Love on the rebound
Kevin Love responded to his omission from the list of All-Star starters with perfect poise. As he told Kent Youngblood of the Strib when asked about losing out in the fan balloting to Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, “They’re fun to watch, they’re fan favorites. If you don’t like watching those guys play, you don’t like basketball.” (He also, in that same interview, had this to say about his ever-shaggier beard: “David Kahn doesn’t like it, so I’ll keep it.” I totally love that.) And he’s right: Blake Griffin is the guy who jumps over people, cars, Subway sandwiches, who throws down on faces, who is literally changing the idea of dunking before our eyes. Kevin Love is just his weird, ragged self.
Either way, don’t you worry about it. Love is sure to be included on the roster when the coaches make their selections on Thursday. After all, the guy is sixth in the league in PER, just a notch behind Derrick Rose of all people. He’s fourth in the league in scoring and second in rebounds. The man is an All-Star. What’s strange about all of this is that, although Love has now officially become a superstar, a max player and and a darkhorse MVP candidate, his scoring efficiency, rebounding efficiency and rebounding volume are all down from last year. Last year his true shooting percentage was .593; this year it’s at .578. His rebounding rates–he’s grabbing 11.8% of available offensive boards, 26.9% of defensive boards and 19.3% overall–are actually the lowest of his career. What’s going on here?
The first explanation is Love’s role in the offense. Last year, according to Basketball Reference Love’s usage rate was 22.9. This year it has jumped to 27.3. And while players’ efficiency stats often remain static even as their usage increases, Love’s is playing a far more outside-in game than in past years; more spot-ups, more pick-and-pops, more isos. In 2010/11, 33% of his shots came from 16 feet and beyond. This year, 43% of his shots come from that distance (these numbers were culled from HoopData.com). And while last season, he hit over 40% of his threes, this year he’s hitting at a 37.8% clip, a small but significant difference. In other words, a greater proportion of his shots have come from lower efficiency spots on the floor–and he’s hitting those shots slightly less often. This also partially explains the dip in his offensive rebounding numbers. He’s playing farther away from the basket so those boards are harder to come by.
But the biggest cause of his rebounding dip (and likely his less efficient shooting) is surely the amount of energy he is asked to expend on a nightly basis. In this compressed season, in which game follows exhausting game, Love is leading the league in minutes played. What’s more, none of the eight players ahead of Love in rebounding rate have a higher usage rate. (And only one, Andrew Bynum, has a higher true shooting percentage.) The only players that come close–Bynum, Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins–are all huge, athletic centers, who play close to the basket and whose physical gifts–height, wingspan, leaping ability–all allow them much easier access to defensive rebounds.
So, to recap. Nobody in the league plays more minutes. Nobody outside of Howard endures the pounding that Love does–recall that Love is tied with LeBron for second in free throws attempted. None of the game’s top scorers are asked to expend such hellacious effort on the glass. And of the top rebounders, only Howard carries a commensurate offensive load. We can certainly wonder whether this combination of production and effort are sustainable over a career or even a season. But there is no denying that Love’s accomplishments so far this year have been pretty mind-boggling.