Collecting Dimes: Kevin Love’s Assists

William Bohl —  December 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

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Following the Wolves’ November 1st victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, our own Benjamin Polk asked Kevin Love about facilitating the offense from the elbow. In response, Love revealed one of the expectations that was placed on him coming into the season. In the matter-of-fact delivery that’s become his modus operandi in post-game interviews, Love said, ”Coach wants my assist numbers to be up.” Thus far in the 2013-14 campaign, the 25-year-old superstar has obliged.

Racking up assists at nearly double his career rate (4.1 per game this year, 2.1 per game overall), Love’s relishing the opportunity to play with the most talented roster he’s been a part of since he arrived in Minnesota. The Timberwolves boast the 12th-rated offense in the league (in terms of points per possession) and are 8th in the NBA in net differential; despite their brutal early season schedule and tough luck, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic in Minnesota – especially on the offensive end.

“With the guys we have,” Love continued, “specifically Corey (Brewer) and Kevin (Martin), and with Pekovic ducking in (to the paint), I’m looking for them.” Those three in particular have been on the receiving end of Love’s booming collection of dimes, as you can see in the chart below:

Recipient

# Field Goals

Total Points Scored (off Love assists)

Corey Brewer

26

56

Kevin Martin

25

56

Nikola Pekovic

10

20

Ricky Rubio

7

18

Dante Cunningham

4

8

J.J. Barea

3

7

Derrick Williams

2

5

TOTALS

77

170

 

The offense flows through Love more than any other player on the roster; the power forward is 4th in the NBA in touches per game (with 88.2) and is the only non-Point Guard in the top-15 of that category. Between the points he’s scored (450) and the points he’s assisted on (170), Love has had a hand in 620 of the team’s 2,012 points, or 31%. Few players in the league mean as much to their team’s offensive attack as Kevin Love does to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The addition of Brewer and his ability to leak out into transition, as well as Kevin Martin’s natural fit with Love as a partner in the two-man game, has made Love’s quest to improve his assist numbers a less cumbersome task. Both Brewer and Martin cut hard and are adept at finishing at the rim, skills sorely lacking in years past. 40 of Love’s 77 assists have resulted in layups or dunks, the type of high-percentage looks that good offenses are able to generate on a regular basis.

Playing within the confines of Adelman’s offense, Love’s high post touches are where many possessions begin and/or conclude, with either a shot attempt by Love himself or a pass to a cutting (or posted-up) teammate. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn where on the floor Love has dropped the most dimes this season:

DIMES 2

The 15 assists generated in his own backcourt (off missed shots, free throws or even on inbounds passes) have been lionized, and rightfully so, because they’re beautiful to watch. But if you took all of those away, Love would still be averaging better than 3 assists per night, which would top his career mark of 2.5 per game, set back in 2010-11. Clearly, Love’s half-court facilitating and understanding of the offense is peaking before our eyes.

That said, the assists are coming at a slower rate in recent games. In his first 13 games, Love averaged 4.8 assists; in his last 6, he’s tallying 2.5 per night. This is due, in part, to defensive scouting reports taking away one of Minnesota’s early sources of easy buckets – cuts to the rim. See the video for a mashup of examples, almost all of which are from the first 7 or 8 games of the season:

Kevin Martin’s experience in the system showed early on, as he deftly used jukes to free himself for baseline or perimeter cuts, giving the Timberwolves easy baskets and Kevin Love plenty of assists. The plays above look easy, but aren’t; few big men possess the touch hit cutting players with passes so they can handle the ball and finish with relative ease. Instead of looking for his own shot, especially when he’s crowded, Love carefully surveys the defense and gives Martin (and Brewer) time to work.

But defenses sussed out the Timberwolves’ methods of attack. The last time Love hit a true baseline cutter for an assist was more than two weeks ago, against the Boston Celtics. Opposing teams, fearful of giving up such a high percentage look, are wary of anyone (but especially Martin and Brewer) lurking in the corners. Minnesota’s answer, in part, has been to put Love on the block more often and run cutters diagonally off of that – with somewhat mixed results. Love has four assists from the post this season – all of them in the past few games – and when you look at the video you can see the issues with passing out of the low or mid block.

The paint is a congested place, especially when you play a team like the Indiana Pacers, who are excellent at clogging up the lane and making life difficult for anyone who want to operate near the basket on offense. Denying inside passes is Defense 101, so running cutters through the paint (despite Brewer’s success in the above video) is unlikely to yield sustained positive results. It’s a new wrinkle – and one that the team may excel at, eventually. The acquisition of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gives the Timberwolves another wing who can move without the ball, and even more options for Love passing out of the post.

One aspect of the Wolves’ offense that will be hard to take away is the two-man game between Kevin Love and Kevin Martin. We’ve discussed this (briefly) before; both Martin and Love can post up, and both of them can knock down outside shots. A series of handoffs and postups between the two is common, and often results in a good look. Or, Minnesota can swing it on the perimeter, or wait for a bad switch on a pick and roll. The safety net inside, if the perimeter action fails to generate a good look, is Nikola Pekovic. While the Kevins maneuver on the perimeter, Pek oftentimes lurks on the other side of the paint, waiting for his defender to relax, only to spring into action, seal him off deep in the paint, and await the entry pass. To wit:

With the firepower available outside, defenses have to respect the perimeter game, freeing things up for Big Pek. Over his last 7 games, the Timberwolves’ center is averaging 19 points and 9 boards. It isn’t just Love that’s finding him, of course, but the threat of the three-pointer, which Love helps manufacture, is a big reason why Pekovic is beginning to get into a groove inside.

When Love got off to such a fast start, it was fun to daydream about the possibilities of a 25-15-and-5 season out of him, which would be the fifth of its kind in NBA history. (The others to do it? Wilt, Wilt, Baylor, Kareem.) Now that the rest of the league has a scouting report on the new-look Timberwolves, Love’s assist numbers have slowed down – but his overall impact on the Wolves’ offensive effectiveness has not. Love’s “cold snap”, assists-wise, started on November 22 – and between then and now, Minnesota’s offensive efficiency is 10th in the NBA. The gaudy assist numbers may not continue in perpetuity, but Love’s impact on the offense – the mere threat of his offensive arsenal – shows no sign of slowing down.

William Bohl

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One response to Collecting Dimes: Kevin Love’s Assists

  1. Great post, Bill. Highly enjoyable.

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