On Dec. 18, two of the NBA’s best power forwards squared off. LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers matched up with Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Love and the Wolves ended up winning the matchup, with Love nearly triple-doubling along the way, but the debate over the best power forward in the league is still as lively as ever. If we discount players like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, who often play power forward in their team’s systems, but really work more as small forwards, then the top two players in that debate are surely Aldridge and Love.
The two power forwards play fairly different games. Love is a tenacious rebounder, who relies on strength, positioning and intelligence to pull down a league-leading 13.7 rebounds per game. Aldridge is fifth in the league with 11.1 rebounds per game, and like Love, he uses skill rather than athleticism to pull down boards, though, Aldridge’s superior height and length help him out as well. Both players are also in the top 10 in the NBA in points per game, with Love averaging 25.2 and Aldridge averaging 23.3. They can each score in multiple ways, but they also each have a unique skill that sets them apart. Love can shoot the three, and Aldridge has one of the best mid-range games the NBA has seen in years. This helps their respective teams immensely as both forwards provide adequate spacing on offense and are able to score from all over the court.
One thing that has set Love apart this year is his passing. In the Timberwolves’ game against the Blazers, Love had nine assists, and he’s averaging more than four per game on the season. This puts his game on another level. Very few players of his size and strength have been able to pass, shoot and rebound like Love, and he’s making an early MVP case.
Love has one key weakness, though. His defense is simply awful. While steals and blocks aren’t the greatest metrics for assessing defense, he’s averaging just 0.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. Really, the issue is that Love is neither long nor quick, and his strength isn’t enough to make up for these limitations. Aldridge isn’t known as a great defender either, but he definitely has the advantage on Love. He is a much better post defender, and can certainly guard his man most of the time. He can get lost in rotations, though, and occasionally lets players drive by him
In the Blazers vs. Wolves game, Love torched Aldridge. Looking at head-to-head matchups may not be the best way to decide the better player or who does better things for their team, and there are a host of other variables that went into the Wolves victory, but it still seems like Love is the better player overall. This season, Love has been the better scorer, rebounder and passer. Aldridge’s passable defense over Loves’ poor defense isn’t enough to make up for Love’s better offense this year. That said, the year is still fairly early, and both players can still improve on their already phenomenal games.