About a year ago, I wrote a somewhat controversial post (at the time) about how Blake Griffin was a better player than Amare Stoudemire - only a few months into his rookie season. By the end of the season, there was little doubt as to who was the better player – Blake Griffin had established himself as the pre-eminent, and rising power forward talent in the league, averaging 23 points, 12 boards, and 4 assists per game (Stoudemire wasn’t bad, but wasn’t as good, with a stat line of 25/8/3)
Having settled that debate, a new argument has arisen in the NBA. With apologies to LaMarcus Aldridge fans, the emergence of Kevin Love has threatened to unseat Blake Griffin as the league’s most promising young power forward. Love’s ascent from a pasty, pudgy UCLA Bruins alum (whose previous claim to fame was the best outlet passer in college basketball history) to a dominant NBA All-star has been meteoric – drawing comparisons to Moses Malone while giving Timberwolves fans hope that Rubio-Love can be the best white man combo since Bird and McHale.
So the question on everyone’s mind now is: in the battle of Kevin Love vs Blake Griffin , who is the better forward, both now and in the future? Let’s break it down and compare the various aspects of each player’s game.
On the offensive end, Griffin and Love could not be more different. Griffin relies on monstrous power dunking as well as a rapidly improving post game – featuring his fast developing signature fadeaway. Love, on the other hand, is an excellent 3 point shooter at his position, averaging 2 threes a game this year on 40% shooting. His game is currently predicated on outside shooting complemented by offensive boards and scrappy around-the-basket play.
In terms of overall performance, Kevin Love has been the more prolific scorer, averaging 25ppg this season and 20ppg in 2010-11 (vs. Griffin’s 21ppg each season). While Love’s FG% is lower than Blake Griffin’s (a full 8 percentage points this year), his TS% – the more accurate way of measuring efficiency – has been meaningfully higher each of the last few season. This has been primarily fueled by higher 3 point shooting as well as outstanding free throw shooting, Griffin’s Achilles heel. Love, although he has averaged less assists than Griffin, is probably the better all-around passer as well.
In terms of impact on the game, Love gets an edge here as well, with a higher career Offensive Rating (per BasketballReference.com) than Griffin’s. Given the statistical evidence, as well as the still evolving nature of Griffin’s offensive game, we give a slight edge to Love on the offensive end.
Just as with the offensive end, the defensive stats for both Love and Griffin suggest a remarkably close match-up. Neither player has made his mark yet on the defensive end, averaging around 1 steal and 0.5 blocks per game. Love has been the more prolific rebounder during their brief careers to date, however this can partially be due to greater prowess on the offensive glass.
Subjectively, Griffin’s quickness and leaping ability make him a more versatile defender, able to switch and effectively defend 4 positions on the court. His physical style of play along with the threat of his shot blocking ability (though this has not manifested itself in impressive stats), also provides some level of intimidation over his opponents.
Another incredibly close category. According to 82games.com, in the 2010-11 season, Griffin averaged 28.5 points per 48 minutes of clutch time, whereas Love averaged 27.8. Griffin shot almost 20 percentage points better in the clutch however, and had a plus-minus ratio of -2, significantly better than Love’s -36 (though admittedly, neither player was particularly great). It might be reasonable based on statistics to give Griffin a slight edge in this category, but it is clear this is not a standout area for either player currently.
Winning/Intangibles/Impact on Game
At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is yet another area where both players are extremely close and have seen success. Blake Griffin won 4 consecutive state titles in high school and followed that up by taking a mediocre Oklahoma Sooners team and leading them to a 30-6 record and an Elite Eight appearance. Love led his high school alma mater in Oregon to 3 consecutive state championship games, and then as a rookie with UCLA, led the Bruins to a Final Four appearance. With respect to intangibles, Love seems to be the player that does the little things most often to win: the key outlet pass, the offensive board, the hard pick, etc.
That being said, the difference here between Love and Griffin is that Blake Griffin demands attention. Even this year on a team with Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, Griffin has established himself as the go to scorer and leader of the team. Griffin’s pure physical gifts requires opponents to pay special attention and therefore makes the game easier on his teammates. Briefly stated, teams are required to develop game plans around Griffin.
Long term potential
Love is a double-double machine and a player who will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. However, just like the player he is most compared with, Moses Malone, one can’t help but observe that Love is not most effective when he is the guy with the ball, but rather has a keen sense for picking his spots to get the open shot, or the loose ball as it comes available. Additionally, it remains to be seen how much better Love can become. Given his limited physical ability, we may have seen the peak of what Love will achieve in the NBA.
Griffin, on the other hand, seems to have limitless potential. He is averaging 20 points per game even as elements of his post up game remain unfinished and his mid-to-long range jumper is just beginning to develop. Griffin also seems to have an innate desire to be the best, and carries himself with a swagger that has brought toughness to the rest of the Clippers’ squad. If Griffin can develop a consistent 15-foot jumper as well as a refined go-to post move, he will be nearly impossible to stop.
Based on the above, it is my belief that just as with Amare, Blake Griffin gets the nod over Kevin Love, both in the near term as well as their long term outlook. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers feel like they have two bonafide superstars that will allow them to contend for years to come (or at least until CP3 opts out to join Carmelo Anthony in New York). With Kevin Love, it remains to be seen if his amazing statistics can translate into wins, and ultimately deep runs into the playoffs. Only time will tell, until then, Griffin remains the best young hope at power forward in the NBA.
- 5 Reasons Why Blake Griffin is better than Amare Stoudemire TODAY
- Sam Smith: Will Minnesota Show Kevin Love The Money? (1/23/12)
- Dirk Nowitzki’s Not A Top Three Power Forward, Yet
- Kevin Love: The Mamba’s Pick for All-Star Snub of the Year (and maybe Decade)
- David Kahn’s Illogical Love for Ricky Rubio