As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. Today we continue with Kevin Love, Jordan Crawford, and Marc Gasol.
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Follow Kevin Love on Twitter at @kevinlove.
We can't really deny it anymore. Kevin Love is one of the best players in the league, and a budding star. Saying that feels strange to me. Way back when in 2011, I actively doubted Love's legitimacy. Not as a good player, mind you. From his first year, there were signs that Love was a legitimately talented (and very good) NBA player who had a future as a starter at worst. Many people looked at Love and wrote him off, either due to his low playing time or his low athleticism. He certainly isn't a guy who looks like an NBA player -- he's a bit pasty, and entering the league he seemed a tiny bit chunky. But his talents are myriad, and his flaws are finally starting to be addressed. We'll start with his strengths. First, Love is the best weakside rebounding talent in the NBA. Bar none. He doesn't sky for boards as an athletic marvel a la Dwight Howard, but his ability to covertly make space and throw his weight around to get in position is unparalleled. And he does it all without being particularly tall -- shockingly enough, Love measured up as 6'8" without shoes, making him shorter (without shoes) than LeBron James. But he's still a fantastic rebounder.
In fact, I'm of the opinion that in a pure battle to assess the better defensive rebounder, Love's command of the boxout and ability to use his weight to make space would actually make him a better rebounder than Dennis Rodman was. His body control is exquisite, and he's overcome so many physical handicaps to become a superstar that I'm not sure I'd bet against him in a well-scouted rebound-off between him and the Worm. I'm not 100% sure about this opinion, but I don't think it's blasphemous to think it. Offensive rebounding, obviously, would go to Dennis -- but defensive? Not sure. Love is too damn good. And that isn't simply his rebounding that's incredible -- Love's talents stretch beyond, as he's the best shooting big man in the league today. I don't say that lightly, either -- his three point stroke has gotten better every single year. While he's no great shakes as an isolation three point shooter, he's developed his shot to a designed consistency that makes it one of the strongest spot-up shots in the game. He's a post scorer who gets it done, especially from his pet area in the low block -- and has enough gusto that he generally rebounds and putbacks any shots he happens to miss or get blocked. Which, by the way, has happened less and less. As his role's evolved over his career, Love has been blocked fewer and fewer times per season.
He's come a long way from his rookie year, where a startling 11% of the shots he put up were blocked. Last year, 6% of his shots were blocked -- right below the league average for power forwards. He's put a lot of work into making his post moves harder to predict, and it's paid off in spades. On defense? This is where I can finally give Love his now-deserved due. While Love has been a relatively awful defender for years, last season under Adelman's system, Love finally started to put together a few key skills that evacuated him from the "bleeding liability" stages of defensive development. He's got quick feet, for someone who comes across often as an unathletic schlub, and if you watch him on defense you'll note just how quick those feet can get. Just as he's developed to get better at throwing his weight around in the post, Love has gotten significantly better about sliding over to the weakside to help on the pick and roll. He's developed into a reasonably good post-zone defender, as well -- when Minnesota zoned up and allowed him to cover the paint (quite often the case), Love proved startlingly effective at quashing easy post-ups and keeping in close quarters to slow offensive players in the post. Love's lacking athleticism will always handicap him on the defensive end, but by utilizing him in a zoned defensive scheme, Adelman was able to turn Love's defense from a punch line to a reasonably solid positive. And when you're as effective at rebounding and scoring as Love is, all you really need to solidify your status as an elite player is a merely passable defensive skillset. After years of work, Love's finally got that.
And with it? He's got validation as one of the best players in the game, legitimately. Now that he has some defense, the video game numbers finally have some crunch. Which is a good thing, as he's a pretty funny dude. I will say, although I'm not overly fond of his oddly franchise-threatening comments about Minnesota, there is one thing in Love's personal wheelhouse that will always keep me smiling. I refer to his big-brotherly relationship with Ricky Rubio. There's Ricky learning the intricacies of the English language. There's the storied rookie backpack play (with a guest appearance from Uncle Brad!). There's the trash talk -- which deserves special note. As an older brother myself, I completely understand Love's tactics here. Let the younger have their moment in the sun, and bluster about how they'll dominate the competition. You don't respond in the moment, you just wait. Then later, after totally trashing them in whatever they were nettling you about, you come back with a retort 10x better than one you could've done at the time. Admittedly, this is a high risk/high reward play -- if you actually lose, you've basically given up all ability to contradict the original taunt and instead leave yourself open to further, strengthened taunts that you can only respond to with toothless retorts of the "well... well... I'M OLDER! Nyeh!" sort. But if you win the game, any retort you make is just that much sweeter. Solid, solid play by Love here. Nine out of ten for the classic execution and the thoughtfulness. Exactly what I'd expect out of a man whose closest mentor is Brian Cardinal.
