The team was expected take off when Kevin Love and fellow comrade Ricky Rubio returned from injuries. Well the two did come back and have since played rather pedestrian basketball. While Rubio has been underwhelming since coming back from a knee injury, it was somewhat expected that he would be slow to start. Love on the other hand (see what I did there?) is the one that has gained more of the attention and criticism for his lousy play. Now with the news that Love re-broke his hand in the team’s win over Denver last Thursday, this team may be lucky to limp into the playoffs. Love is expected to miss significant time with the broken hand, some are even speculating that he may miss the remainder of the season. Regardless of Love’s current play, a crushing blow for a franchise that is in desperate need of making the postseason.
Before Love came back in late November, the Wolves where barely bobbing their heads above water with 6-5 record. After last night’s win, the Wolves are now again one game above .500 at 16-15. That makes the Wolves record 1-1 since Love re-injured himself, they were 9-9 with him in the lineup. He was expected to help the team win more games, but instead the Wolves found themselves in the same spot they were before Love came back. Fans are frustrated, especially with his recent comments about the team and the organization in an interview with Y! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. The knee-jerk reaction from fans was the front office should trade him before he bolts for free agency in two years, demanding “get value for him now”. Can the Wolves survive without Love? Are they better without him, right now?
So what was Love giving the squad while he was on the floor? Let’s examine.
First let’s look at how the Wolves in general were doing when Love was on the court vs. when he was not on the court.
The Wolves have a net 4.4% eFG% increase when Love sits on the bench. The Wolves are making more shot and preventing the opposition from making shot with Love on the bench. They are turning the ball over more without Love, but forcing more turnovers on defensive end without Love to offset for that. Their defensive rating is also better without Love on the court. However the Wolves offensive rebounding has taken a bit of a hit as they generate fewer possessions on offense and allow other teams more possessions via the offensive rebound. The team also has a positive net rating when Love is off the court at 1.4, while they have a 0.3 when he is on the floor. That is a net difference of 1.1 pts per 100 possessions.
The biggest gripe with Love’s play was his inefficient shooting and lack of hustle. Let’s take a look at his shooting compared to his past seasons (data via thenbageek.com)
Love was easily having the worst shooting season of his career. A career-low 1.11 points per shot, while also jacking up a career-high in three-point attempts, but only shooting 21.7% on threes was really hurting his numbers and more so the team. A career 81% free-throw shooter, was shooting just 70% from the stripe and was on pace for the first sub-50% true-shooting percentage of his career. Via SynergySports, Love was shooting just 18% (0.54 points per possession – ranked 263rd in league) on spot-up shots — last season that number was 37% with 1.00 ppp (ranked 117th). In other words, Love’s shot was broke. In fact, Love was the only player this season playing more than 25 minutes per game and taking at least 10 shots per game while posting a sub-40% effective field goal percentage. A sub-40 eFG% is really bad. Love was essentially one of the worst shooting players in the league before he hurt his hand again.
In a league and game where shot making is one of the most important things to do, Love was not surviving with the shooting numbers he was posting. Pair that with his defense (or lack there of) and all he was bringing to the table on a nightly basis was his rebounding prowess.
The team could be faced with the reality that Love is gone for the season. They do have a better record without him (7-6) than with him (9-9). If this was any other season, the loss of Love would have be devastating, but since his defense and shooting was hurting the team (i.e. preventing them from winning), his rebounding is the only skill that this team might miss. Just watching this team play without Love, it is hard not to notice how much better the offense flows as they are no longer defaulting to Love on almost every possession for bricked three attempt. The defense is noticeably better as well, specifically with their defensive rotations and communication.
Don’t get me wrong, Love is a good player. His shooting, size and rebounding is unlike any other player the league has seen in quite some time. The problem is that he came back too soon from a hand injury which caused his shooting to go into a direct tailspin and his conditioning was killing his ability to effectively play both ends of the floor. This may be a lost season for Love, but with Rick Adelman and co. this team can still survive, even in a loaded Western Conference.