Moving Forward: Settling Al Jefferson vs. Kevin Love Debate
This is the fourth post in a five-part series looking at the season past and offseason ahead as it pertains to each of the five positions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Part 3, a look at the small forwards, can be found here.
It's decision time.
This offseason, Timberwolves President David Kahn will most likely turn the lights out on perhaps the most pressing question in Wolvesland for the last two seasons: Kevin Love or Al Jefferson?
Kevin McHale created the conundrum in his final draft as the team's general manager, of course, when he traded third pick O.J. Mayo for Love.
It became apparent this season that the idea of a Love-Jefferson frontcourt, like so many other McHale ideas, wasn't going to pan out. On offense? It's beautiful. Jefferson operates on the block, Love in the high post and in the midrange, and they truly did have some honest-to-God chemistry.
But offense is only half the game, and... let's just say they fell a little short in the other half.
Both Love and Jefferson are undersized, slow-of-foot big men who make up for those deficiencies with incredibly high skill-levels (Jefferson's impressive throw-back array of post moves; Love's incredible rebounding and court vision and instincts). You can have one of these players in your frontcourt. But, apparently, not two.
The problem with this pairing is that neither of them can match-up with a big center or a mobile, perimeter-oriented power forward. Which wouldn't be a big deal if, you know, not every team in the league had at least one of those two things.
So, unless Kahn really can't get any decent value in a trade, one of these guys has to go. Let's figure out which one!
First up is Big Al. A big, huge, giant part of this Love vs. Jefferson debate comes down to which Jefferson you use to debate with. '08 Jefferson was a terror on the low block, a guy whose ability to score baskets was elite enough to make his poor defense worth it.
Then '08 Jefferson tore his ACL, and made '09 Jefferson a lot worse. He scored about four fewer points per 36 minutes. His turnover rate was up, his rebounding was down, and his Player Efficiency Rating dropped from 23 (really, really good) to 19 (pretty good). In short, his '09 offense was no longer good enough to make an '08-level defense worth it.
And that subpar '08 defense? A thing of the past. Gone, in lieu of some of the most apathetically horrible post defense capable of man.
So if you're going to move on with Jefferson, you need to know whether Jefferson has permanently fallen to '09 status, or if he can get back to where he was pre-injury.
The case for choosing Big Al goes something like this: It takes about a year to recover from an ACL tear, so it wasn't fair to expect Al to play at his pre-injury level last year. He'll get healthy, and when he's healthy, he's a rare commodity: A true post scorer who you can go to down the stretch for baskets.
Now it's Love's turn. Love missed the first six weeks of this past season with a broken hand. And his value was made very clear when he returned from his injury.
The kick-ass edge faded a bit as the season went on and his minutes got jerked around, but for the first month or so after he returned, K-Love went off on potentially the best all-around stretch of basketball in a Wolves uniform post-K.G.
He came back and re-shaped the team with his astonishing ability to rebound (he's the best offensive rebounder in the NBA), his court vision and passing skills, and his floor-spacing jumpshot. For a couple weeks, it was actually a fun, competitive team to watch.
My take: Keep Love. He'll never be the post scorer that Jefferson is -- even injured Jefferson, but his game is so much more diverse. Here's the way I see it. In a few years, if the Wolves are going to go anywhere, the guy who will be their star is not currently on the team.
And, if you look at the NBA as a whole, it's probably going to be a perimeter player. Whether it's Evan Turner (fingers crossed), Ricky Rubio, Harrison Barnes or someone else, this team eventually needs to get a guy who you can give the ball to, run isolations, and watch them score.
And when that guy's here, what will Jefferson do? He doesn't move without the ball, he doesn't have a good mid-range jumper, he's a good-but-not great offensive rebounder. Basically, when Jefferson isn't putting post moves on a defender, he is pretty much hurting the team.
Love is the opposite. He may not beat Jefferson in a game of one-on-one, but as the team (hopefully) transforms into movement, perimeter-oriented team, he'll become an ideal complementary big man. Jefferson will be a fish-out-of-water, trying to help a team that doesn't put the ball in his hands as often.
Add in the fact that Big Al makes double figures per year while Love is still on his rookie deal, and it becomes close to a no-brainer in my eyes.
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