Waiting for Wiggins: Day 20 of 30

Wiggins-Calendar20

I suppose one of these posts should be about Kevin Love.

He is the centerpiece of the Wiggins trade after all; at least in one direction. Love is also the second greatest player in Timberwolves franchise history and one of the ten — maybe 4 or 5, depending on who you ask — best in the league, right now.

But I don’t feel like writing about how great, or not, that I think Kevin Love is at basketball. Too many people (including me) have spent thousands upon thousands of words doing that for the past six years. He is, as Bill Simmons pointed out in his lengthy Friday column, an unusually polarizing player. At this point in his career, Love is probably most closely identified with disagreement.

Along with that polarizing nature and in some cases in cause of it, here are a few things that I will remember about Kevin Love the Timberwolf:

* I remember being upset that Kevin McHale traded O.J. Mayo for him. I was (obviously) wrong to feel that way, as Love has had the far better career than Mayo. (Though Mayo was the better rookie. Yes, he was.) But when the Wolves already had an offensive specialist, defensive liability post player in Al Jefferson, I questioned the wisdom of adding another guy who seemed to share that one-way nature.

* I remember, for a short little window in early 2009, that Love-Jefferson pairing, complemented by best-ball-of-his-life Randy Foye, coming together quite nicely, after Randy Wittman was fired and McHale “let em play.” Love was not yet in great physical condition by NBA standards, but even as a rookie he knew how to rebound and deliver crafty passes into the post-up maestro, Big Al. Had Jefferson not been seriously injured that February, it’s possible that the Wolves approach the following off-season entirely differently, and end up drafting somebody like Brandon Jennings or even Steph Curry, instead of the 5-6, Rubio-Flynn combo that Kahn picked. Kahn also probably never gets hired if Big Al stays healthy and McHale’s Wolves finish the ’09 Campaign strong.

* I remember Love having his minutes cut by the new coach, Kurt Rambis. You could argue that Rambis wanted better defense (Love has always defended strong post players competently, but struggled with help schemes and with getting a hand up on perimeter shooters. He was worse with Rambis than he is now.) but Rambis didn’t seem to hold other, worse players to the same standard. Those teams were awful.

* I remember Love prioritizing foul drawing over genuine attempts to score. This is terrible for aesthetics, but good for overall efficiency. Love head fakes a lot. Even, sometimes, when he’s the open recipient of a nice kick-out pass. I’m not convinced that he was an ideal teammate for Ricky Rubio, for this reason. I also don’t think that the foul-drawing priority makes for ideal crunchtime execution. Defenses sharpen up their discipline and refs tend to swallow their whistles. The Wolves were terrible in fourth quarters last year, and Love’s inability to just “go get a bucket” was one cause, of many, for that.

* I remember Love adding new tools to his arsenal, every season. (Well, except for the one where he broke his knuckles and couldn’t play.) Love extended his shooting range. He cut up his body and lost weight. He added a jump hook last year. The guy is nothing if not dedicated to improving as a player.

* I remember Love always knowing when the Timberwolves were in the bonus. He would initiate little wrestling matches under the boards, knowing just when to scream out with one arm (not really) tied down by his opponent, while the other arm corralled the rebound. The whistle would blow and Love just generated two points, 90 feet from his own basket. I continue to shake my head when he pulls that off.

* I remember the time that Love decided to have lunch with NBA Scoop God, Adrian Wojnarowski, and spill his guts on how he *really* feels about the Timberwolves organization. (Hint: he was not impressed with it, or its players not named Kevin Love.) The weirdest part of this interview was not that he did it (though that was plenty odd, and ill-advised) but the timing of it. This was right after he effectively ruined the season by breaking his knuckles, and right after the Timberwolves went out and spent money on veteran players like Andrei Kirilenko. This time, the failures were Love’s fault, and this time, he went out and threw everybody under the bus. Fans forgave him, but I doubt his teammates did.

* I remember Love having a surprisingly-flat shot. His free throws bang in off the back of the rim, yet he makes a high percentage.

* I remember Love having one of the nicest bank shots I’ve ever seen. I have a theory that flat shooters make the best bankers. (See D-Wade, too.) Love’s bank shot, which he now pulls out of a little square-up, jab step sequence, is straight money.

* I remember Love being the most stats-conscious player that I’ve ever seen. This isn’t just points, but also rebounds (he’ll avoid a help rotation if it means losing prime rebounding position and possibly a foul) and assists. Once Rick Adelman’s offense was fully installed and Love became a playmaker in it, he took obvious pride in hunting triple doubles. There is nothing wrong with passing (obviously) but it is worth mentioning when he was obviously passing up open shots, at the end of blowouts, gunning for a tenth assist.

* I remember Love’s unique passing skills. The most obvious are the outlet bombs. With a flick of the wrists, he zips a just-rebounded ball 80 feet to a streaking teammate — Corey Brewer here, now LeBron — for a quick dunk. But he also would throw these nifty bounce passes to Pekovic from the wing into the middle of the lane. Sometimes he’d put a little bit of side spin on them. It was just a pass angle and style that I don’t remember seeing before and I never knew if that was a set thing, or improvising. But Love was the only Wolf who would throw them. He has some pretty cool passing tricks up his sleeve and I imagine LeBron will enjoy being the recipient of them in Cleveland.

* I remember Love being voted by league executives as the NBA’s player who “does the most with the least.” The “White Guy Award,” as Love and many on social media dubbed it. I actually agreed with him winning it, or at least being right in the running. He’s not athletic in the sense that we describe athleticism in basketball. But he’s very strong in holding position for rebounds, he has incredibly strong hands, and has whatever gifts go into becoming skilled in the finer points of the game, like shooting and passing. But yeah: He is a white American star player, those seem to be increasingly rare, and this probably affects how fans perceive his strengths and limitations to some degree.

* I remember, perhaps more than anything, all of the losing. The losing was not “his fault.” (Well, aside from knuckle push-ups.) But it sometimes didn’t seem like he was fully invested in being a team player, either. In any event, I’m sure Love remembers the losing too, which is why he wants to move on. The Timberwolves, over the past six years, developed an identity — both nationally and locally — of the superstar player and his shitty teammates. It doesn’t matter how shitty they were, or — at times — were not. Once that identity sticks, and said superstar makes little effort to refute it and even sometimes feeds into it with his own behavior, that’s a serious problem. That’s Kobe and Smush Parker stuff, only without Pau Gasol to come save the situation.

The Wolves needed to move on just as badly as Love did.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Waiting for Wiggins: Day 20 of 30

  1. Brett A

    It’s funny how all of these memories seem so recent but so long gone at this juncture. This 30-day moratorium sucks, but it sure does make me more ready to just move on.

  2. Matt

    Very nice write-up. I’m no fan of Love, but I thought you gave a nicely balanced review of his game. Of course, you did fail to mention all the time he spent whining on the court instead of running back on defense… but I guess that’s just the Love hate creeping out on my part. ;)

    OK, his utter lack of leadership skills was also annoying in a max player, but that’s my last complaint!

    Keep up the good work, I rarely comment but I always enjoy learning about the game with this site.