Blake Griffin vs. Kevin Love: Which NBA Forward Is Better Franchise Cornerstone?

Joseph FafinskiCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2011

Blake Griffin vs. Kevin Love: Which NBA Forward Is Better Franchise Cornerstone?

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    Going into the 2010-11 season, not many predicted a year of abundant, solid power forwards.

    Heck, for the last 15 years or so, the debate has been boiled down to Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. However, this past season was filled with many breakout power forwards, among them Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.

    Today the NBA Featured Columnist Debate Team will take a look into two potential franchise guys in Love and Griffin and banter about who is the better starting block between the two. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you view the future) for them, they've been given the keys to their respective teams as the unquestioned leaders. Griffin might have Eric Gordon and Love might have Michael Beasley, but there is no denying who the building blocks are.

    Two of Bleacher Report's own columnists, Joseph Fafinski and Rich Fernandes, have put together a comparison of the two, while offering opinions of the opposing players' games themselves.

    Fafinski takes Love, and Fernandes takes Griffin.

    Who do you think is the better franchise player? Please feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments' section.

    Enjoy!

What's the Best Part of Blake's Game? (Rich)

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    The soaring hype for Blake Griffin and the Blake Show has reached a towering crescendo, fueled by one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in league history.  In fact, Griffin has met these high expectations head-on in his inaugural year, which in retrospect was even better than Lebron James’ impressive first year in the league. 

    Astoundingly, you have to go back to Shaquille O’Neal’s dominating rookie season to see a similar comparison.

    Griffin  made it look easy to average 22.5 points (.506 FG%), 12.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists  per game, which was certainly more than enough for his runaway 2010-11 NBA ROY award. 

    In just one year, Griffin has become the most electrifying and exciting player in the league with an uncanny ability to jump out of the freaking gym like it’s nobody’s business.  His vertical and explosive athletic game in the paint is unparalleled in the league and it only helps that the majority of his possessions are in the post.

    At 6-ft-10 with the strength and build of LeBron James, Griffin has a proven ability to routinely outmuscle his man.  He exhibits excellent footwork with unparalleled quickness for his size and can rapidly change directions in the paint, while simultaneously positioning himself into prime enemy real-estate with physical intimidation—making him almost unguardable.

    When he has the ball in the low block, Griffin uses both finesse and brute force to finish at the rim with a fine collection of spin moves that often lead to an overpowering and thunderous dunk.  But the man with big hands and a very soft touch has other effective methods of attacking the rim including an onslaught of turnaround jumpers and spin moves, as well as a nice right-handed hook shot. 

    His unmatched vertical game is extremely impressive, especially when you consider how he can mimic a human pogo stick with each subsequent and effective leap—an attribute that must drive defenders crazy.

    He is also a solid passer, as well as an outstanding rebounder (averaging 12.4 per game) that’s good for fourth best in the league.

    Griffin still has much room for improvement in his already incredible and exciting game, but given time and considering his strong work ethic and desire to succeed, his decision making skills and consistency will undoubtedly also improve.  This includes his perimeter and defensive games, but nowhere can he have more of an immediate impact than by improving his dismal accuracy from the charity stripe.

    So with the above points in mind, it’s Griffin’s strength, quickness, physical attributes and high basketball IQ that make him extremely talented, as well as versatile at both ends of the court.  

    In fact, you can say that Griffin’s pure and almost unparalleled athleticism for a man his size is the best part of his game, because it drives every facet of his overall and incredibly explosive game. 

What's the Best Part of Kevin's Game? (Joseph)

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    It’d be downright stupid for me to say rebounding isn’t the best part of Kevin Love’s game. After all, crashing the boards practically made Kevin Love a star in this league.

    From the moment he put up that tremendous 31-31 game (which, by the way, is something that hadn’t happened in 29 years) to the point where he notched a 20-point, 15-rebound per game average throughout the entire season (something else that hadn’t been seen in as many years as the 30-30), Kevin Love has shown that he is a special talent in this league. Heck, even David Stern realized his talents back in February when he was the final player added to the Western Conference All-Star team.

