Ruminations about last night's frustrations
The man in the picture above is Corey Brewer. The man to his left and your right is Kevin Love.
Kevin Love is someone that people have opinions about and those opinions have been well discussed ever since Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a thing. With every poor game, the criticism ramps up and becomes suffocating within the conversation of what this team is, what they need to do, and what they do best. The weird thing to me in this entire ordeal about Kevin Love is I feel like I’ve been painted into a corner as a Kevin Love apologist. Well, actually I have become a Kevin Love apologist.
The main reason for this is I feel like I understand why he’s struggling so much. People want to claim it’s unhappiness with the team or a lack of effort or he doesn’t care or he’s pouting or he’s actually a spy sent from the Los Angeles Lakers to sabotage any chance of the team’s old city building themselves up into a contender (RUMOR: Troy Hudson was previous Lakers spy). But really, I think there are very reasonable explanations for why Love has struggled so much.
I want to be clear here. There is a huge difference between an excuse and an explanation. These are not excuses. They are just stating the reality of the situation.
Kevin Love stated before the season started that his conditioning was going to be an issue early on. This isn’t because he didn’t work out in the offseason. A lot of players end up coming into training camp in less than ideal shape after playing in the Olympics. Not all players do this, but quite a few do. Have you paid attention to Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Tyson Chandler (just defensively which is a surprise), Andre Iguodala and Manu Ginobili? These are guys who have struggled in parts of their game or their entire game this season after playing in the Olympics.
This happen because there is a much different type of training that happens when you have three full months to get your body ready for the season as opposed to spending two months of it training with Team USA and not being able to isolate what you’re working on. So coming into the season, Love was already going to be in worse shape than he was the previous year, but he was upfront about it and said he’d work through it.
Then something happened. He broke his hand doing knuckle pushups. I have no idea if it’s a good idea to do this. I have no idea if it would have happened doing regular pushups or Wii bowling or what. But he did it and he had to deal with it. While his cardio could keep up somewhat, it’s not the same as playing actual basketball. You see that with injuries all the time. The player has to play their way back into shape and sometimes it takes a while (depending on how long they’re out). Love was gone for about a month and came back early.
I also want to note this about his conditioning while he was out. Do we know how much he could lift weights with this injury? This is an actual question I intend to ask him about on Saturday. Obviously, he couldn’t lift with his right hand but I wonder what limitations were put on him, even after he came back early from the injury. I want to ask you to look at the picture at the top of this post real quick and then check out the picture right below this:
Granted, these are two different moments for him. One is him walking last night against the Nuggets and the other is him starting to battle Ivan Johnson for a rebound about a year ago. But do you notice a difference in muscle definition and tone between his arms in the two pictures? It’s not that Kevin Love looks out of shape to me in terms of cardio. I mean, he doesn’t look like he’s in great shape with his cardio but you can certainly tell the difference between him having a bounce in his step some nights and not having that bounce most other nights right now.
But his strength is a huge issue. I don’t know how much it’s affecting his jump shot (again, planning on doing a post on that soon) but you can see how much it’s affecting his ability to score inside right now. Nobody in the NBA is getting blocked more per game than Kevin Love is this season. He gets blocked 1.8 times per game. Last season, he was blocked 1.2 times per game. He’s also gone from making 59.8% of his shots at the rim and 54.5% of his attempts in the restricted area last season to 44.9% of his shots at the rim and 40.6% of his attempts in the restricted area so far this season.
My belief is that strength is a huge part of this falloff. He doesn’t create any space inside anymore — absolutely none. He doesn’t look strong enough to absorb contact and still get a good shot off. When that happens, it seems natural to alter your shot to make sure you get an attempt at the rim, which is why I think we see him wildly flinging it at the backboard at times inside.
I don’t think it’s a lack of effort so much as I believe he has a lack of physical strength. I’m not sure how he corrects this anytime soon. Being healthy for a full month and being able to work extra hard with his conditioning in this month seems like it would be a theoretical way to get back into necessary game shape. Or maybe it won’t even take that long. I’m not a trainer. But I feel like it’s a very correctable issue, if you trust him to work hard to get his body into proper condition. Considering how he’s transformed his body in the past three years, I think he’s built up enough credit to think he isn’t going to be lazy about it.
Where people get frustrated with him is his defense, complaining, and leadership. I don’t know how you fairly judge someone’s leadership because we don’t see him around his teammates to know if he’s doing a good or bad job. If you want to talk about leadership by example, that’s an entirely valid conversation to get into. When he complains to officials and doesn’t get back on defense right away, that is a sign of poor leadership. The first couple weeks of his return, we saw a lot less of him doing this than in previous years. However, as the pressure has mounted with his continued unexpected play and the Woj article, I think it’s obvious his frustration with his own play has grown past the point that he’s capable of consistently dealing with it.
He’s had good nights and bad nights with it — more bad nights lately than good. We don’t have to get back into what his comments about the team were in that article. My position on the matter, the writer, and what went down is well documented on this site, in the comments on this site, and on Twitter. What I will say is to say he doesn’t give effort is an incorrect blanketed statement.
