A lot of people don’t like Neapolitan ice cream. They say it’s nothing but a boring compromise, maybe even a sign of commitment issues. Chocolate and strawberry and vanilla? Pick one!
But the NBA fans and coaches who put together the Western Conference’s All-Star roster this season felt neither sheepishness nor pressure when choosing their favorite flavor of power forward. The final verdict was more inclusive than decisive, an opportunity to have their cake and their ice cream, too. And their ice cream and their ice cream.
Blake Griffin and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Pick any comparison of three you want. Even select, Goldilocks-style, the one with whom you’re most comfortable. The fact remains, each of them takes an interesting and different route to reach, more or less, pretty similar destinations. In this case, New Orleans for the 63rd NBA All-Star Game.
Percentage of shots by location
“When you mention each of those guys, you envision a different type of power forward,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said the other day. “With LA [Aldridge], I think it’s his length and his mid-range shooting that come to mind. All of ’em have improved. But they score in different ways, they rebound in different ways, they defend in different ways, they have different ways in how they move.
“The only comparison is when you look at their numbers and the impact they have on their teams.”
Here are snapshots of the three West All-Star power forwards – Griffin and Love were voted in as starters, thanks to the openness of the “Frontcourt” category, with Aldridge added by the conference coaches – along with some eyewitness testimony:
Los Angeles Clippers
6-foot-10, 251 pounds
Key stats: 23.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.6 apg
53.7 FG pct, 28.1 3FG pct., 70.2 FT pct.
Misc.: 16.6 FGA, 0.6 bpg, 1.1 spg, 24.1 PER
Karl Malone, the NBA’s second-leading points leader and a Hall of Fame prototype for a traditional power forward, recently gushed about all three of the big men. But he especially lavished attention on the Clippers’ brawny “four” man.
“I would love to spend some time with Blake Griffin,” Malone said while sitting in on the TV broadcast of the recent Golden State-Utah game. “The first hing I’d do is say, ‘Blake, the next time a guy cheap-shots you, just lose your mind. I’ll pay your fine. If a coach grabs you, throw him too and [later] say you’re sorry. I don’t like the cheap-shots people are taking at him.”
Griffin’s muscle-beach build is tailored for physical play, and his notorious posterizations of foes with spectacular, vaulting slam dunks has a lot of them on guard even before the opening tip. But it’s his game that has grown in Kia-leaps and bounds, particularly during L.A. point guard Chris Paul‘s recent injury layoff.
Here are some who have noticed:
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s seen a lot of different defenses now. I think he knows what he’s trying to get to. They’re doing a good job of moving him around. They play off him well.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers: “He’s facing up guys far more. That’s the only thing I wanted him to do more. He’s a big with a tremendous first step, and the way I look at it, if you face ’em, you can use your first step. If you play with your back to ’em, you can’t use your gift and they are allowed to get their hands on him. When he turns and faces, the guys guarding him, you’ve got problems.”
Griffin, in a recent Los Angeles Times story: “My biggest pet peeve is probably the ‘All I do is dunk’ thing, just because I’ve felt like even from day one, I’ve done more than that. But you understand that people are going to … be critical of you no matter what.”
Key Stats: 6-foot-10, 260 pounds
25.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 3.9 apg
45.5 FG pct., 36.4 3FG pct., 82.0 FT pct.
Misc.: 18.3 FGA, 0.4 bpg, 0.9 spg, 27.3 PER
The opportunity for Love and Griffin to play on the same floor might give fans a chance to see some dazzling power forward-to-power forward alley-oop dunks. If, that is, Griffin can pinpoint his outlet pass downcourt timed perfectly to Love’s skywalking.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what everyone’s going to see,” Love said, smirking at the tease.
What folks will see is a hybrid player, somewhere in between Griffin’s power and Aldridge’s finesse along the talent spectrum. Love is a dominant rebounder who isn’t much of a leaper and he’s a 3-point shooting champion who will try to win that title again on All-Star Saturday.
Here are some views of Love, his game and the competition:
Love: “I’m a little more of a stretch-4 than Blake. I’m sure we’ll split our share of rebounds, but if I’m rebounding the ball and trying to outlet the ball to him, you’ll see some of those highlight dunks. Going against him when he’s dunking like that, it’s not too much fun, but playing with him, I’m hoping it will be a lot of fun.”
