Kevin Love has become a main topic of conversation lately due in part to the Timberwolves recent resurgence back to normalcy in the NBA. Generally considered the Wolves most productive and consistent player, Love’s play this season has put him in the discussion for being the league’s best power forward. Love seems to have definitely taken on more a leadership role this season and showing that he is not afraid to put the team on his back at times. Today however is an important day for the Timberwolves franchise as it marks the last day the Wolves can extend a contract offer to Kevin Love. It seems that the general sentiment is that Love will ultimately agree to a four or five-year extension by Wednesday’ midnight deadline. So is Love worth it? Does it make sense to sign him to big-dollar contract?
Love’s play of late has been something special. Something that has not been seen since the 1999. Kevin Love’s 24 points per game and 13 rebounds per game in his first 17 games this season is a feat that has not been accomplished since Shaquille O’Neal did it with the Lakers in his first 17 games (26.5 ppg/13.3 rpg) to open the 1999-2000 season. Only three other players in league history have done what Love and Shaq have done to open a season. The others are David Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon – all of which are Hall of Fame players. If Love continues the season on this torrid pace he will be the first player to finish with a 24 point and 13 rebound average since Kevin Garnett did it in his 2003-04 MVP season at age 27.
Let’s say you could have an unnamed Player X who produced a season average of 20+ ppg-10+ rpg-and shot 35%+ from beyond the arc. A player that could score, rebound, and shoot from deep with accuracy, sounds too good to be true. But let’s say that there is another player, Player Y who produces the same line as Player X but adds in 4.5 assist per game. One would obviously take Player Y’s stat line over Player X’s. Now what if I were to tell you that Player Y is Larry Bird at age 23 and Player X is obviously Kevin Love at age 22 (last season)? Larry Bird and Kevin Love are the only player’s to post 20+/10+/35%+ lines in a season. Is Kevin Love > Larry Bird, absolutely not, and I am not trying to argue that. What is important is to show the type of skill-set Love brings to the table, it is one that rivals only a select few.
Pass the Ball Kevin
Aside from defense, a major concern for Love this season have been his assist and turnover numbers. Love has seen an increase in his usage rate (25.9) and directly an increase in his turnover rate (11.1%). This makes sense and is fair to conjecture. The more one touches the ball the more chances one has to turnover it over. In Love’s case this is what is going on as he has seen a 13.2% increase in his turnover rate. Now what does not make sense is that Love’s assist numbers have plummeted this season. He is touching the ball more, but yet is generating fewer assists while doing so. Love’s current assist rate is at low 6.3% — the league average for starting power forwards playing 30-plus minutes is around 11%, which was where Love was last season (11.3%). Love has seen his usage rate increase 21.6% but his assist rate has decreased by 45.7%. Last season Love averaged slightly over a 1:1 assist:turnover ratio, this season however he is averaging just a 0.57 assist:turnover ratio. That decrease is one of the largest among starting power forwards. So in some essence Love is becoming more of a black hole this season than ever before.
Just for fun, Love had 20 games last year in which he recorded one assist or less. Meaning that a quarter (27.4%) of the time last season Love would have a game of zero or just one assist. This season through just 17 games Love has had nine games of this nature — 52.9% of time, nearly double than last season. Now let’s do the same thing with Love’s turnovers. Last season Kevin Love had just 10 games with four or more turnovers — 13.7% of his games played. This season in just 17 games Love already has had six games like this, accounting for over 35% of Love’s games played, two and one half time more than last season. Love definitively does his fair share to contribute to the team’s winning, but if the squad wants to continue to win more games Love certainly needs to start taking notes from teammate Ricky Rubio and realize that passing the ball in certain situations can have a greater effect on the team than holding on to it too long or forcing a contested shot. So Kevin Love, I implore you to start passing the ball more, don’t become a black hole, don’t become Al Jefferson…please, don’t be that guy.
Now part of Love’s increased usage rate and everything that goes with it is his minute played. Right now, Love leads the league in minutes played (39.4 minutes per game). So part of Love’s high turnover, low assist, and even shooting numbers could be attributed to Love wearing down in games with a condensed schedule. However, Love will likely need to see his minutes decrease somewhat if he wants to finish the season on a consistent and productive pace. We’ll see how coach Adelman manages this fluid situation going forward.
So is Love worth max dollar? The theory is this: Love produces the numbers of a franchise player and shows the consistency of a franchise type player. When you watch Love play you would not think a guy who plays below the rim would be worth such top dollar, but when you consider everything Love does for this team on a nightly basis is hard not to pay for that type of consistency. People rag on Love’s defense, but his versatility on the offense end that he brings is undeniable and outshines his defensive inefficiencies. I find it hard to believe that many GMs would shy away from Love because he doesn’t play good defense. One can assume that if Love was on the open market, his services would be desired by almost every team and general manger. In the NBA team’s rarely let players who produce numbers like Love walk, specifically when considering his age. So to think that the Wolves won’t pay top dollar for Love’s services is pessimistic thinking because situations like Love’s almost always end with the player signing a contract extension. To think that Love does not want to play for coach Adelman and alongside Ricky Rubio for the next four-plus year’s is crazy talk that will likely be put to rest by days end.