He gave effort last night. Kenneth Faried came into the game with an 18.8% rebounding rate. When he and Love were on the court together, Faried had exactly two rebounds. Love finished with 17 rebounds in 24 minutes and managed to help get Faried into foul trouble, limiting his effectiveness and play. Love’s defense was poor at times last night, but it’s been more than adequate for much of this season. With Love on the court, the Wolves are still a top-12 defense in this league.
Last night, Love had a bad game by his standards. It’s fair that we hold him to the standards he’s set for himself because you don’t want a 24-year old franchise player (and yes, he’s a franchise player for this team and would be for many teams so let’s not argue about this designation and forget the full point of my ramblings here) regressing at any point. However, I think there is a big difference between wanting Love to play better and vilifying him for not immediately fixing what’s currently wrong with his body and game.
I preach patience because the ultimate goal is still the most important part of this whole equation. This is a playoff caliber team with Love healthy and on board. Love is on board but he is not healthy. At least, he’s not healthy enough to be what the Wolves need him to be. Because of this, it means the team has to play a lot harder than normal and not just rely on a masked avenger to save the day.
What we’ve seen from the team when Love and Rubio are on the court (since returning from their injuries) is a lot of complacency within the offense. Because of the poor shooting, this team is already suffering as an offensive unit. Love’s poor shooting doesn’t help matters but it’s also not the only reason this team sucks so badly at shooting from long distances (Wolves are still the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA if you remove Love’s attempts). When your stars are in the game, you tend to see guys just wait for the squad to be bailed out. It’s not every play but it’s often enough. I think you especially see it with Rubio on the court right now.
It’s like everybody is standing around, waiting for something magical to happen. For Rubio to make magical things happen, he needs running mates and moving targets to hit with passes. He doesn’t need guys standing around. Love is similar in some respect. He needs help from his teammates to create space for him to operate. He needs even more space to operate until he gets back into shape.
I thought Luke Ridnour had a great quote after the game. He told Alan Horton that when Love went down, the team felt a sense of urgency. If you’re wondering why the Wolves looked better last night once Love left the court, it might be that they didn’t have a choice if they were going to win that game. I don’t know if they’d win that game last night had Love not sprained his finger. I also don’t know that they would have lost that game either.
What I do know is JJ Barea and Luke Ridnour took over in the fourth quarter, attacking the defense in a way we hadn’t seen for most of that game. Maybe they did that because the spacing was better without Love on the floor or maybe they did that because if they didn’t, they were going to lose that game. Or maybe it’s somewhere in the middle.
When you lose your best players, the team has a choice of whether they want to fight for the team goal still or lie down and use it as an excuse. For much of this season, we’ve seen fight from the Wolves’ role players. We’ve seen inspiration and grit and a lack of lethargy that has poisoned this roster due to failed members of this team during the past few years. There isn’t a need for drama on this team or in the environment. We can let go of the things we’re conditioned to create in our heads to make the experience more interesting like finding a villain or creating a problem that doesn’t need to be there.
There doesn’t always have to be something wrong with the team. There are ways to get better and things to improve on, but that doesn’t necessitate drama. Drama is built up in sports to sell papers, attract eyeballs and open up ears so ad revenue can be generated. Sometimes, it’s okay to just appreciate what’s going on and take it for what it’s worth. We saw a team without its two best players (Rubio for the entire game and Love for half of the game) fight on a back-to-back on the road in the altitude against a better team and come away with a victory because they refused to lose the game.
Why aren’t we celebrating that today? Why are we arguing about the best player on this team? Why are we pretending the team is better off with him? Jettisoning a player doesn’t create a momentary sense of urgency within the team’s fight. It creates a hole that this organization is ill equipped to fill over the course of an 82-game schedule. Unless the Wolves are going to acquire Blake Griffin or Zach Randolph or LaMarcus Aldridge, I don’t see how getting rid of Kevin Love makes this team better. I also don’t see how Adelman and Rubio stay past their current deals without Love on board.
Love is playing like guano compared to his standards. He’s out of shape. He has a reason to be out of shape. I believe he’ll find a way to correct that problem and therefore correct the bigger problem of his inconsistent play in the process. I think his poor conditioning right now deserves the caveats that come with it. And I also believe that a sense of urgency was what we saw last night, not addition by subtraction.
I’m not apologizing for Love’s poor transition defense or incessant complaining to officials when he’s not getting calls. He’s averaging more free throw attempts per 36 minutes this season than he did last season. He gets plenty of calls and needs to realize there are better times and places in the game to make these pleas. There is also a lot of value in trusting your head coach with 986 wins will fight for those calls for you.
What I am saying is if we’re patient about his play and do more encouraging than finger pointing, we might see the frustration go away and the execution improve. We might be laughing about this situation by the time March comes around. Kevin Love has problems right now on the court. I’d like to see how he works through it and attempts to get past it before I decide if he’s a lost cause or not.
Again, these aren’t excuses; it’s just the reality of the situation. Go Wolves.