The general consensus is that Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are up for the last power forward spot in the All-Star game. The coaches still have a few picks, and commissioner David Stern gets to pick a replacement for the injured Yao Ming. Admittedly, this is a close race, and I wouldn’t be too upset to see either of these guys knock LA out. So, as always, let’s dive into the numbers…
Conventionally, Aldridge gets beat hands down, unless you put a lot of weight on blocked shots.
LA: 21.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG
KLove: 21.3, 15.6, 0.3
Griffin: 22.6, 12.8, 0.6
But raw points, rebounds, and blocks are a pretty shitty way to measure value without also looking at some efficiency numbers. The Blazers play the slowest pace in the entire league, getting up and down the floor about 91.4 times per game. The Clips get 95.0 and the Timberwolves lead the league at 99.6 possessions per game. This obviously matters, since that’s more chances for Griffin and Love to accumulate stats.
We can adjust our perspective on points per game a little by looking instead at shooting efficiency. True shooting percentage combines twos, threes, and throws into one convenient number. Here, with his three-point shooting ability and 87% free throw shooting, Love beats the group at 58.6%, followed by Griffin at 55.4%, and finally Aldridge at 53.8%.
Adjusting for rebounds is trickier. First think about this: combining the total misses (potential rebounds) by each teams’ offense and defense (misses given up, if you will), there are only about 86.3 misses in a typical Blazer game. The Clips are in the same boat with 87.3, but the Wolves are way up there at 92.6. In other words, Love has about 5-6 more opportunities to snag a rebound throughout the course of a game since his team plays faster. Will that matter a whole lot? Probably not in this case since his rebounding numbers are so astronomical. Accounting for this can be done with rebound percentage, the proportion of the team’s rebounds that a player grabs. It turns out that the pace doesn’t affect things much; K-Love still kills with 34.8% of his team’s rebounds, followed by Griffin at 29.4%, and Aldridge takes a back seat with 21.6%.
Here’s the big kicker, though. Aldridge has played nearly the whole season with some guy named Marcus Camby, apparently one of the best rebounders in the league. Before going down with an injury, Camby was pulling in 27.8% of the Blazer’s rebounds. The next highest teammates for Love and Griffin were DeAndre Jordan and Michael Beasley with 16.8% and 12.7%, respectively. This point exhibits why we shouldn’t look solely at rebounds per game, because then we punish players for playing on slow-paced teams, and players who have better-rebounding teammates. Am I saying Aldridge is actually just as good at rebounding as Love? No. In fact I bet he’s not, but the gap is narrower that conventional stats would have us believe.
How about court awareness and ball-handling? The best thing I have for that is Assist-to-Turnover ratio, and everyone is pretty close: Griffin 1.2, Love 1.1, and Aldridge 0.9.
Measuring the defensive abilities of any of these players is nearly impossible with the stats I have available. You might say, well just look at steals and blocks. Unfortunately that doesn’t really work. A player who gets a lot of steals probably takes a lot of chances and gives up easy baskets. Same with blocks. A method I used for Camby last season was to look at the Blazer’s defensive efficiency with and without him in the lineup. The difference was immense, something like 5 points per game saved on the defensive end. But with these three guys, I don’t have enough data with them out of the lineup. I do have one comment on the matter though: watching the Clippers-Blazers game last night, it was obvious that Griffin does not tackle the tough defensive assignments. Jordan played defense on Aldridge almost exclusively, while Griffin took the Blazer’s other offensive juggernaughts. Aka Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham and Sean Marks. Since I don’t spend my free evenings finding streams for Clippers games, I don’t know if this is normal, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Going forward, seeing how LA does without Camby, and how the Blazers do collectively, could give us some more insight into the comparison of these three players.
Thus far, it would seem as though Love has the clear edge, and I’m in no position to argue that. He’s been a monster all season. These stats, unfortunately, can’t take into account a lot of potentially important things. For instance, when Aldridge and Love are hitting from outside, does that improve their teammates’ shooting percentages at the cost of their own? (There’s a stat for this out there somewhere, but I don’t think it’s public.) Does Love put so much effort into rebounding that his offensive contributions (as great as they are) appear less than they could be? Do Griffin’s highlight-reel plays energize teammates and fans, spurring runs for the Clippers? I think there is one way to measure (nearly) all of this, but it involves special circumstances that I touched on above. I have to have a good chunk of team data with and without the player in question. Then, all other things equal, I could measure the drops in team efficiency when the player is taken out of the lineup. This “catch-all” method of looking at a player’s value is, in my opinion, both the most effective and hardest to track down since the right scenarios are necessary. With Camby it was pretty easy. He joined the Blazers halfway through the season, and there was an obvious change.
Basketball, along with soccer, is probably the toughest sport for definitive stats analysis because of its fluidity and the connectedness of all the players on the court at one time. In baseball, each player gets his own at bat, and his own defensive area to cover. In football, the game is divided into plays, and each player has a very well-defined role, or at least, more defined than in basketball. What do you call Michael Beasley? A power forward? A small forward? A Smowerfard? How about Lebron: a point-forward? A skilled-passing-and-shooting-large-man-who-can-seemingly-play-every-position-better-than-every-one-else? You can see the issues. So with all that, my pick for the final power forward spot goes to Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Interestingly, Paul Millsap is in approximately zero All-star conversations. His TS% is 58.4%, A/TO ratio is 1.5, and his 20.4% rebound percentage has to compete with Al Jefferson’s 22.7%. Though I’d still take Love, I think Millsap deserves some recognition as one of the better players of his ill-defined, Beasley-like position.