The thought process that led me to the following analysis, was my pondering the impact of Al Jefferson's absence, and the effect that the absence of a go-to guy had on the team. It is obvious that in the absence of a high usage scorer, Love has attempted to take on this role, with seemingly horrific results. But despite the huge drop in scoring efficiency that has accompanied Kevin Love's attempts to be a shot creator, the is plenty of evidence that he has succeeded in replicating what Jefferson's production really was, although not what the residual perception of Jefferson as a go to guy might be.
This involves no statistical analysis more complex than comparing Jefferson's "All Star level" performance in 2008-2009 pre-injury, with Love's performance so far this year on basketball-reference. What struck me was the considerable similarity in actual performance. Now, I was not much of a Jefferson fan, given the fact that he did not score efficiently. But I do acknowledge that it is much more difficult to score efficiently when the offense runs through you, and you can't afford to be as picky with the shot selection. It's a lesson that Kevin Love has certainly begun to learn this year, as his efficiency is far below previous seasons, and the aesthetics of some of his shot attempts has only highlighted his poor shooting performance to all fans of the club. But, given that I don't think his performance can get any worse than it is right now, looking at the actual numbers tells us something about what we really got from Jefferson.
The first thing that struck me in comparing '08 Jefferson with '10 Love is that their usage rate is essentially identical, 28.9% for AJ and 28.4% for KL. So, Love has succeeded at the very least at becoming just as high usage as Jefferson was. Now Jefferson scored 23+ ppg while Love is currently at 16.9 ppg, but Jefferson also played 37 minutes to Love's 27 min, so as much as it pains TimAllen, I've got to resort to per 36 min numbers to give some sort of reasonable comparison to what they were actually doing while they were on the court. And when looking at shooting rate, the two players were again almost identical, AJ took 19.1 field goal attempts per 36 min, while KL has taken 19.2 shots. interestingly, that 19 FGA per game was the reason I believed that Jefferson would never again be a 23 ppg player for the Wolves. I just believed that with a move away from low post sets and toward ball movement, Jefferson would never again get 19 FGA/game. Now, with Love putting up that many shots, perhaps I was wrong. However, it is also possible that many of the shots Love is getting, in particular the perimeter jumpers are not shots Jefferson would have had, but I digress.
Now the obvious distinction between the two is the horrible shooting percentage Love has put up. While AJ shot 49.7%, KL has been under 40% at 39.6%. I have to think that will improve, but this post isn't about potential, it' about output. Now KLove has been shooting more 3 pt shots, and while his percentage has fallen off since preseason and even the first game or two, he has made enough to get closer to Jefferson with respect to eFG% 49.7% to 42.1%. Also, KL has, as has been typical for the two, drawn more fouls than AJ and shot about 50% more free throws. Given that he's improved his FT shooting to almost 90%, he has a huge boost in TS%, and is even closer to AJ .532 to .501.
But, as much as I enjoy stats, I'm keeping this about less arcane variables than TS%, and was struck more by the actual output. And when all is said and done, that while taking an identical number of shots per 36 min, KL has produced essentially an identical number of points 22.7 for AJ with 22.5 for KL. So, for both players, one playing at "All Star worthy" levels, the same number of minutes gets 22+ points on 19 FGA.
Of course, Love has savagely out rebounded Jefferson, but this post is not about making the argument that Love is better than Al. What this post is about is my contention that these numbers show that Jefferson really did not give the Wolves that much. His scoring output has been matched by Kevin Love who seems completely ill suited at this point in his career for the role of a go to scorer. My argument in favor of dealing Jefferson was that many of his 19 FGA per game had to go to dynamic wing scorers. I still feel that way, but as it turns out, in the absence of dynamic wing scorers stepping out, they've essentially transferred directly to Love (when he can fight is way onto the court), with dramatically similar results.