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Just like encountering a 3D movie, the numbers jump right in front of your face. A glass cleaner in Minnesota, a highlight machine in LA, and a midrange master out of the Northwest are providing massive production at the power forward position.
Prior to the start of the 2010-11 season, NBA analysts shared specific critiques surrounding the skill sets of Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge. For Love, the criticism mostly involved his lack of athleticism. Griffin faced the opposite negativity as scouts were not quite sure if he could display an expanded game outside the jaw-dropping dunks. The skepticism Aldridge faced mainly focused on his potential to become the No. 1 scoring option without an All-Star guard (Brandon Roy) in the lineup.
In their own special and unique way, each power forward has exceeded all expectations and emphatically answered the detractors this season. The remarkable aspect to their achievements is the drastic difference in their approach to the game.
One of the premier defenders in the league, Shane Battier clearly identifies their basketball traits, "It's fun to see the new generation of NBA power forward and this next wave of superstars at the four position. I wouldn't say any of them are really conventional in what they do with Griffin's athleticism, Love's rebounding, and Aldridge is a really good jump shooter. It's fun to watch young guys who understand the game and care about winning."
Griffin missed all of last season due to a knee surgery, Love only averaged 28.6 minutes, and Aldridge was yet to blossom in the City of Roses. The three power forwards combined for only 60 double-doubles in 2009-10 in comparison to the outrageous 96 posted through the first half of this year. Nightly performances atop the box score have firmly placed the young guns in the All-Star conversation, a notion that seemed a bit farfetched this time last January.
"It seems like all the power forwards in the West are competing for spots in the All-Star game but we all bring a different flavor, a different style of basketball, but we all get the job done and all found our craft and niche in this league," Love stated.
In an era where traditional 7-footers are dwindling at a rapid rate, the power forward has emerged as the primary scoring position on the frontline. The NBA up-tempo style of game does not lend itself to a lumbering big man on the blocks that spends an extended amount of time backing down his opponent for a power move. These new crop of forwards must possess a mix of mobility, force and finesse.
"The versatility in players of size that can play with their back to the basket, facing the basket, getting out in transition is essential. You know in Kevin's case, knocking down outside shots, that's always going to bode well for all of those players when they can score in a myriad of ways, so that when teams take away something from them, they have something else to fall back on," head coach Kurt Rambis explained.
While fans might not be witnessing an evolution, they are viewing a shift in positional emphasis. Throughout the 90s, teams would rely on a true 7-foot center to score with his back to the basket as the power forward searched for dirty work type of offensive productivity. Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson were the focal point of their team's attack and game plan. Love, Griffin, and Aldridge are more in the Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan mold.
The big man in Minneapolis has cemented his place in NBA history with a relentless attack on the glass not seen since Moses Malone and Wes Unseld. A ridiculous 31-31 night elevated Love's national status while he continues the march towards a record setting 2010-11 season. The competition within Love's conference has forced the former UCLA star to maintain elite status on a daily basis.
Prior to the Wolves and Clippers matchup on January 19, Griffin described the difficulty in limiting his double-double adversary, "He is always on the glass; he's always searching for rebounds. At the same time, for as big and strong he is, he has great touch, shoot the three and do a whole lot of things, so you have to know where he is at all times and make sure he is accounted for."
There is a mutual respect and developing rivalry among these Western Conference power forwards that are an only average of 22 years old. They are reaching the embryonic stages of NBA superstardom but the level of impact is extremely important for three teams in search of postseason appearances in the near future.
"The teams that win have a guy at this position that can get the job done," Wolves assistant coach JB Bickerstaff preached. "You look at the Lakers with Pau Gasol, the Spurs with Tim Duncan, the Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Carlos Boozer, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Dirk Nowitzki. I mean, go down the list and this is the power forward position. They have complimentary players around them, which make them championship caliber teams but the power forward position is a key spot in what you do as a team. There is a lot of responsibility put on the four because every single night and you have your hands full. So, to be successful, you have to have a guy at that position who can go get it done."
Three vastly different styles of game separate these highly productive double-double machines. Love summed it up best, they all bring a distinct flavor to the floor but their hometown fans will never leave the game with a bad taste.
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