Evaluating the 2010-11 season of Kevin Love
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"The most essential factor is persistence - the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come." - James Whitcomb Riley
While Riley was undoubtedly commenting on rural America's unwavering work ethic, this quote is applicable to the 2010-11 season of Kevin Love. The Minnesota power forward is averaging 21.3 points and 15.5 rebounds per game and has recorded 41 consecutive double-doubles, the third highest streak since the ABA-NBA merger. (Moses Malone holds the record with 50 during the 1978-79 season.) Despite this resolute reliability from Love, the Timberwolves dwell in the Western Conference cellar with a record of 13-42. The lack of victories correlated into Love's initial absence on the All-Star roster in spite of sporting the first 20-15 average since Malone achieved the feat in the 1982-83 season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Though eventually earning an All-Star invite thanks to the commissioner's pick, Love continues to wrangle for respect while toiling in relative anonymity in the Minnesota wilderness. Wins do come at a premium in the NBA; however, Love is far from the token "posting good stats on a bad team" baller. (Yes, we are looking at you, Andrea Bargnani.) Furthermore, closer examination gives greater appreciation for the former UCLA Bruin's efforts. When healthy, the Timberwolves' front court features the much-maligned Darko Milicic at center and Michael Beasley at small forward. Although he has been somewhat rejuvenated since arriving in Minneapolis, Beasley's game is more suited for an open-court system rather than banging down low. This often has left Love battling for boards against double-teams this season, giving more grandeur to the 15.5 figure.
Love's ascension to the league's echelon has been regarded as one of the year's surprises, a sentiment that seems perplexing on paper. The fifth overall pick in the 2008 Draft, Love was productive in his first two seasons in the league, submitting averages of 14 points and 11 rebounds in '09-10 despite starting just 22 games. Additionally, he was an integral ingredient for the gold medal-winning Team USA roster during this summer's FIBA World Championship.
Still, one would have to be Nostradamus to have foreseen this statistical surge. One theoretical catalyst for this explosion has been Love's increased game minutes. The forward's floor presence has jumped from 28.6 minutes per game in '09-10 to 36.8 this season. Others attribute Love's performance to offseason improvements to his game, some of which is assigned to the FIBA experience that has seemingly influenced all members of Team USA this season.
"I think it's a little bit of both," stated Love before a recent game against the Indiana Pacers. "A lot of it was opportunity, but a lot was the work I put in on the court and in the weight room in the offseason."
While his downtown dexterity has improved (soaring from 33 percent last season to 43 percent behind the arc in '10-11), his repertoire of ricochets is what's garnering Love attention. Rebounding has become a lost art form in today's NBA, so when one consistently cleans the glass like Love the term "throwback" becomes common vernacular when describing the forward's game. Not that Love minds the epithet.
"If people want to dub me as a throwback, that's fine with me. I may not have all the highlights in the world, but I still get the job done."
Truth be told, some of the comparisons to Malone and Jerry Lucas are, frankly, lazy. From strictly a statistical standpoint, Love's game may appear parallel to Moses, Lucas, Maurice Stokes and other robust rebounders of NBA lore. But in reality, Love is more of a hybrid assembled from Hall-of-Fame physiognomies. The way Love is able to maneuver his opponent under the basket and into an inopportune rebounding position is straight from the book of Bill Russell and Charles Barkley. Love's logistical strategy doesn't end there, as he's aware of his teammates' shooting tendencies, knowing where a certain player's errant shot is most likely to land. Dennis Rodman employed the same strategy in his heyday, monitoring warm-ups from afar to observe others' shot arcs.
Love's construction is not just constricted to rebounding. His uncanny court vision and ability to ignite the fast break looks a lot like Wes Unseld, a former teammate and friend of Love's father. A deadly accuracy from deep range despite his height reminds one of former big men Larry Bird and Bill Laimbeer, the latter whom is currently a Minnesota assistant coach. His instinctive nature of moving without the ball mirrors that of the venerable Tim Duncan. And the ever-present hustle Love displays is reminiscent of a time when such effort was expected, not applauded. As Love remarked, "If it was effective in the past, it can still be effective for me."
Not to say Love is without his deficiencies. Defensively, Love has as much grace as an elephant on roller blades. Minnesota's lack of depth doubles as a constraint on Love's fronting abilities, as the big man cannot afford to fall into foul trouble. Although he's making strides, Love's mid-range game is still pedestrian for a player with his superb shooting skills.
Nevertheless, pointing out the All-Star's shortcomings is somewhat of an asinine activity, as Love is cementing his status as one of the game's best all-around players. Despite seasoned starters Beasley, Milicic and Luke Ridnour on the sidelines last Friday against Indiana, Love went out and posted his 40th straight double-double with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Alas, the effort was for not, as the Timberwolves lost their fifteenth game in their last nineteen tries.
Don't expect the persistent putridity of the Timberwolves to take its toll on Love. The losses may be inevitable for maladroit Minnesota, but that won't deter the determination of the NBA's double-double machine.
Joel Beall is a Content Writer for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.