If an NBA general manager is deciding between Anthony Davis or Kevin Love as a centerpiece, that decision might come in between championship parade planning and clearing mantle space for an Executive of the Year award.
It's a win-win question that has no wrong answer. These are two of a handful of transcendent talents in the NBA ranks, both masters of their crafts and each continuing to evolve.
On the surface, it is the age-old unstoppable force vs. immovable object debate. Only the unstoppable force didn't have nearly as many levels as Love. And the immovable object didn't hit nearly as hard as Davis.
That debate has stood the test of time. This call might be even harder to make.
The Case for Love
Offensively, he's the total package. He shoots well inside and out, spots passing targets from anywhere on the floor and has no problem throwing his weight around.
He's hustle and grace. Energy and talent. Blue-collar driven and white-collar skilled:
Rick Carlisle on Kevin Love: "He’s a statistical machine. He scores a ton of points, gets a ton of rebounds and he’s getting more assists."— Ed Sefko (@ESefko) December 31, 2013
He's a perfect blend of schools new and old.
He plays like a holdover from generations past. With a wide base and nimble feet, he's powerful and poised near the basket. He has the strength to get wherever he wants in the post and the soft shooting touch to finish the play.
If he's anywhere near the basket, he's a threat. He can punish with his passing or turn errant shots into scoring chances.
And those chances can come from either end of the floor.
If he had enough minutes to qualify, his 13.2 offensive rebounding percentage would stand as the eighth highest all-time. Among qualified rebounders on the defensive glass, Love's 30 percent mark would sit at the top of that list. With the best outlet passing touch the game has seen since Hall of Famer Wes Unseld walked away, Love's defensive boards have a uniquely high value.
While the old-school crowd appreciates his sound fundamental base, the game's new minds salivate over his offensive versatility.
He's an ideal stretch 4 at a time when the role has never been more valuable. He's not an oversized shooter; he's a low-post bruiser with a three-point shot (38.3 percent). His skill set stands unique, with his stat sheets making major noise in both the contemporary and historical senses:
Kevin Love: 3rd game with at least 35 pts and 10 rebounds this season (most in NBA); Blake Griffin (2) is only other player w/ more than 1.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 31, 2013
Kevin Love has tallied at least 25 points, 10 rebounds & two 3-pointers in 7 straight games – the longest such streak in NBA history.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) December 31, 2013
Since Love joined the league in 2008-09, there have been 34 games of 30-plus points, 15-plus rebounds and five-plus assists. He's had six of them, most in the league and twice as many as the next three players on the list (Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin and Josh Smith).
Love is also on pace to become just the fifth player in league history to average at least 26 points, 13 rebounds and four assists per game. The four players to hit those marks before him are all sitting inside the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Cunningham.
Love's the kind of player whose stat lines require comprehension. Even when you watch his games, it can be hard to believe his numbers:
You shake your head at Wilt's stat lines the same way you shake your head at Kevin Love's boxscores.— Chris Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) December 29, 2013
He's already great and only getting better. It's hard to ask for anything more than that from a franchise cornerstone.
The Case for Davis
Davis is years away from his best basketball and is already playing well enough to make this a close call for the short-term.
The 20-year-old first catches the eye for a defensive game built around length (6'10", 7'5.5" wingspan), quickness and instinct. He's unfairly quick for his size and unfairly smart for his skill.
With his physical tools setting him up and his impeccable timing sealing the deal, he's as good of a shot-blocking threat as anyone in the league. He'll unleash a demoralizing swat when his team needs an emotional lift, but he'd just as soon control the block to give his club a fast-break chance.
Davis is a trendsetter, and (thankfully) not for his trademark unibrow.
He played one season of college basketball and left with the NCAA freshman blocks record (186 total). In this, his second NBA season, he's on pace to become just the fifth player in league history—and first since Andrei Kirilenko in 2004-05—to average at least 3 blocks and 1.5 steals.
He's attacking the defensive end in a way that other players cannot match:
Aldridge had his fadeaway baseline jumper blocked by Anthony Davis tonight. Thought that was impossible...— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) December 31, 2013
When you watch him play, you're constantly pinching yourself to make sure this isn't just a dream:
Anthony Davis might have blocked a skyhook if he played in Kareem’s era.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) December 31, 2013
His defense is every bit as good as advertised and then some. But it's his offensive development that makes him such an intriguing two-way building block.
A point guard in his younger days, he's largely getting by on athleticism and basketball IQ to pad his box scores. His offensive post game is incredibly limited, yet he's one of just five players averaging at least 19 points and shooting 50 percent from the field this season.
His backcourt background left with him some usable handles and a mid-range stroke that should only become a bigger part of his game going forward.
It's also allowed him to be one of the most athletic, coordinated bigs the league has seen. He's a devastating finisher both in transition (1.53 points per possession, ranking fourth, via Synergy Sports, subscription required) and out of pick-and-rolls (1.33, fourth). He can outrun defenders, finish around them or simply climb higher than they can.
Few players can match his physical gifts. The fact that he actually understands how to effectively use them leaves his ceiling incredibly high:
Anthony Davis is a consistent three-point shot away from being Kevin Durant with longer arms.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) December 31, 2013
Davis has the upside of a project and the production of a proven investment. He's like buying a lottery ticket and already knowing that at least four of the numbers will hit.
But is he a better building block than Love?
Imagine if this is how NBA general managers really got to spend their days. Instead of scouring the D-League and international ranks looking for the last body to fill a roster, they actually got to choose between two of the most well-rounded, young bigs in the game.
No one would ever get fired. It's impossible to get this wrong.
But you cannot sit in the executive seat and simply say both players are great. There's a reason these decision-makers earn the big bucks, and it's for making tough calls like these.
Love is one of the rare offensive talents that actually makes his teammates better. He's a constant scoring threat and a deserved focus of defensive attention. He buys extra possessions with his rebounding, creates prime scoring chances with his passing and balances the floor from inside and out.
Which of these players would you want leading your team?
Building around Love guarantees your franchise no worse than a top-10 talent, with the skills and stats to possibly creep inside the top five.
But Love wouldn't be my choice. Not with Davis' potential for two-way dominance.
Davis doesn't have a post game, his perimeter game has yet to translate to this stage, he's not even a primary option on his team...and he's still almost a 20-point scorer.
Those other elements will come. His defense, a game-changer in every sense, will always be his calling card. But his offensive numbers could grow to be equally impressive.
Love has a slight lead in this race now, but the gap seems to shorten by the day. The long-striding Davis can make up ground in an instant.
Love is an established star, but Davis has full-fledged superstar potential.
Again, you cannot go wrong either way. But you can go a little more right seeing just how far the 20-year-old can carry your franchise.