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Follow Jordan Crawford on Twitter at @jcraw55.
I've constantly noted the lack of elite talent at the two guard position -- beyond the golden (and rapidly aging) triad of Kobe, Wade, and Manu you have a relatively bare stable highlighted by James Harden, Eric Gordon, and not-a-whole-hell-of-a-lot-else. The position makes up for it by having about 20-30 versions of the same archetype -- not really elite, nor very good, but essentially your garden variety Jordan clone. Takes hard shots, makes a few, forgets to impact the game in any other way. Very easy to overrate for casual fans and very easy to watch. Jordan Crawford qualifies as one such player, although it's worth noting that he's significantly worse than most of them. I hate to put players down like this, but lord, I just can't stand Crawford's game. It's prone to be overrated due to his capacity for "big" scoring nights -- and after all, he averaged nearly 20 points per 36 minutes -- which makes people forget all the nights he simply can't make a shot to save his life. "Look at his scoring -- it's so prolific! He can't be that bad, right?" Don't be sure about that! Crawford is what one would call a "shoot-always" guard, despite the fact that he's a reasonably effective passer when he deigns to give up the ball. Crawford put up 872 shots in just 27 minutes per game, which is actually pretty incredible.
In the past decade, only four players have managed that kind of a pace -- Crawford, this season's awful incarnation of Brook Lopez, 2010 J.R. Smith, and 2009 Charlie Villanueva. Not a good look, all things considered. It'd be one thing if he was doing it efficiently, but the blistering inefficiency with which Crawford plies his trade really takes it over the top. Crawford is well below the position average from three (28% for Crawford, 35% for the average 25 MPG SG), just below average at long twos (39% for Crawford, 40% average), above average in the 10-15 foot midrange (44% for Crawford, 40% average), very below average at close non-rim shots (32% for Crawford, 38% average), and a tad below average at the rim (61% for Crawford, 63% average). The by-distance percentages look better than you'd expect looking at his overall numbers (40% from the field, 28% from three), but they're a bit misleading -- Crawford takes very few shots from the ranges he's average at, instead choosing to ensure that one of every three shots he takes comes from three point range (where, again, he shoots 7% less than the position average) and an additional one of three from the long midrange. The overall average-ness of his percentages would tend to indicate that, indeed, if he cleaned up his shot selection he'd be a league average offensive player. I'm not sure about that, though, as it would take a full-scale remodeling of his tendencies and traits for him to achieve that. And even then -- he's a pretty massive liability on the defensive end, he's (while better than Nick Young) no great shakes as a rebounder from the guard position, and he doesn't pass very willingly. Is he an NBA-quality backup on a middling team? Sure. Would he dominate in Europe, if given free reign? Absolutely. Is he a starter? Pretty sure the answer is "no way," Jordan comparisons or not. But I'm open to being surprised.
According to NBA.com, Jordan Crawford majored in liberal arts, which I honestly didn't know was possible. Perhaps as a statistician with a minor in economics, I lack the culture that underlies that major. But... seriously, what? I always thought "liberal arts" was simply a large designation of majors, not a major in and of itself. According to the Xavier website, they generally only offer a degree in majorless liberal arts to transfer students and part-timers. It appears from my cursory research that a no-major liberal arts degree tends to involve some element of customization in the student's learning plan. I actually have a friend who majored in "fairy tales" when at Duke (not a joke, she actually majored in this, it's a real thing) with the help of her advisor -- it's not an actual major the school offered, but it's how she set up her degree. So, may she has the same sort of customized "liberal arts" degree. The question I have, though, is what exactly his custom degree was focused on. How to stop worrying and love to chuck? The baking life aquatic? Keeping cool white boys around? So many options. What do you think? (Question goes double for the folks at Truth About It, who I'd bet would know better than anyone. A small shout-out, here -- the Wizards coverage they provide is simply incredible. It rivals that of any blog I can think of. Weidie, McGinnis, Mobley, and the rest of their excellent stable -- their writers all do a wonderful job, and if you're a Wizards fan who aren't reading them, you're a Wizards fan whose life is incredibly flawed. Read them early, read them often. You won't regret it.)
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Follow Marc Gasol on Twitter at @MarcGasol.
