2011-12 Season, Player Analysis

Kevin Love is a new argument this year

The problem with Kevin Love’s numbers is he only gets them because he’s on a bad team. If the Wolves were a team capable of making the playoffs, he wouldn’t grab nearly as many rebounds or score nearly as many points. He’s just a product of nobody else on the team being capable of putting up numbers. Sure he’s one of the top rebounders in the league but if they had anybody else on the team that can rebound, he wouldn’t grab a lot.

Remember that nonsense?

One year, 2/3s of a season with a Spaniard, and a Hall of Fame coach later, Kevin Love isn’t just putting up insane numbers; he’s making it hard to discount him as an MVP and All-NBA 1st team candidate. 

Now, I don’t actually believe that he IS the MVP or SHOULD be a lock for All-NBA 1st team. I would love it if he ended up in the top 4 or 5 of voting for MVP because I think he’s been that valuable this season, and him making All-NBA 2nd team behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James at the forward spots would be remarkable. But the idea that he’s in the conversation for these prestigious individual awards is validation for a fan base that was hell-bent (and rightfully so) on defending the honor of his statistical production the past 129 games.

What Kevin Love does on the basketball court isn’t just impressive; it’s historic. Last season, Kevin Love joined Moses Malone as only the second player in the 3-point era to average 20 points and 15 rebounds per game. This season, Love is looking to become the fourth player (and seventh time) in the 3-point era to average 25 points and 13 rebounds per game.

I don’t bring this up to inform you that Kevin Love is awesome at basketball. You guys watch him every night and know that to be a fact. I bring it up because it’s funny to think how a year ago, we had to defend Love on the court because people saw his numbers and assumed they were embellished by the quality of the team. When in fact, his numbers were embellished by the fact that he’s just better at scoring and rebounding than almost everybody in the NBA.

Last year, Kevin Love played a lot of minutes alongside Darko Milicic, who as we know has an aversion to rebounding. It gives him an allergic reaction that takes a lot of Benadryl to control when he accidentally grabs a rebound. It explains why Kevin Love has more 10-rebound games this season (40) than Darko Milicic has in his nine-year career (34). We don’t want to make Darko all itchy.

When Love was on the court with Darko Milicic last season, he grabbed 15.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. He grabbed 15.6 rebounds per game when Darko wasn’t on the court. However, this team didn’t have another good rebounder in the lot. League average for a center’s total rebounding rate last season was 14.8%. The Wolves had Tolliver (12.0%), Pekovic (12.1%), and Darko Milicic (11.8%) all below that line. Only Kosta Koufos was above it with a 16.0% and Anthony Randolph’s 14.4% was just barely over the power forward’s average TRR of 13.8%.

This season, the injection of Pekovic’s destruction into the lineup has brought Kevin Love that elusive helper inside to rebound against grabbing and clutching frontlines. Pek’s rebounding rate from last year to this year has shot up 15.6% overall and a league leading 17.4% on the offensive end. It’s like watching King Kong fight off multiple T-Rexes under the boards. Even though Nikola Pekovic has been one of the better rebounders in the NBA this year, Kevin Love’s rebounding numbers are still historic matched up with his scoring.

He’s averaging 13.7 rebounds per game and 12.5 per 36 minutes. However, with Pek’s presence inside, he must be doing the majority of his rebounding when Pek is on the bench, right? After all, Love rebounded so well last year because nobody else on the floor was capable of grabbing a rebound.

Last season, Love grabbed 15.5 per 36 minutes with Pekovic on the floor and 15.3 rebounds per 36 with him off the floor. This season, the averages have dropped to 12.7 and 12.3, respectively, but the gaps of his rebounding with and without Pek have also widened.

Kevin Love has often had to fight against an entire frontcourt by himself, grabbing rebound after rebound with one arm tied behind his defender’s back. Now, with Pekovic taking up precious real estate under the boards and allowing Love to roam free, Love just has one man to beat and still manages to find a way to rebound like we’ve rarely seen when juxtaposed with his scoring.

The next knock on Love has often been that while he can score in the meaningless moments of basketball games that don’t matter, he wasn’t a go-to player in the clutch at all. Last year, his Wolves were horrendous in the clutch with a net rating of -34.35 with Love on the floor. He made just 36% of his shots and stayed true to his free throw percentage with 85% in clutch and non-clutch situations. They were also 3-10 in games decided by three points or less.

This season, they’ve been in the clutch more often and have been succeeding for the most part. The Wolves are a net rating of +7.7 and Love has upped his percentages to 44% from the field and 96% from the stripe. The Wolves have also won more games than they’ve lost with a 7-6 record in games decided by three points or fewer. Part of this is because Love just knows how to get the ball in the basket a lot more. That could be confidence, it could be coaching, or it could just be experience.

Whatever the reason is, Love’s evolution from a fantasy god because of a bad team to an elite NBA player on a budding team is pretty impressive considering there was just one (elongated) off-season in between. I’ve notice for myself that I’ve had to defend Love’s production less and less this year than I had to do last year. People are accepting of him as one of the top players in the NBA. He’s even forced his way into MVP consideration and All-NBA talk.

The conversation has become more celebrating what Love can do on the basketball court, rather than trying to prove that what he does on the court is a result of anything he can’t control.

Next, I’m sure we’ll start to argue about his improved defense, until people catch up with the times on that subject too.

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