Besides being the obvious best player, the distinction of the best NBA big man has long been a very contentious argument. From Kareem, to Wilt, to Russell, to Duncan, to Shaq, and many more, being the best NBA big man carries a certain honor that being the best defensive player or point guard just doesn’t seem to carry. With all due apologies to some amazing players, there are a clear top 4 hierarchy in the NBA right now. Although some of these men buck the trend of parking your ass in the post and being big, we have to account that the NBA is just going in a new direction. While players like Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard are still great players, they just do not bring the tangible value of the “Big 4.” Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Demarcus Cousins.
I have broken down this debate into 3 categories and will explore some subsets within these. Passing, rebounding, and shooting. We will examine some of the numbers involved in these categories and decide who does what best.
Passing can be an extremely valuable skill from the low post. Just ask Kobe how much he loved having Pau Gasol’s passing skills on display during their title runs. Ask Magic how nice it was to play a two-man passing game with Kareem. It just helps when you have a big man who can pass. He doesn’t need to be a Steve Nash, but having vision helps when trying to set up shooters for the best shot possible.
Topping this list we have Kevin Love. If you have ever seen Kevin play, one of the first things that pop out at you is his outlet passing. The best outlet passer in the league. His numbers are drug down a little by the fact his team mates had a rough time finishing at the rim, even on breaks. However, he still managed to average 0.8 passes per game that lead directly to free throws and 0.7 hockey assists a game (the pass that leads to a pass that became an assist). So, 1.5 times a game, Love was able create points from making the right pass. This was evidenced by his outlet passing. Love averaged 4.4 assists a game, add that to his ability to create shots from making the right pass and he accounted for 10.3 points per game from his passing alone.
On the flip side of this, we have Aldridge. Out of the 4, Aldridge had the fewest assists per game (2.6), the fewest passes leading to FTs per game (.2), the fewest point created by assists per game (6.5), and the fewest points created by assists per 48 minutes (8.6). In other words, Aldridge was a black hole. Some of the can be attributed to the fact that he had Damian Lilliard who was the main distributor for the team. Kevin Love was used as an offense initiator at time, so his numbers are a little higher. However, Love was used in this fashion because he is able to because he has the skills, and Love played with Rubio who was one of the 3 best pure point guards in the league last year. Cousins was nearly as big of a black hole as Aldridge, but held ever so slight edges over Aldridge in passing.
Kevin Love- 4.4 APG, 0.8 FT APG, .07 secondary APG, 10.3 points created per APG, 13.5 points created per assists per 48 minutes
Lamarcus Aldridge- 2.6 APG, 0.2 FT APG, 0.8 secondary APG, 6.5 points created per APG, 8,6 points created per assists per 48 minutes
Blake Griffin- 3.9 APG, 0.4 FT APG, 1.1 secondary APG, 9.1 pointes created per APG, 12.1 points created per assists per 48 minutes
Demarcus Cousins- 2.9 APG, 0.2 FT APG, 0.4 secondary APG, 6.8 points created per APG, 9.9 points created per assists per 48 minutes
Rankings- 1) Kevin Love, 2)Blake Griffin, 3) Demarcus Cousins, 4) Lamarcus Aldridge
It should be pretty self explanatory, but your big man should be able to rebound. This automatically excluded Andrea Bargnani from the list. Because he couldn’t rebound in a church league. For kids.
Andrea, probably not rebounding anything
This was an extremely tough category. I could honestly be talked into one of 2 players, however, one stat stood out to me more than anything. Contested rebounds. Before we get into stats, I have to admit that I gave Love and Griffin a little bit of an advantage to their superb numbers since both of them play next to good to great rebounders. Nikola Pekovic for Love and Deandre Jordan for Griffin. So good job rebounding next to those two big behemoths!
Lets look at some stats:
Kevin Love- 12.5 RPG, 66.1% of the rebounds he had a chance at (within 3 ft of a missed shot), he snagged
Lamarcus Aldridge- 11.1 RPG and he grabbed 66.4% of the rebounds he had a chance at
Blake Griffin- 9.5 RPG and 64.6% of rebounds he had a chance at
Demarcus Cousins- 11.8 RPG and a whopping 69.4% of rebounds he had a chance at, he swallowed up!
