Congratulations to Kevin Love, who claimed a surprise victory in the polls this week to claim a starting berth for the Western Conference All-Star team, a worthy reward for a player who has remained consistently excellent despite less-than-ideal surroundings for his entire career. Love is the first starting All-Star for the Minnesota Timberwolves since Kevin Garnett in 2007, which is nothing less than the Big Ticket’s successor deserves, ranking fourth in the league in player efficiency rating (27.2) whilst averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds a game.
The ever invaluable pro-basketball-reference season finder can tell us that the type of player that can average Love’s numbers over a whole season invariably will end up in the Hall of Fame, which stands as an intriguing piece of information considering the criticism he’s received for the team’s win-loss record as of late.
In a five-man game, it makes sense that a single player can only do so much, though this rationale doesn’t keep the talking heads from deriding those on losing teams. This isn’t so much a defense of Kevin Love as a defense of all players who, under the spotlight, have the audacity to not reach the expected targets by the schedule we set.
He’s unfairly received a hearty portion of the blame for the Timberwolves’ abysmal close game record and his average defense is called out far too often for a team in the top-10 in defensive rating despite the lack of any non-Rubio defensive specialists. Being the best scorer, rebounder and second-best passer on a team hovering around .500 in the loaded Western Conference is no joke.
Which is why it pains me to see Brian Windhorst of ESPN’s Heat index answer in the recent All-Star themed roundtable.
“Who least deserves to be a West All-Star starter?”
“Kevin Love. The obvious answer here is Kobe because he has played two weeks all season, but I understand giving the spot to him as an honorarium. This is a tradition, in fact. As for Love, ideally you should have at least played in a playoff game to qualify to start the All-Star Game.”
Ideally? I mean, ideally mainstream media outlets wouldn’t push an arbitrary basis of merit upon unsuspecting fans. The idea that Love should have played in a playoff game before becoming an All-Star starter is in line with the usual easiness in which valuable contributions among losing efforts are swept aside. I wish he’d played in a playoff game, but to suggest that the inability of the collective to be a top-eight Western Conference team should prevent an otherwise deserving candidate is heinous, especially coming from a professional sportswriter. The same argument would imply that if Minnesota were somehow relocated to the Eastern Conference (where they would be a sixth seed) then Kevin Love would be much more deserving of a starting berth even if his contributions remained the same.
It would be disingenuous to say that All-Star games are irrelevant, especially not in the highlight, superstar-driven NBA. It is the only time of the year when star players on non-competitive teams can share the spotlight with the royalty of the game. It’s also the easiest way of retrospectively summing up a player’s career in a sentence for those without rings and MVP’s , so when the games are used to trot out aging superstars on the basis of their previous exploits, I have a difficult time processing its value.
I say well done to Kevin Love for rising above the Timberwolves’ self-made mediocrity and earning the accolades for his work that already has teams planning for his free agency a year and a half away. It stands as a victory for the NBA and sports fans everywhere that the voting public were able to look past a team deficiency to award a deserving individual in a society used to prioritizing popular narrative over independent thought.