UCLA forward T.J. Leaf had a fairly quiet night in Thursday’s dramatic comeback win over Oregon, but he remains one of the better freshmen in Pac-12 history, even if he isn’t the best one on his team.
Because arguing between current and historical players is entertaining when it’s not presented via First Take or Undisputed, I was curious how 2016-17 freshman forward T.J. Leaf matches up with another fantastic UCLA freshman: 2007-08 Kevin Love.
I broke down seven categories comparing both players in hopes of determining which player was a more imposing force during his year in the Pac-12. This isn’t a perfect exercise because we don’t have access to all of the great data in 2008 as we do now, but there’s enough to determine which category should be awarded to each player.
First off, here are the basic KenPom stat lines - Love on top and Leaf below.
Size can’t exactly be quantified outside of just basic height and weight measurements, but it should be pretty obvious that Love had a far more imposing frame. To be fair, Love and Leaf didn’t necessarily play the same positions (Love was always at center, Leaf plays mostly 4 with Thomas Welsh down low), but if these two matched up, Love would have his way around the basket.
Despite Love attempting far more of his shots near the basket than Leaf, this year’s UCLA freshman has converted an astounding 81.4% of his field goals around the rim. Leaf has also recorded a field goal percentage of 62.6% while Love made 55.9% of his field goals in 2008, even though Leaf pulls up away from the basket far more often than Love did his freshman year.
I was surprised to find that Leaf is on pace for just a few more made three-pointers this season than Love. Leaf has converted 21 of his 47 attempts from deep this year, good for 44.7%. Love, meanwhile, knocked down 29 of 82, a lesser 35.4%. By the end of the Pac-12 Tournament, Leaf should be right around Love’s made three-point total. Another interesting fact - Love’s three-point attempt frequency was 20.2% in 2008 while Leaf’s is 16.7% this year. I’m giving the edge to Leaf due to the higher success rate.
Leaf is the beneficiary of much more skilled offensive weapons at his disposal, but his passing-related stats do show that Leaf is able to distribute the basketball just a tad bit better than Love. Leaf already has 67 assists this year while Love had 75 his freshman year, in which his team went all the way to the National Championship. Even if this year’s UCLA squad doesn’t reach the Final Four, Leaf should end up with more assists.
Leaf is a solid rebounder, but what Love accomplished his freshman season would be considered elite. Love ranked in the top 12 in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage, which is extremely rare territory. Just two different players in the last three seasons have finished in the top 12 nationally in OR% and DR%. Love also records 1.8 rebounds per game more than Leaf. This one is pretty easy.
It doesn’t help that this year’s UCLA team has as bad a defense as any national contender has had since the 2012 Missouri Tigers, which were ousted in a first round 2 vs. 15 matchup. Love is the better defender, though. His block+steal percentage of 6.4 is higher than Leaf’s 4.5, but what is more impressive is that Love does it without fouling. Leaf commits 3.2 fouls per 40 minutes while Love committed just 2.5 in ‘08, so you know that Love wasn’t a hack that got lucky from time to time. He’s definitely the more skilled defender.
Love was far more of a workhorse than Leaf is this season. His usage percentage of 27.7 dwarfs Leaf’s 21.1, and he attempted 25.4% of the Bruins’ shots when on the floor, while Leaf attempts just 22.6%. Although it may be due to the incredible amount of talent in this year’s Pac-12, Love also managed to rack up a ton of hardware after the season, including Pac-12 POY, consensus All-America, and Wooden Award finalist. Leaf is great, but I doubt he will receive any of those honors.
One other thing: I might be somewhat out of touch, but I thought asking out celebrities on Twitter was played out five years ago. Love also has the better last name.
Who do you think is the better player, 2016-17 T.J. Leaf or 2007-08 Kevin Love? Leave a comment below or tweet at @boettger_eli or @PacificTakes on Twitter.
(All stats used in this article are courtesy of Sports Reference, KenPom, and Hoop-Math.)