Looking at simply these stats, we can see that these 4 men are all good rebounders. Again, it was especially impressive for Griffin to put those numbers up next to Jordan, who is the best rebounder in the game. Same for Love, although Pekovic is not on the level of a Jordan. Demarcus was just a beast on the glass. Out of every rebound near him, he grabbed 70% of them. This is just fantastic, even if he never played next to a strong rebounder.
These next group of stats is what really made this group and separated who is a man on the boards:
Kevin Love- 4.9 contested RPG, 38.49% of his rebounds were contested
Lamarcus Aldridge- 3.0 contested RPG, 27.4% of rebounds contested
Blake Griffin- 3.8 contested RPG, 40.3% of rebounds contested
Demarcus Cousins- 4.1 contested RPG, 34.6% of rebounds contested.
Love obviously stands out most here. A whopping 5 rebounds a game tells me one thing, Love is down low and he bullying grown men around. The fact over a 3rd of his rebounds are contested are a good sign that he is down low fighting the good fight. Again, Blake Griffin shines here. For being such a fierce rebounder down low next to Jordan is a feat. The contested rebounding shows us who is really fighting in the trenches and who is opportunistic. Even more impressive to me is that Love and Griffin spend most time at PF. Cousins and Aldridge spend time at both positions, but each spend over 10 minutes a game at the center spot.
Sorry, Aldridge, you’re bringing up the rear again.
Rankings: 1) Love, 2) Griffin, 3) Cousins, 4) Aldridge
Everyone’s favorite stats! While rebounding and passing are great skills to have, if you don’t score in this league, you are not a superstar. Luckily, all 4 of these men are elite scorers. Adding attributes like rebounding and passing to their scoring prowess is what makes these men truly super stars.
We are going to break down a few different areas of scoring, since these men score in a variety of ways.
There are three ways to score in this league. Close, mid-range, and 3 pt shooting. One does all of these things well, some do one at elite levels, some do a few great.
This Lamarcus Aldridge’s shot chart. Obviously, the strength of his offense lies in his ability to hit mid range shots, especially from the left mid range area. Basically, yellow is comparable to league average, green is above league average, and red is below. We can also see that Aldridge shoots fairly well from in close, and even has a sweet spot from the right block, although he doesn’t take near of advantage of it. Aldridge shoots well from in close, but only averages about 2.8 shots per game from in close. Probably the best part of his game is the catch and shoot. In catch and shoot situation, Aldridge took 6.2 shots per game and hit on an amazing 45.97. Nearly all of this was from the mid range, attesting to the fact he is a mid range sniper.
Aldridge is more like a Rip Hamilton that is 7 feet tall than a traditional big man. He can pound it down low at a good clip, but his game is all mid range. Lets also note his range absolutely does not extend out to the 3 point line.
This is young big man, Demarcus Cousins. As we can see from here, Cousins has a nice mid range from almost straight on. This is most likely from him not cutting hard to the rim off of pick and rolls and instead settling for the pick and pop. Which is not a bad thing, because he obviously can hit at a decent clip from out there. He shoots a fairly average percentage from in close, but you like that he is so aggressive down there. This probably accounts for the fact that Demarcus gets to the line at an elite rate. This is a great trait for a young big.
One note to make on Cousin’s shooting is his surprisingly great catch and shoot game. He only takes 2.5 a game, but he shoots it at a 47.1% clip. That is the highest of our four horsemen of big men. Maybe he should settle for the pick and pop a little more!
Basically, Cousins is a high volume scorer who seems to be getting better and better at shooting. He is not quite there yet, but he is getting there and should be deadly in a few years.
Come on down, Blake Griffin! One thing absolutely pops off of the chart, Griffin is an absolute elite finisher. His low post game is not very refined, but that is ok, because this shot shows that he is clearly just ahead of most of the league in scoring at the basket. This also translates into a high amount of free throws. When you combine those two things, there is no getting around it, Blake Griffin is unstoppable down low.
Sadly, Blake’s game doesn’t translate very far outside of the paint. Given how he scores inside, this isn’t the worst news. You can see a nice little left elbow jumper that he hits with nice consistency. If he learned that form both side, it could open up even more of an offensive game, which is a scary thought. He definitely needs to work on that part more, seeing as how he is catch and shoot happy. Griffin takes 3.3 of these a game for a low 36.89%. Give him credit for trying, but he needs to tighten that up.
