Battle for NBA's Top PF Played on Uneven Playing Field

Andy BaileyFeatured Columnist IVMarch 2, 2017

Nov 11, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) is defended by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Based on skill alone, Kevin Love is the best power forward in the NBA. But Chris Paul keeps Blake Griffin in the debate. 

The league's top two 4s faced off Monday night in Los Angeles. Griffin's Los Angeles Clippers came out on top against Love's Minnesota Timberwolves by a final score of 109-107, but the game highlighted Love's positional superiority.

His advantage in the debate is his versatility. Before this season, Love could dominate a game as both a rebounder and scorer. Now, he's added creating for others to his repertoire.

This season, Love has shown great vision kicking the ball out of double-teams or in drop-offs to Nikola Pekovic around the rim. But his most notable pass is definitely still the outlet—which is even more entertaining to watch now that he plays with leak-out artist Corey Brewer.  

Blake Griffin is no slouch as a passer either. In fact, I've made the argument that he's underrated in that regard. But his three assists a game aren't on par with Love's five. And, the power forward for which people are making passing highlight reels plays in Minnesota.

In terms of rebounding, there really is no debate. Love averages a league-leading 15 boards a game, compared to Griffin's 10.6.

And that doesn't tell the entire story. Using's new player tracking tools, we can get an even better feel for the kind of rebounder Love is. Of the 12 players averaging at least 10 rebounds a game so far this season, Love's third in contested rebound percentage (the number of rebounds a player collects while he's within 3.5 feet of a defender). Griffin's 11th out of 12.

This says a couple things about Love. First, and most obvious, the rebounds Love is grabbing are tougher than Griffin's simply because he has to compete with an opponent for them more often. Second, it suggests something most people already know about Love: That he's possibly the best in the league at boxing out.

Love is old school, in that he goes out of his way to find an opponent when a shot goes up. And when he hits him, Love creates space to go collect the rebound. ESPN's Sport Science segment on Love shows that even a sumo wrestler is no match for his fundamentals.

Love is also a more complete scorer than Griffin, possessing range beyond the three-point line. He's making 2.5 threes a game and is particularly dangerous from the left wing.

He also has a go-to move on the perimeter—one that he went to a couple times against the Clippers Monday night. Minnesota point guards often enter the ball to Love on the wing, then go over and set him a ball screen. Love takes one dribble around the screen, then goes to a step-back three. The first play in this video demonstrates it perfectly. 

What's most interesting about Love's shooting is how out of character it is for a dominant rebounder. Only one player in NBA history has ever averaged at least 13 rebounds a game and hit over 100 three-pointers in a season. I'm sure you won't be shocked to know that player is Love. But what is a bit surprising is that he's on pace to hit 200 threes this year and is averaging 15 boards a game. Insane new heights.

There are a couple areas where you can argue for Griffin. He's averaged more points per game in his career than Love has during his (although the latter is up about six this season). And right now, he's shooting a higher percentage at the rim (67 compared to Love's 60).

But when you factor in that he plays with the league's best point guard, those arguments carry a lot less weight. Chris Paul leads the league in assists at 12.4 a game, and his ability to draw defenders creates wide-open dunk opportunities for Griffin.

To drive the point home, over 80 percent of Griffin's field goals this season have been assisted on. That number for Love is just under 65. 

Ricky Rubio is solid and all, but he's not making things as easy for his power forward as Paul is for his.

When opposing coaches game-plan for the Clippers, they're undoubtedly scheming against CP3 above all else. Against the T'Wolves, the focus is Love.

I'm not saying Griffin isn't good. On the contrary. I think he's the second best power forward in the NBA. And thanks to his point guard Chris Paul, Griffin came out on top against the best 4 in the league.



All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference or unless otherwise noted.

For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.