    The fact that voters chose Tim Duncan and the oft-injured Yao Ming for the roster just shows how underrated Kevin Love was. Blake Griffin already had the hype, and people weren't very surprised when he put on a clinic during his phenomenal rookie season.

    Now, eight or so months later, it’s hard to refrain from calling the 6’10 Love a star, even if he did play lead role for a mediocre 17-win team this past season.

    But back to rebounding. Love did it better than anyone in the NBA during the 2010-11 season, and there’s really no way around that statement. He utterly dominated his team’s crashing of the boards. In fact, the player who came up with the second most in that category, Michael Beasley, averaged a pedestrian 5.6 rebounds per game.

    In a season where there were solid rebounders aplenty (including his own competition in this debate), Love led the league with a Moses Malone-esque 15.2 average on the boards per game.

    It’s amazing to think that someone who is as unathletic as Love could lead the association in such a category.

    Anytime someone supersedes a post-merger record, it should be noted. Kevin Love broke Moses Malone’s streak of consecutive double-doubles (Mumbles did it 52 straight once) by seemingly holding a 10-10 or better by half at some points.

    This is not to say Love is a one-dimensional player, obviously. He also excels with his solid range and his lofty basketball IQ. Building on his range, I really think there are few (regardless of position) who are better spot-up shooters and possess the scoring ability than Love in the league.

    That being said, it’s not hard to see why it is such a difficult task to select just one strength of Kevin Love’s since he enjoys personal success in an abundance of ways. Just take a look at his ranking in player efficiency rating, or PER, from last season. Only Dwight Howard and LeBron James topped Love’s clip. That’s something to be proud of, considering the two aforementioned players are usually regarded as the best big and the best overall player in the league, respectively.

Where Does Blake Griffin Rank Among the Best? (Rich)

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    Without any specific order, the popular list of the ten best players in the league today include Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Dirk Nowitzki.

    After only one year in the league, it’s my strong opinion that Blake Griffin deserves a spot on this list.  But for those who remain unconvinced, you are bound to end up with egg on your collective faces as Griffin proves that he is indeed a top player in the NBA whenever play resumes.

    Many analysts conclude that Griffin has a rare and intrinsic ability to create scoring opportunities while not even having the ball in his hands.  You cannot say the same about most of the top ten stars listed above, with the exceptions of only Paul and Williams, who as pure point guards create team offense like a true quarterbacks should.

    Griffin creates these scoring opportunities in an array of ways.  He crashes the offensive glass, makes cuts off the ball, finishes on pick-and-rolls and gets out in transition. 

    Which superstar does all of these things as well as Griffin?

    The answer is none. 

    Griffin’s defense is still under development, but even his average “D” is better than the hibernation “D” of Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki.

    Furthermore, none of these players have a more accurate and devastating post game in the enemy’s block than Griffin and only Deron Williams joined Blake Griffin and ten other players by averaging a double-double last season.

    Comparing these players with an analysis extrapolated from NBA.com brings forth some stunning points in Griffins favor:  Only LeBron James, Kevin Love (also not considered a superstar) and Dwight Howard were more efficient last year than Griffin. 

    Blake was twelfth in the league in scoring, but only Dwight Howard made less shot attempts.  With a field goal percentage of 50 percent, Blake exceeded the shooting percentages of Bryant, Rose, Anthony and Durant by as much as five percent.  In the category of Points + Assists + Rebounds (average), only LeBron James was better.

    From his performance last season, Griffin deserves to bump at least one of these superstars from the superstar list.  He has not yet entered his prime despite the unbelievable talent surge, while both Nowitzki and Bryant have left theirs.  Only Dwight Howard can match up with him in the post, a fact that already makes Griffin the best power forward in the league.

    And only LeBron James has as much athleticism for a big man, but he lacks the work ethic and drive to get better, a characteristic exhibited by Blake Griffin in spades.

Where Does Kevin Love Rank Among the Best? (Joseph)

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    A few months ago I declared Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love, respectively, as the best power forwards in the NBA. Now that one is a Finals MVP and a ring (and if it’s Love then there shouldn’t be a debate between he and Blake), the debate is easy to solve—Dirk Nowitzki is the best.

