Can Kevin Love Be the Best Player on a Championship Contender's Roster?

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterSeptember 13, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12:  Team mates Kevin Durant #5 of the United States, Kevin Love #11 of the United States, LeBron James #6 of the United States and Kobe Bryant #10 of the United States  celebrate winning the Men's Basketball gold medal game between the United States and Spain on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympics Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 12, 2012 in London, England. The United States won the match 107-100.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In theory, almost any all-star could be the best player on a championship roster. Chauncey Billups may have been good and/or may have been underrated. Still, his leading of the 2004 Pistons reflects this principle. 

One superstar can take a feeble Cleveland roster and turn it into a 60-win, regular-season monster and most championship squads have an elite player, and now increasingly, a trio of them. 

But, there is also reason to think that the superstar's impact might be waning. Back in the 1990s, illegal defense rules encouraged isolation basketball. Today, we see more teamwork in the drive-and-kick approach. The San Antonio Spurs were two games from the finals with Tony Parker as their best player. 

This is all a long-winded preface to saying that a team probably won't contend with Kevin Love as its best player, but it certainly could. If Minnesota, somehow, turned Nikola Pekovic into Tyson Chandler, the Timberwolves would be in business. 

Of course, there aren't very many Tyson Chandler-types out there, and that's the point. Kevin Love is a superstar who needs to play alongside a specific, rare kind of talent. 

First, the Kevin Love positives—and there are many. He's the best combination of three-point shooting and rebounding that, perhaps, the league has ever seen. This is no small thing in an era where teams want to stretch the floor without sacrificing much for the inclusion of shooters. Also, this is no small thing because it tends to produce huge stat lines. 

Love hit seven threes during this 51-point, 14-rebound performance. Though it was an atypically monstrous game, the seven threes spoke to what is becoming typical of the position: Power forwards shoot from distance, and few do it better than Kevin.

The rebounding is Love's calling card, as he's top-two in the league in that respect (Possibly No. 1, depending on Dwight's back). Though undersized, Love has fantastic instincts for where the ball caroms. Many of his grabs are well below rim. 

Now, for the slight negatives. Love isn't a good defensive player. He also isn't a bad defensive player. These two statements can confuse those who wish to make every explanation binary. Love is a neutral force when on the floor. He lacks height and length but compensates with few mistakes and an adherence to responsibilities.

So if Love isn't a bad defensive player, then why would he need to play alongside a shot-blocking, good defensive center? Well, it's a matter of how many other elite big men happen to be good defenders. 

A frontcourt player has a disproportionate impact on defense. They cover more range and operate closer to the rim. There's a reason why Gary Payton is the last point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year, all the way back in 1996. 

So, if your frontcourt star is neutral on defense, you lack the impact defending big that so many other contending teams have. It is difficult to forge an elite defense from an average focal point. It is much easier to be good on D when your team boasts Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan. 

None of this precludes a title run with Kevin Love as a team's best player. I'm merely stating that there is a barrier to such a team's success. Love is, in many ways, an ideal player for this particular era—just not on defense.