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Isn't it so nice to have Kevin Love back?
It seems like so many people forgot about him last season, when we would hear debates about if Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge was the best power forward in the NBA. Now, that discussion doesn't even exist anymore.
Love has returned in brilliant fashion, averaging 24.3 points per game and leading the NBA in rebounding at 13.9 per game. After 18 injury-plagued games last season forced his true shooting down to 45.8 percent, he's spiked back up to his usual Love numbers. Basically, all we've seen from Kevin Love this season is that he's been Kevin Love.
Love is one of the best shooting power forwards in the NBA, he's the best outlet passer in the league, he's one of the best overall passing bigs in the league, he's the best offensive rebounder in the league, and he's carried this T'Wolves squad for long stretches throughout this season.
There's really only one criticism to make about Love's game: his defense. But Love's D may actually be overly criticized.
It's possible that Love isn't a poor defender and that he just doesn't have the right complementary big with which to play. It's basically the Zach Randolph principle.
Randolph was never a good defender until he went to Memphis. Granted, a large part of that had to do with the fact that he didn't show much effort on the defensive end, a problem which does not apply to Love. Stylistically, though, Randolph could be a nice defensive comp for how Love can develop.
Once Randolph started playing with Marc Gasol (and once he started trying) he became significantly more effective defensively. That's because he could use his strengths without having to worry about his weaknesses.
Practically, Love and Z-Bo have the same strengths defensively: mainly their strength is strength. Those guys are stronger than pretty much anyone that goes up against them on the low block. Because of that, opposing bigs can't really back either of them down in the post.
Once the Memphis bigs, Randolph and Gasol, developed the league's best chemistry among starting big men, Z-Bo began to use his strength even more as a post defender. He became one of the league's biggest bullies, roughing up anyone who would come near him and if a quicker player were to get by him, it wouldn't be as big of a deal as it was in the past because Gasol, one of the best help defenders in the NBA, could come over and pick up his scraps.
Right now, Love is capable of defending like Randolph. He's not going to be a rim protector with his ambiguous height and without much of a vertical, but he can be a bully with that incredible lower-body strength. The problem is that Nikola Pekovic isn't Gasol. There's no one to recover for Love when quicker players get past him and get into the paint. And therein lies the biggest problem with the Love-Pek frontcourt which so many people (myself included) adore so fondly.
As Love continues to develop, maybe his style changes. Maybe his game evolves differently, but for now, that's just a small nitpick of one of the NBA's 10 best players and definitely its best power forward.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
(Unless specified otherwise, all statistics are courtesy of NBA.com and are valid as of November 29, 2013.)