. Karl Malone and Amare Stoudemire both had amazing stats while playing with two of the greatest pick and roll point guards of all time in John Stockton and Steve Nash. But playing with Chris Paul, who controls the ball for 80% of each possession and maintains a fairly even shot distribution for the team, takes opportunities out of Griffin’s hands or puts him in position to have to make snap decisions should Paul get him the ball late in the clock. It’s tough to tell if we should hold him more accountable for any inefficiencies since he has the best point guard in the league setting him up or forgive him for not doing more since he doesn’t have the ball as much. Griffin has certainly expanded his game and improved his mid-range jumper to help the team spacing and take advantage of Paul’s half court game. Blake is also probably the best playmaker of the bunch. Love may be a better passer and more prolific assist-generator, but Griffin is able to create shots for teammates out of the post or on the move and has shown great ability to read the court in transition and find the open man.

All three players definitely have their strengths and weaknesses. Love is the best shooter and rebounder. LaMarcus is the biggest and the best at creating points in the half court. Blake is the most athletic and most dynamic on the move. My inclination is to give the title of best PF in the league not named LeBron to Kevin Love. He certainly still has some things to prove on the defensive end and in terms of team wins, but his on court ability is just so remarkable. Like Barkley and Garnett before him (sorry Minnesota – I lived in Minneapolis during the KG era), Love may need to go to a new team before we can see how good he really is when playing with high caliber teammates, but the tools are all there to be an MVP type player.  I’m not sure I’d say the same for Griffin and Aldridge, though Blake is still developing.