Marc Gasol's season was interesting, last year, if not a bit depressing. He started the year on an absolute tear, leading to the big Spaniard's first all-star appearance of his career, then simply wheezed out down the stretch and found himself forced to limp across the finish line. The numbers reflect that -- before the all-star break, Gasol put up a line of 15-10 on just under 50% shooting, along with his patented brand of muck-it-up, tough-nosed defense. After? Gasol's line plummeted to 14-7 on 47% shooting, and his defense fell off. This culminated poorly in the playoffs. While his scoring output came back after he realized he was being guarded by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, his rebounding fell off the proverbial cliff -- seven boards in 37 minutes per game is not going to cut it for a grind-it-out team like the Grizzlies, and part of what helped the Clippers pull off the tight series was Gasol's inability to lock down the boards in the same way he did in the Grizzlies' 2011 run. Not to mention the defensive end, where Gasol simply wasn't as effective as he had been all season for Memphis.
All things considered, I don't think it's fair to fault him entirely for the performance. There's a good reason pure centers rarely play over 36 minutes a night -- it's absolutely exhausting to play the center position in the modern league. This reflects in how coaches allot minutes -- collectively, guards have combined for 208 individual seasons averaging greater than 36 MPG in the last decade. Forwards total 213 such seasons. Centers, even including players designated forward-centers, in that timeframe? 17. No typo. Were you to charitably split the guards and forwards into the five cardinal, positions, you'd get somewhere on the margin of one hundred 36+ MPG seasons at every non-center position. Then, for centers, just seventeen. It's astonishingly low, though it makes my point -- playing a center is really really hard. You get fouled hard seemingly every other play. Opposing centers push you around in the post, and wing players fling their bodies into you looking for foul calls. You're also simply bigger than the other players -- it's hard to lug around a seven foot frame up and down the court thousands of times in a season. Then you add in workouts, the travel in uncomfortably small quarters, and the grind of a full season? Few centers have frames that can really support that kind of a grind. Few people, really.
Marc Gasol, to his credit, did not complain at his over-36 a night minutes load -- Darrell Arthur was injured, you see, as was Zach Randolph. Without Marc on the floor, the Grizzlies spent much of the season parading out a semi-hilarious potpourri of big men. And Marc's skills are considerable. His defense, as mentioned, is wonderful -- very solid widebody defender individually, and he puts in his effort on help defense. His large size and weight does negatively impact his help defense, as it harms his mobility and ability to properly recover onto his man if he evacuates for a weakside shooter. But don't let that lessen your view of him -- Gasol's defense absolutely defines the Grizzlies when they're at their best, and although he has his challenges, he's an incredibly smart defender that always seems to make the best possible decision on a coverage. Great shutdown paint defender, when the Grizzlies run modified zones, and a passable offensive player. Not a creator of his own offense, really, though he's a good passer when he's on -- he's more of the "set me up and I'll drop it in" sort, at his offensive best when Mike Conley is setting him up at the rim or with a nice pocket pass in-rhythm. He's got a nice little hook shot and a decent close-range turnaround he likes to rely on -- both are effective, if not moves he tends to do more than a few times a night.
But, again. The minutes load got to him, and by the end of the year, Gasol was completely gassed. It was an unfortunate end to what's been a prolonged, two-year coming out party for one of the most effective two-way centers in the league. I'm no Grizzlies fan -- I mean, cripes, what Spurs fan would be after 2011? -- but I've always really liked watching Gasol play. And not just for the basketball, which is entertaining as hell -- it's the little things, like his awkward fist-daps and the way he walks around during timeouts. It's partly his size, partly his funny proportions, and partly the fact that he looks like one of my old Spanish teachers, a little. And partly the fact that he does things like this when he thinks nobody's paying attention. He's a goofy dude, a good player, and although his season may be looked at as a disappointment by Grizzlies fans, I think that's a mistake. Expecting an athlete like Marc to take a workload like that and show no signs of wear at all is unrealistic at best and completely ridiculous at worst. Next season, with Arthur back in form and a full year's contribution from Randolph, I expect Hollins will be able to keep Gasol from getting quite so worn down. And with it, I expect the Grizzlies to be a hell of a lot of a harder out than they were this year. Should be fun, at the very least.
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. We got a 3/3, but only with help! Smitty Weberjagermanjensen (who, as always, was number one) got every player right, but he originally missed the boat on #3. It was only with the help of noted riddle-guessing talents Weagle and J that he realized the error in his ways, and fixed the Bynum/Gasol mix-up. Good job team. (I think I need to make these harder.)
- Good at dunks, though I admit to finding it rather scary that a Google search for Player #73 brings up "[Player #73] eats babies" as a "related" search. I know it's a T-Shirt, but... seriously, what???
- Player #74 seems to actually twitter-search his name and respond to EVERY SINGLE MENTION, even ones that don't use his twitter handle. I know this because he replied to my untagged statement about the zoo. Seems like a nice guy!
- Great post game, varied offensive skillset, solid fundamentals. All that said? Fans of Player #75's first franchise STILL like him a hell of a lot more than fans of his former and current.
See you tomorrow.