    Even though neither Blake Griffin nor Kevin Love are the best all-around power forward in the league (LaMarcus Aldridge holds this honor), both rank up there with the best and any NBA fan would be stupid not to include them in the top five at the position. Love grabbed rebounds in huge bunches while the Blake Show took off with an arsenal of simply mind-numbing and gravity-defying dunks.

    It’s easy, though, to overlook that part of his game and declare Griffin overrated. I’m not one of these people, but I do believe there is more to the game of basketball than slamming the rock through the net.

    If we were judging on jaw-dropping plays, I’ll take Griffin. However, if we’re judging on sheer basketball talents and the lesser of two evils defensively, give me Kevin Love. Admit it, it’s hard to name power forwards in the NBA that you’d take over Love.

    Honestly, who else possesses both amazing rebounding and scoring (and I’m not talking from 10 feet in, Blake) abilities that the Minnesota big has?

Who Is the Better Piece to Build a Franchise Around? (Rich)

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    Griffin versus Love makes for a very interesting comparison, because they are about the same age, share the same height (6-ft-10), are dominating players in their own right and are the centerpieces and franchise players of their respective and struggling teams.

    Both these players exhibit a maturity that’s a rare commodity among young and talented NBA players and which makes them the leaders of their teams.

    Kevin Love is undoubtedly the extremely underrated power forward of the two and continues to overachieve, significantly raising everyone’s eyebrows.  He is the best rebounder the league has seen since Dennis Rodman, who himself was also extremely underrated.

    Love is obviously an intelligent player who uses his head to excel on the offensive end, but his defense leaves much to be desired (with the exception of his stellar rebounding).

    Overall however, Griffin is far more athletic than Love is.  So when you talk about potential, you know right of the bat that Love’s athletic game falls short to that of Griffin’s—a huge factor in each players ability to dominate at both ends of the court. 

    Even when you look at Love’s league leading rebounds, you can surmise that Griffins 12 rebounds per game was better than Love’s rookie season and only three off Love’s mark this past season.  The potential is definitely there for Griffin to lead the NBA in rebounds.

    While they're both in the predawn of their primes and share the same time and space at power forward in today’s NBA, according to NBA.com they are also among the top four leaders in efficiency.  As a side note, NBA.com’s efficiency formula is the standard used by all NBA coaches and is not PER (which is not recognized by the league). 

    Last season, the four most efficient players in order included LeBron James, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin who made this list in his rookie year. 

    Griffin does play with a reckless abandon, but it’s that style of play that makes him so exciting to watch and so promising as a player.  Staying healthy and avoiding a major injury is the only thing keeping him from becoming legendary.   

    From a purely raw perspective, Griffin has more potential and upside than Love because he’s far more athletic than Love will ever be.  That’s not to diminish Love’s outstanding contributions to the game, but to point out that when choosing between two of the youngest of the NBA’s next generation—it’s Griffin’s enormous ceiling of potential contrived from his athleticism that separates him from Love.

    Blake Griffin is without a doubt, the better piece to start a franchise with right now—better than Love and better than every superstar with the exception of LeBron James.

Who Is the Better Piece to Build a Franchise Around? (Joseph)

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    Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are both very unique players. “All You Need Is Love” is a statement the Minnesota Timberwolves can relate to. It’d be interesting to see how the team would have fared if the UCLA product had not been injured the final month in the season.

    In regards to defense, both players are fairly poor. According to the immaculate 82games.com, the two player’s statistics defensively are so close that neither can be considered a winner here. I think anyone with a basketball brain would know that both Love and Griffin are considered liabilities defensively. Even so, both are young enough in their careers where you can expect major improvement on that side of the ball. We’re not exactly debating a grizzled-but-soft vet like Dirk Nowitzki here.

    Taking that into account, Vinny Del Negro and Rick Adelman better shift their focuses onto the defensive side of things. There’s a big difference between being known as a Charles Barkley-type and a Tim Duncan clone.

    That being said, Love has shown he can bring his all-around offensive dominance to more places on the hardwood, and for his efforts he should be lauded as the superior power forward. The fact that he’s proved himself better with the ball in his hands (Love averaged 2.1 turnovers per game while Blake lost 2.7 a game, although Blake is the better passer) put together with his tremendous shooting and his will to win, Love gets the advantage here easily. That’s not a rip on Griffin, of course. He’s one of the league’s best bigs and he will be apart of the superstar conversation for awhile. It just seems unfair to give the crown to a guy whose offensive skills are limited based on his poor shot.

