Dynamic Duos: Love/Martin vs. Griffin/Paul

Dynamic Duos: Love/Martin vs. Griffin/Paul

Tonight’s matchup between the Timberwolves and Clippers pairs two high-scoring duos in the NBA against one another on the court. Minnesota’s duo of Kevin Love and Kevin Martin are currently averaging 49.9 points per game this season, while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are averaging a combined 42.4 points per contest in 2013-14.

Before you get set to watch tonight’s matchup at Target Center (tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO-AM), Timberwolves.com's Mark Remme and Kyle Ratke take a look at each one of these duos and why they have been so successful this season. This is the second matchup of the year between these two teams, with the Clippers holding on for a 109-107 victory on Nov. 11 in Los Angeles.

Kevin Love and Kevin Martin

The two Kevins have given the Wolves a scoring threat that Minnesota hasn’t had in quite some time. As of late, Wolves fans haven’t been too greedy. One guy scoring 20 or more points would have been enough. But two? Two that have combined for 49.9 points per game through the team’s first 10 games? Well, this must be what basketball heaven feels like for a franchise that’s been out of the postseason since 2003-04.

Minnesota fans knew what they had with Love. In 2010-2012, he was arguably the best power forward in the league. But last season’s injury left many unsure on what Love would be able to produce in 2013-14. As of now, the question isn’t what he can produce, but instead, what CAN’T the former UCLA star do? Love is averaging 26.7 points (2nd in NBA), 13.4 rebounds (3rd in NBA) and according to ESPN, his Player Efficiency Rating (player’s overall rating of player’s per-minute statistical production) of 29.27 ranks second in the league to Anthony Davis. Those numbers are fine and dandy, but the most impressive stat from Love is his assist numbers. Love is averaging 4.5 assists this season, which is a career high. He already has six games with five or more assists.

Did Love just learn to pass this season? Did things just start clicking? That’s a tough question, but with the emergence of a runner like Corey Brewer and a shooter like Kevin Martin, Love has options that he hasn’t had in the past. The offense doesn’t have to be all Love, all the time.

Martin has done a fantastic job taking pressure off Love. The Wolves made it clear in the offseason that they wanted 3-point shooting. Actually, after finishing dead last in 3-point shooting last season (30.5 percent), it’s fair to say they needed it. After acquiring him in a sign-in-trade over the offseason, Martin has been a perfect fit with the Wolves, giving them a smart veteran who knows Rick Adelman’s offense and a guy who can knock down shots.

Martin is averaging 23.2 points per game (7th in NBA) while shooting 45.2 percent from the 3-point line. He’s also shooting 91.3 percent form the free-throw line. He’s made three or more 3-pointers and scored 27 or more points five times this season.

Both players have been using the 3-point shot to create points. Love has been using his spot (left central side of the 3-point line) more than any other shot that isn’t below the rim. Love is 22-of-49 from that spot and is 57-of-88 underneath the basket. In fact, those marks are well above league averages according to NBA.com. Martin is most effective from the left central side as well, shooting 17-of-39 from that spot this season. We might have to call it the “Kevin” spot. Teams will and probably have picked up on this, but with Adelman’s offense, it can work around that, especially with options like Nikola Pekovic down low and Brewer and his corner 3-point shot. The offense still runs through Love, but with other scoring options, it allows Love to get his and opens things up for guys like Martin. So far, so good.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul

The Clippers’ offense all starts with Chris Paul’s vision mixed with his court presence and scoring touch. He’s at the top of the league when it comes to the point guard position, and with good reason. Paul is averaging a career-high 12.6 assists this year to go along with his 19.5 points per game. The way the Clippers are set up with their starting five and Jamal Crawford coming off the bench really opens up the court and caters toward Paul’s play. He and Blake Griffin run a polished and hard to defend pick-and-roll (we’ll get to Griffin in a second), in which he has the athletic ability to drive to the hoop and score, the shooting touch to spot up and drain a mid-range jumper (particularly from the left elbow or just inside the top of the key) and the crafty passing to hit Griffin as the roll man to the hoop.

If you add in the high-flying ability of DeAndre Jordan at the 5 mixed with J.J. Redick's and Crawford’s outside shooting, it really stretches the defense and gives Paul room to roam. And then, when you factor in that he averages 2.6 steals per game, he’s able to get out in transition and score off turnovers, too. He’s a six-time All-Star coming off the All-Star Game MVP honors last year, and he’s well on his way to a seventh straight appearance this year.

Now on to Griffin. He’s been an All-Star in each of his first three years in the league, and the biggest reason for that is his freakish athletic ability at the power forward position. He is not the same player as Kevin Love, and in many ways he is not as complete as Love is across the board. But he is a high-flyer, and he can score with as much ferocity as anyone at the rim. As stated before, he is most effective when paired with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll, because defenders have a hard time being able to cover all the things Paul can do off the screen while also being able to handle Griffin’s aggressive rolls to the hoop. The result is Griffin shooting 67.2 percent at the basket, where he’s able to power his way into the lane effectively. He’s averaging 22.9 points per game this year in large part because of his efficiency at the basket.

For the Wolves, the biggest way to neutralize Griffin’s offensive talent is to keep him from getting out in space for those highlight-reel jams as well as limit his opportunities to get to the rim in half court sets. Forcing him to shoot mid-range jumpers is the best way to slow down his efficiency. He is shooting 16.7 percent from the left elbow and 38.5 percent from just inside the arc. He does hit at a 71.4 percent clip from the right elbow, but forcing him to stay in that 15-17 foot range is still a better play than allowing him to attack the rim.

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