It was just another Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The Lakers and Rockets were engaged in a mildly entertaining matchup and we were all probably searching for something better to watch while they delayed the inevitable. But those who couldn’t find the remote were treated to a noteworthy showing from Lamar Odom.
As it has for quite some time, Odom’s game defied definition. His elongated frame swept through the lane with a preternatural grace, each step too casual to have been calculated. On the defensive end, opponents were denied and rebounds were snatched with an aggression that belied such finesse, each board leading to a magnificent whirlwind of versatility. He conducted fast breaks, dished with a captivating flair, calmly pulled up in transition, and spotted up expertly from three. Of course this wasn’t anything we haven’t seen from him before, just more of it. Kobe Bryant’s theatrics may have dominated the nightly recaps, but the W was primarily thanks to Lamar’s 20 points and 20 rebounds.
Meanwhile up north, LaMarcus Aldridge was having the night of his life. Tugging at our heartstrings with a promise to his cancer stricken mother and torturing the Spurs, Aldridge pivoted, hooked, swatted, poked, leaped and slammed his way to an eye-popping box score: 40 points (a career high), 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, a block and one well deserved handshake from Gregg Popovich. San Antonio suffered just their second loss in 13 games and only their eighth loss of the season as the depleted Blazers improved to 26-22, in no small part due to L.A.’s averages of 25 & 10 since December.
With both players striving for the first All-Star appearance of their careers, these were timely performances. If the ballots hadn’t already been submitted, that is. But let’s assume they weren’t. Could one night really make all the difference?
Lamar’s 20/20 was the second of his career, which under any other circumstances would be worth a lot more than just a pat on the back. Kevin Love, however, has six 20/20 games this season and in case any of you in warmer locales forgot, it’s only February. As for Mr. Aldridge, beating the Spurs is an accomplishment in itself these days. Doing so to the tune of 40 points is almost impossible. But if LaMarcus deserved a handshake, Popovich must’ve sent out a ballot and a valentine with Love’s name on it after our pups pushed San Antonio to the brink of defeat on three separate occasions in which Kevin averaged 25 & 19.
Or so we hope. As my friend Ben will explain below, despite the numbers, the cologne and all the national attention, our hopeful is still fighting against his own limitations, conventional wisdom and an endless array of highlights from Blake Griffin. For someone not exactly known for his vertical, this may be quite the leap.
Minneapolis is just two watered down drinks, a short nap and an in-flight movie away from Los Angeles. But Kevin Love’s trip could take much longer. Years longer. And it’s a damn shame.
For Wolves fans, anticipating the All-Star selection process with a combination of shame and muted optimism is becoming a seasonal tradition. We were willing to go along with Mike and Natalie’s exhortations to flood the ballot box with Al Jefferson votes because we really wanted to believe that the best player the Wolves had to offer deserved to stand with the Association’s finest. Deep down, though, we knew it wasn’t true.
But things are different this year. This year we’ve got a guy who is capable not only of distinguishing himself on one of the league’s worst teams, but also of capturing the attention of observers and colleagues around the country. This year, as Myles has thoroughly pointed out, our guy is actually good enough to be there.
Kevin Love has the highest PER of any power forward in the league. He leads the whole show in rebounding rate. His true shooting percentage is inching ever closer to 60%. But there’s still a pretty good chance he won’t get in.
Is this because he is the poorest defender of all of the players he’s competing against? That would actually be a solid reason; defense is the weakest link in Love’s game, by far. But that’s not it.
There are certain things we seem to really want to believe in as basketball fans. Primarily, we want our star players to score, and to score in a way that constantly reminds us of those stars’ supernatural capabilities. We want our star players to thrill us with their majestic skills and post-human athletic ability. We want them to move in ways that call to mind the movements and attitudes of our own bodies, but that transcend them–in beauty, in style, in speed and strength.
But we also want to believe that those beautiful, transcendent things lead to wins. And Love fails on all of these counts. Here’s how John Hollinger puts it:
Since I presume most of you don’t regularly talk with scouts and assistant coaches, I can’t emphasize this enough: It is shocking how dismissive virtually every old-school basketball type is of Love. Most personnel types grudgingly admit he’s a spectacular rebounder before adding that he’s unathletic, struggles on defense and basically doesn’t fit their prototype of what a star big man ought to be.
Its alarming that basketball people would choose to ignore Love’s stunning contributions to his team (although, again, that defense is problematic). But a debate about the relative merits of Love’s offense and defensive effectiveness are essentially moot here. Because when we look ourselves in the mirror and face reality, we know that the All-Star Game isn’t really about who contributes the most to his team’s success; it’s a lot more about spectacle, about fulfilling our desire for the beautiful. And although even some casual fans may be captivated by Love’s fluorescent stats, I think it’s safe to say that nuanced rebounding stylistics and transcendent outlet passes haven’t yet caught up to acrobatic, high-volume scoring in the dialectics of stardom.
Of course, the irony is that it’s just this very lack of Love’s brand of rugged competitiveness, this excess of unguarded dunks and untamed spectacularity, that generally makes the All-Star Game such a monotonous snoozer. So Kevin Love just may not make the All-Star game. And I guess that’s ok; we can’t really expect to have our definitions of stardom changed by one doughy, earthbound 22-year-old. But the game itself could probably use him.