The Los Angeles Clippers will host the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight at 10:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. The thought of these two teams taking up a primetime spot on ESPN would have been laughable a few seasons ago.
This year, however, the two clubs are loaded with young, interesting talent. Lob City of course added Chris Paul this season but he is unlikely to suit up tonight. Ricky Rubio, maybe the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year so far this season, will be starting at point for the Timberwolves.
It’s the matchup of Blake Griffin against Kevin Love that is the most intriguing. They are the two best young power forwards in the game today, with conflicting styles of play and their matchup tonight will tell us a lot about each player.
On one side, with Los Angeles, you have the truest power forward in the league today and someone who hates the rim more than any other player in Griffin, who is averaging 21.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game this season.
His counterpart tonight, Love, is the only player in the NBA averaging over 25 points and 14 rebounds per game. Love does his damage below the rim and beyond the three-point line while Griffin wows with highlights in the sky.
Which one is the better power forward? Which player has the most value going forward for a franchise?
Love’s numbers are better but numbers don’t tell the whole story. Griffin possesses a much greater ability to score at the rim and around the paint. Love relies on offensive putbacks and three-pointers from pick-and-pops to get his scoring.
Griffin shoots 70.2 percent on shots at the rim and 45.3 percent on shots from 3-9 feet. Love is only at 57.0 percent at the rim and a measly 32.1 percent on shots from 3-9 feet. Love does hold a considerable advantage in getting to the free throw line, averaging 9.3 attempts per game, compared to 7.2 for Griffin.
It feels like Love almost preys on a defense’s mistakes and laziness to score and get rebounds. He is a constant hustler whose motor is always running, in a league prone to taking possessions off. It’s not a knock on Love but a compliment because “hustle” is not as common an attribute as you’d think in this professional sports league.
While one would marvel at the numbers Love accumulates after a game, and how many times you see him come down with a board during one, it’s a feeling of “what if” most often when watching Griffin’s game.
His post moves are not refined like that of a Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum, and he settles for jumpers too frequently, shooting just 33.0 percent on jump shots between 16-23 feet while attempting 4.8 per game.
Griffin impacts the game in a more dramatic way though. Defenses have to double him and worry about getting dunked on or manhandled beneath (or above) the rim. Defenses have to simply not forget about Love.
It is clear that Griffin has not hit his ceiling. He’s still very raw with bounds of upside when it comes to his work in the post and his jumper. Does Love get better than 25 and 15? Are we going to see him average 28 and 18 one season?
Love, despite being only 23, may be peaking, at least statistically. Not many experts are calling Love the next Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol. He’s an anomaly. No one else can grab you five offensive rebounds per game, while also stretching the defense and knocking down 36 percent of his three-point attempts.
The jury is still out on Love and whether he is a bonafide superstar yet, but tonight’s matchup will certainly showcase two of the game’s brightest young stars. Whoever rises to the occasion could tell us a lot about the future of the Western Conference.