Rivers on Love’s uncanny nose for rebounds: “I played with Dennis Rodman in San Antonio – we’d laugh when we were watching the film. You could see him breaking toward the ball before it hit the rim. I just thought that was crazy, and he did it over and over again. So you just felt like he kind of knew where it was going. Kevin’s like that.”
Veteran NBA power forward Al Jefferson: “Kevin Love was my rookie when he first came in [with Minnesota] and I knew right away he was going to be something special, because his IQ was so high. Then me and LaMarcus been going against each other since high school, so the things he do out there don’t surprise me. I knew he was a very talented player and works his butt off. But the guy I have to say has really surprised me on another level, just so quick, is Blake Griffin. [Early] he was more about athleticism – he really couldn’t shoot, he really couldn’t make free throws. Going toward the rim, he was amazing but I always said, if he ever loses that athleticism, he’s not going to be a top player. The last two years, the way he just improved his game – his post game, his jump shot, his free throws – now if he loses all his hops and athleticism right now, he still could be a 20-10 guy in this league.”
Aldridge, who hears a little too much gushing about Love when their teams meet because the Wolves’ forward grew up in the Portland area, was a little more tight-lipped. “He’s just versatile. A good rebounder. Really good passer. And he can shoot it.”
Houston coach Kevin McHale: “All those guys are unique. Aldridge long, with his high release, beautiful 17-, 18-footers. Love has taken his game out to the 3-point line. Griffin is just so athletic off the dribble. If you took Griffin and said, ‘We want you to get a high release and be a 17-foot jump shooter only,’ he would suck. If you took Aldridge and told him, ‘I want you just to drive and spin and dunk,’ he would suck. And if you took Kevin and said, ‘I want you to be them’ … they’re all individuals. Kevin’s one of the few players – him and Ryan Anderson – in our league who can make shots and rebound. Most of those guys who are making shots at that position aren’t getting anywhere near the boards.”
Portland Trail Blazers
6-foot-11, 240 pounds
Key Stats: 23.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.8 apg
46.5 FG pct., 11.1 3FG pct., 81.8 FT pct.
Misc.: 21.0 FGA, 1.0 bpg, 0.9 spg, 22.4 PER
Aldridge might be the most defensive of the three PFs – not in his game as much as in sticking up for his game. Playing in Portland, making it to New Orleans as an All-Star sub rather than starter, he tapped into his pride when talking about his season and his style.
“I do post up. I do go to the basket,” he said after a shootarond in Indiana last week. “I do have a jump hook and a fadeaway, but I have to bang to get to my fadeaway. I still get a lot of my points on the block and I do go to the basket. I’m shooting something like 60 percent at the rim, so if I was just a finesse player, I wouldn’t be so high.
“I feel like people get so caught up in, ‘If you’re a power player, you should be at the rim.’ If I’m blessed with the skill level to be able to do both, then why not do both?”
Aldridge recalled the game at New York last week when he had to adapt to what the Knicks were throwing at him. “They doubled me on catch every time I caught it on the block. I ended up finding my rhythm going isolation at the elbow and on pick-and-pops. If I’m one-dimensional, I don’t score. They’d have totally taken me out of the game. The fact that I’m versatile, it was easier to find a rhythm by taking my jump shot out there.”
He need not protest so much. The admiration society for Aldridge is a large and growing club.
Chicago’s Taj Gibson: “He runs like a deer still and he’s more physical down low now. But yet he’s so finesse and has so many counter-moves. Other guys, they tend to have one or two moves. But he has a load of options in his pocket.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “It’s his shot-making. He’s got that unguardable turnaround. His quick release on the catch-and-shoot. His pick-and-pop game is awful tough to guard, and he can put it on the deck and make plays off the bounce. With that high release and that quick release, it’s near-impossible to get to it sometimes. He’s playing with such confidence, you have very little margin for error.”
And here’s Love summing up the rivalry among them and how it most often shows itself:
“There’s not much talk. The media try to make it out that we don’t like each other. But really, we just all have an edge to us and a competitive spirit that we want to be the best.
It’s no secret when I take the floor, I want to kick their ass. And they would say the same about me – I hope so.”