Is Kevin Love the NBA's Best Power Forward?

James ToljCorrespondent IIJanuary 9, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks and the Eastern Conference boxes out Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Western Conference in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center on February 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

One doesn't hear Kevin Love mentioned when discussing the NBA's best power forwards often, but in just his fourth season, the Minnesota Timberwolves star deserves to be in the conversation.

Love is a fantastic all-around player. He has a wide array of talent and has continued to improve since his rookie season.

Being the best power forward in the game isn't about improving (although a player should always try to get better). It's about having the skills to dominate the competition night in and night out, which Love was able to do in his third year in the league. But Love's role as the team captain and leader of the Timberwolves wasn't handed to him. He has had to earn it.

In his rookie year, Love was drafted by the Memphis Grizzles, but he never played a game with the team.

Instead, he was traded to the Timberwolves after the NBA Draft. Love played in every game that season, but he only started 38 of them. He played well in the 25.3 minutes per game he averaged. He grabbed 9.1 rebounds and scored 11.1 points per game.

The UCLA star shot .459 from the field and .789 from the free throw line. He barely put up any three-pointers, though, and hit just 10.5 percent from deep (2-of-19). He didn't focus much on passing either and averaged just a single assist per contest.

The next year, Love progressed quite well (he started just 22 of 60 games played). He put up a nearly identical field goal percentage (.450), while he improved in rebounds, assists, points, free throw and three-point percentage.

In just his second season, Love was averaging well over a double-double (14 points and 11 rebounds per game), and he was shooting .330 from deep (35-of-106). He passed for 2.3 assists per game and shot 81.5 percent from the free-throw line while only playing 28.6 minutes per contest.

It was last season, Love's third year in the league, when his game reached soaring heights and he became an All-Star.

Love finally became the full-time starter in all 73 games he played and increased his minutes to 35.8 per game. Once again, he improved his statistics across the board. Love shot .470 from the field, .417 from deep and .850 from the free throw line. He had 20.2 points, 2.5 assists and 15.2 rebounds per game. 

Love accomplished quite a bit last season. He was named the NBA Most Improved Player and an NBA All-Star by David Stern in place of the injured Yao Ming. What many consider an even bigger accomplishment, Love averaged double-doubles in 53 straight games (most since the ABA-NBA merger), and he had the most 20-point, 15-rebound games since Moses Malone's 1982-1983 season.

Love has become one of the NBA's best at starting the fast break as well. He has no problem grabbing a tough rebound then easily hitting a player at half-court to get the Wolves moving. Things like this are hard to quantify. Love doesn't get an assist for throwing a precise outlet pass halfway across the court, but the outlet pass is a vital component for any team that wants to pick up the tempo.

A great player makes his teammates better, and by keeping his team's pace and knowing where to go with the ball after a rebound, Love does just that.

Love has an extremely high basketball IQ as well. He isn't the most physically talented player on the floor. In fact, he usually isn't even close. Love doesn't have astronomical leaping ability, but he uses his tenacity and cunning to get points in the paint. 

As outlined, he has become a outstanding shooter too. Love can hit a mid-range with ease, and he is one of best big men in the NBA at taking it behind the line for three. 

The biggest knock on Love is that he isn't a great defender. He won't ever be NBA All-Defensive First Team. His critic's are right in a sense, but like in every other area of his game, Love is improving.

In his first three years, Love's defensive rating was 109, 109 and 108 respectively (defensive rating is an estimate of points allowed per 100 attempts). After eight games this season, his defensive rating is 99 (a very respectable number). Blake Griffin's defensive rating, a player with much greater athleticism, was 107 his first year and is 104 this season. 

Love is doing just what he did last season—playing like an All-Star. His numbers are very similar to his statistics last year, and fans shouldn't expect them to drop off.

There are obviously a plethora of others who deserve credit for their play. Dirk Nowitzki is an all-time great. Griffin is becoming one of the best in the NBA. Amar'e Stoudemire is an elite player, and even though Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol have aged quite a bit, they are still excellent. The list goes on.

However, Love's unique combination of skills lend him the honor of being compared with the other greats at his position. Love isn't very flashy, and it is easy to underestimate his talent. He may not be the best power forward in the NBA, but if he isn't, he is close.