Love, Nowitzki Have Similar Styles Different From The Rest
Love, Nowitzki Have Similar Styles Different From The Rest
Editor's Note: This article was first published prior to the Wolves' Dec. 30 game against the Mavericks at Target Center. The Wolves and Mavs will face off again tonight at 7:30 PM on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO-AM.
We’re at a point right now when the best power forwards of the past generation are passing the torch. Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will, eventually, give way to Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin as these years go by, and we’re at that precious point in time where two eras are crossing paths before one reaches its prime and the other heads to the Hall of Fame ballots.
So games like tonight’s matchup between the Wolves and Mavericks are special because they put two special talents on the court side-by-side. When Love and Nowitzki face off, it’s a rare sight because both are the very best at stretching the floor from their power forward positions. Not many 4s have the range these two possess, and even though they are not identical talents they certainly have enough crossover to make this head-to-head matchup fun.
Nowitzki, by many standards, brought this new-age type of power forward from its infancy into the popular status it holds today. He’s 7-foot with perimeter scorer’s touch—he can get his shot off at any moment, mostly because he uses a fallaway jumper that makes him impossible to defend.
Love has that same scorer’s touch, and in his mid-range game he’s beginning to show the type of off-balance fadeaways like Nowitzki coupled with using the bank like Duncan. But he also can handle himself inside, score in the paint with brute-force (putbacks on his offensive boards) and finesse (baby hooks from five feet).
That’s what makes this matchup so intriguing tonight. They both have such diverse offensive games, it makes it fun to watch. That, and the two have great admiration for each other.
Love admires the way Nowitzki perfected that fadeaway, putting in thousands and thousands of hours making it just right. He said that combined with Nowitzki’s 7-foot stature makes it hard to believe anyone will be able to shoot that shot quite like him ever again. But Love said he tries to pick apart other people’s games and add that to his arsenal, and Nowitzki is part of that group.
Two years ago at All-Star Weekend, Nowitzki lauded Love’s performance in 2011-12 as being dominant throughout the season. This year, Love is exceeding those numbers. He’s got career highs in points per game (26.1) and assists per game (4.2) while shooting 46.4 percent from the field, 38.6 percent from 3 and 83.3 percent from the line.
Nowitzki, a former NBA champion, Most Valuable Player and 11-time All-Star, is still rolling right along in his 16th season. He’s averaging 21.5 points per game (most since 2011-12), shooting 49.6 percent from the field (best since 2010-11) and is hitting 42.1 percent of his 3s (best since 2009-10).
It’s interesting to think about how power forwards were not asked to do the things Nowitzki and Love do on a nightly basis when Nowitzki first entered the league in 1998. They were back-to-the-basket players who rarely drifted too far away from the paint. Nowitzki credits Don Nelson for his innovative offensive thinking, allowing him to challenge conventional thinking when it comes to what a power forward should do.
“He was an offensive genius,” Nowitzki said. “He was the coach when I first got to Dallas, and you know if I would’ve gone to any other system I don’t know if I would’ve turned out that way. They probably would’ve sent me to the weight room when I first got there and they would’ve had me lift weights and put on 20 pounds, and I’d be a lot different player than I am now.”
Carlisle agreed, and it wasn't just for Nowitzki. He said look at the Warriors in the 1980s and 1990s, when Nelson took Chris Mullin and transformed him from a projected 2-guard into a Hall of Fame small forward by speeding up the game and putting him in an unconventional position.
"Nellie was the right coach at the right time," Carlisle said. "...Dirk was originally drafted and back in those days, taller guys at positions were sort of en vogue. He's a 7-footer who was going to be a 3 man. The game went a different way, and Nellie had a lot to do with that, too. He knew to put Dirk at the 4, and sometimes at the 5, and let big guys run around the perimeter and try to chase him. It was tough to do."
Ten years later, Love entered the league and has continuously transformed his game each season. He’s always been a scorer, but he’s expanded into a legitimate 3-point threat every time he touches the ball. That inside-out potential coupled with his rebounding and facilitating have made him a dangerous player this season.
“[Love’s] a very unique player, and his size and what he’s able to do by shooting the 3,” Shawn Marion said. “He’s just so physical inside, and rebounding—he has a knack for rebounding as well. It’s just, it adds to the mix. He’s a nice player.”
Nowitzki said the way the game has evolved also helped pave the way for this type of power forward’s skill set, including getting rid of hand checks, adding in the zone defense and the evolution from iso ball into offenses predicated on movement and 5-on-5 play.
“It’s a pick, and everybody can shoot and move a little bit—4s and 5s can run and finish and move,” Nowitzki said. “So yeah, the game has definitely changed at the big spots, and it’s fun to watch.”
Tonight will be fun to watch, too. Both players are the focal points of their offenses, and both coaches will have their hands full trying to contain the opposing power forward.
“Hey, he’s a tremendous player,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of Love. “We got a lot of respect for him, and we’ve got to throw the kitchen sink at him.”