    Unless the NBA decides its future showdowns should be "Top 10" SportsCenter highlights, then I’ll pick Kevin Love if given a choice between the two.

What Do the L.A. Clippers Need for Blake Griffin to Take Them to a Title? (Rich)

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    The L.A. Clippers have endured a dismal existence next to the other team in Tinsel Town and it doesn’t help matters that the Lakers are arguably the greatest franchise in league history. 

    But most of that dismal existence can be blamed on an ignorant and tampering owner.  If Blake Griffin and the Clippers are to succeed, Donald Sterling must be taken out of the decision making process putting an abrupt end to his constant meddling.

    The pieces of this team seem to be coming together—led by Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon who are young and athletic players brimming with potential.  These are the three mainstays of the Clippers for the future, setting a partial starting rotation at the positions of power forward (Griffin), shooting guard (Gordon) and center (Jordan) in stone. 

    That leaves two glaring spots at both small forward and point guard.

    Now imagine Andre Iguodala at small forward and Chris Paul in L.A. (why not?) running the offense.  This could easily become one of the top starting fives in the entire league and would certainly be capable of winning a championship.

    But Jordan probably has the longest maturation process to undergo of this new starting five and interchanging him for the likes of Tyson Chandler at center might expedite the Clippers chances at challenging for a title sooner rather than later.

    If it was possible for three kings to move to Miami last season, the above scenario is certainly more than possible.  The Clippers are no Lakers—at least not yet, but top players will want to play with solid talent like Griffin and Gordon in a big market like L.A.

    The Clippers have money to spend and an exceptional pillar to build with in Blake Griffin.

What Do the Timberwolves Need for Kevin Love to Take Them to a Title? (Joseph)

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    At this point in time, it’s not completely out of order to refer to the T’Wolves as an up-and-coming team. Aside from the 23-year-old Love, the team has a plethora of young star-studded 20-somethings like Beasley (22), Anthony Randolph (also 22), Derrick Williams (21) and Ricky Rubio (20). Over the next couple NBA campaigns, the Timberwolves will be one of the more scrutinized teams in the league based on what general manager David Kahn has done and said ever since taking over back in ’09.

    Love is the cornerstone of the Minneapolis franchise, and over the past year or so this has been apparent. He himself has even said that recent coaching hire Adelman will definitely affect his decision about the upcoming renewal of his contract.

    When it comes to the team, Rubio and Wes Johnson will anchor the franchise’s next backcourt, and Love, Beasley, Randolph, Williams and ultra-bust Darko Milicic will man the post.

    It will be difficult splitting minutes with the new additions, and Love may lose a few of those cherished 60-second intervals, but all in all it will be good for the team.

    In my humble (and hopefully non-biased, seeing as how I’ve been a fan since the Kevin Garnett-Tom Gugliotta days) opinion, in Love the Wolves now have their guy that they have longed for ever since Garnett shipped off to Boston back in ’07.

    For 12 seasons he gave us his best, and really it’s hard to say that new guy Love will ever get close to what KG did. I mean; you are in Minnesota, a place where championships are hard to come about, the last being a Twins World Series victory back when I was in diapers.

    Random nostalgic moments aside, the Timberwolves might be one or two key veterans away from competing. A hot topic over the ’10-11 season was what the club should do at the shooting guard position. Current incumbent Wesley Johnson has major potential, but his rookie season went up and down more than a Cedar Park rollercoaster. He needs to establish efficiency at both sides of the court in order to ensure himself to be a catalyst for the future.

    To be fair though, the team was a worse position than the Clippers. The T'Wolves aren't exactly stable in the backcourt, so it might be a longer trek to relevancy for Minnesota's club, but it's possible.

    Just as Rich states for Griffin, the Wolves have money to spend and are looking for more vital bits and pieces for their seemingly bright future. Kevin Love will, for the next decade, God and David Kahn-willing, be an integral part of Minnesota Timberwolves basketball and the key to a bright future.