Griffin is almost a one dimensional scorer, but it is at such an elite level you don’t even mind. He takes a healthy 5 shots a game in close and converts an amazing 61.2% of them. Wow.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what being unstoppable looks like. Kevin Love simply can just shoot from anywhere. Lets put this into a little perspective. Kevin Love is shooting with a few percentage points of Blake Griffin at the rim and shoots within percentage points of Aldridge at midrange, expect Love is doing it from 3.
Love can simply punish you anywhere. He is a bully down low and shoots almost 59% from down there. He is basically Kevin Durant from the 3 point line. So how do you guard him? And if you take those away, he can step in and hit the mid range with at least a league average clip. Almost as dangerous, is that Love can hit from the corner as well. There just isn’t a place he can’t score from. It is not that Love is elite from every area, it is that he is good from everywhere. This is a chart you would expect from Curry or Durant. Instead, it is a monster big man who also happens to be a top 3 rebounder in the league and easily the best passing big man in the league.
Some key stats about this. Love knows his bread and better. Taking the two highest yield shots in the NBA with ferocity, the close range and the 3 point. He takes 5.7 close range shots a game at a 53% clip. Catch and shoot? Yeah, well has some practice with that. It is not that he takes 7.1 catch and shoot shots a game at 41.1%, it is that he takes 5 3 point shots a game at a 39.8% clip. Holy shit. He is basically emulating Aldridge’s catch and shoot game from 3 point range, a much higher yield.
Simply put, Love does not have an offensive equal in this group. You would have to search the Lebron, Durant, and Curry’s of the world to find a Love offensive equal.
Rank: 1) Love, 2) Griffin, 3) Aldridge, 4) Cousins
If you have stuck around this long, we all know who the winner is going to be. However, what about some of the advanced metrics? Lets look at Win Shares, since we haven’t touched on defense, we will look at defensive win shares (win shares are how many wins a person is worth on that end).
I didn’t go much into defense, because all of these guys are basically equal on defense, despite some myths.
Kevin Love- 3.7 DWS
Lamarcus Aldridge- 3.5 DWS
Blake Griffin- 4.1 DWS
Demarcus Cousins- 3.8 DWS
Griffin is the best here, but the difference is negligible. However, Griffin deserves recognition for being the best defensive player on the list.
Offensive win shares seem to back up the shot charts and the conclusions I drew above.
Love- 10.6 OWS
Aldridge- 4.0 OWS
Griffin- 8.1 OWS
Cousins- 4.1 OWS
Cousins grades out a little but higher than Aldridge than I concluded, much likely a result of Cousins getting to the line more. However, Aldridge’s floor spreading brings slightly more value to an offense.
Kevin Love is undoubtedly the best big man in the game right now. And it is not even really close. His ability at every spectrum of the game is just unmatched. Griffin is a distant second, but Griffin is still a head above three and four.
- Kevin Love
- Blake Griffin
- Demarcus Cousins
- Lamarcus Aldridge
Lamarcus is a great player, but he just isn’t as impactful in as many areas as Cousins. Cousins is a black hole like Aldridge, but Cousins is a much better rebounder.
It doesn’t really matter about them at the moment, because Kevin Love is entering his prime and is already much better than his colleagues. It is quite staggering just how good Kevin Love is at every aspect. Kevin Love is an elite once in a generation player. I think the numbers bare this out. But to the extent of his domination over other players, is really astonishing. We should enjoy all of these men while we can, but it is time to give Love the credit he is due. He is a superstar and maybe only Lebron and Durant are his equals.
One Last Thing
As I noted, Cousins has a lot of room to get better. Love and Griffin can get better, but there is probably not too much room for them to grow. If they did, it would be scary anyways. Aldridge is already at his peak and this is what he is. Cousins, however, still has a few years to learn the game. If he can refine his jump shot and be more aggressive on the boards, he has a chance to be as dominant of a force as Love. He is not there yet, but lets hope he reaches that potential.
Also, Anthony Davis belongs here. He just does. However, this is his third year. If he continues this, he is on here next year probably over Aldridge and Cousins.
I also wanted to put Noah on here, but I just couldn’t justify it. He is easily number 5, but it is hard when your offensive game is a little lacking. Individual offense wins more games than individual defense.
This was a tough list to make, and I think outside of Love and Griffin, you can make an argument for the next spot for about 5 players.