What Does the Future Hold for Blake Griffin? (Rich)

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    Griffin is already a matchup nightmare for opponents and has so much upside that he could easily develop into an absolutely dominating and unstoppable force—even more so than he is now, which is a scary proposition to say the least.  He is filled with intensity and a desire to improve.

    While seemingly just an average defender in his rookie year, but still ahead of the curve for a rookie power forward.  His defensive game in the post should improve significantly by simply utilizing his significant quickness and strength to gain leverage in the same manner he does on offense.  And just like on offense, his defensive potential is huge, as exhibited by both his high basketball IQ and physical attributes that transcend into an enormous talent in one tidy package.

     “Griffin loves to face his man up on the low blocks and use his speed to blow by him. He's developing a series of spin moves and counters on the blocks. He's gaining confidence in his 10- to 15-foot jumper. He's already a phenomenal passer for a forward. If Griffin works as hard off the court as he does on it, it won't be long before he is nearly as dangerous in half-court situations as he is on the boards or in transition.”  (John Krolik, ESPN) 

     Griffin is the king of the post when it comes to converting points under the basket and there is nobody else in the league that can make the same claim.  Out of his 16.8 FGA per game where he converts half of them, a large proportion of Griffins points come from the post.

    You can definitely make a case that he is already amongst the 10 best players in the league as was done on the previous slide.  After all, this kid can score, rebound and intimidate without impunity—just ask Lamar Odom. 

    Griffin’s accolades that include several rookie first achievements put him in some pretty distinct Hall of Fame company and also separate him from every single current NBA superstar in one way or another. 

    His double-double streak was the longest by a rookie since 1968.  He was the first rookie to have two 40 point games since Allen Iverson.  He was the first rookie voted to the All-Star game by coaches since Tim Duncan.  He had a better rookie season than LeBron James and as good a season as Shaquille O’Neal’s.  He was also the first unanimous winner of the ROY since David Robinson.

    And Just like Iverson, Duncan, James, O’Neal and Robinson in the beginning—Blake Griffin’s ceiling of potential is sky high.  

    He has the maturity that both Duncan and Robinson had and that both Iverson and O’Neal lacked.  That same maturity comes with an intense work ethic to be the best.

    Certainly, it’s too early in Griffin’s career to make such a prediction, but If he continues to improve at an astonishing rate and the L.A. Clippers start putting the right pieces together—no one should be surprised if the Blake Show wins multiple MVP’s and NBA titles over the course of his career.   

    That might be enough to propel the Blake Show into the top 10 best players of all-time on the GOAT list when it’s all said and done.

What Does the Future Hold for Kevin Love? (Joseph)

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    Being only 23, it is safe to say that we haven’t seen Love’s actual apex (unless he is a David Thompson-type, which is highly unlikely) and that the best is to come. The same can be said for Griffin as well.

    But why do I think Love’s ceiling is higher than Griffin’s? Simple, it’s his shot.

    Love shot 41.7 percent from beyond the arc last season, tops amongst power forwards. He also shot 85 percent from the charity stripe. Both of these guard-like numbers trump Blake Griffin’s and rank among the league leaders. While shooting might not be the most vital part of the game at times, it’s important to note how much better K-Love is over counterpart Griffin in this aspect.

    Now think about the fact that Love did all this while grabbing and hustling for better than 15 rebounds per game. It’s just an astounding statistic.

    It blows my mind to think he can grab 4.5 offensive boards per and drain better than a three every game. Even though he is less athletic than Griffin, there is no denying that he is superior in this offensive aspect.

    Three seasons deep and we’re one All-Star appearance, one post-merger NBA record, and two double-double seasons into the picture? That isn’t too shabby. It’s more than any power forward not named Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, or Kevin Garnett could say. It’s certainly more than Blake Griffin at this point.

    Love’s potential from his first two seasons caused management to face a difficult decision by letting Al Jefferson go after just three seasons as Garnett’s heir in the Gopher State. The team was that confident in Love’s abilities.

    Seeing what he has done and what he can do, I think it’s safe to call Kevin Love a star in this league and a guy who can eventually join the ranks as an all-time great.