The Kevin Love trade fest is in full bloom and there are probably thousands of fans on trade machines right now, trying to figure out how they could get Love to join their favorite team. This has lead to an inevitable backlash of; “Kevin Love is overrated” and “We don’t want Love, he has never even been to the playoffs.”
So why have the Love trade talks captured the attention of the media? Should fans want him on their team? Is Love really worth all of this? Is he over hyped?
The answer to the last question is no, and the previous two a resounding yes. Love is absolutely a top 10 player in the NBA, and pursuing him is something everyone NBA team should and will do, provided they have the assets to do so.
He was third in PER, fourth in Win Shares per 48 minutes in the entire NBA. Additionally he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists(second highest mark among big men) a game. Those are extraordinary numbers, and Love is an extraordinary player. Plug him in at the 4 or the 5 and you’ll immediately find yourself with the makings of a great offense.
“Stretch 4s” come out well in advanced statistics because they affect the offensive in such a positive manner even if they do nothing but stand in around. The extra space creates driving lanes and more space for posts ups, and perhaps most importantly opens up the pick and roll game into pretty much indefensible positions.
The normal ways of guarding a pick and roll just don’t work. If you leave your man to hedge on the ball handler Love will be left wide open, switch and he will destroy you on the post (Love has beautiful moves and footwork near the rim. Producing 0.92 points per possession according to Synergy Sports, a pretty good mark). If you stick with Love his man will blow right past you and into the lane.
Guys like Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki and Ryan Anderson are absolute game plan destroyers on offense. Love is just an absolute beast and one of the best players on offense in the game. He’s the full package on that end and more valuable than most people realize.
Defensively, if you’re 6’10” with a 6’11” wingspan, you should be an above average defender by just being there. That has not been true so far in Love’s career.
The defensive metrics are pretty brutal, on adjusted plus minus systems Love ranks somewhere around 100th (97th in ESPN’s Real Plus Minus), with basically every competent big in front of him. How much of that can be attributed to mailing it in is up for question, and there is no reason why a player as smart as Love should be so bad.
But again: Players who are big, smart, and Love happens to be really strong, should be at least impactful defenders if they are locked in and play the right way. There’s no reason to expect he won’t improve.
Love is not a bad athlete, contrary to popular belief; he measured with a 35-inch vertical in his rookie combine. That’s really good.
What about the lackadaisical team success?
It’s true that Love hasn’t made the playoffs in his six seasons in the NBA, which is a cause for concern. But there’s a multitude of mitigating factors; Love was hurt for a majority of the two seasons before this one, and before that the T-Wolves really didn’t have a team that was capable of making the playoffs no matter what.
When you go through Love’s seasons, the only knock on him you can really make is that the T-Wolves didn’t make it this year. The Western Conference is just brutal that way and every year some really good teams will be left out of the playoffs.
They probably would have been one of the best teams in the East. If you adjust for strength of schedule and remove luck (just look at net rating and ignore the fact that the Wolves were 7-14 in games decided by five points or less or OT) they were on pace to win 48 games, the 10th best mark in the league, Placing them seventh in the west or fourth in the east.
The Timberwolves were ranked ninth in offensive and 12th in defensive rating. We usually consider being top 10 in both categories a sign of a great team with a chance to make a strong playoff push. They are not far off from that.
The point is the stats tell a clear tale. The T-Wolves are better than their record this year showcases, and Love really helps a team win.
Without Love on the floor Minnesota was a -5.3 in net rating, compared to +5.6 when he played. That’s the differential equivalent of first being one of the top seven teams in the league to going to the bottom five (Ricky Rubio actually fared really well in these stats also. Stop hating on him, even though he’s not a good shooter that guy is a really good basketball player. Rubio is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and the way Rick Adelman used him in his corner offense was beautiful and nullified much of Rubio’s perceived weaknesses).
In addition horrible luck in close games, it’s the bench that was the problem; Minny couldn’t find anything reliable until Gorgui Dieng‘s emergence. Alexey Shved was horrible and Chase Budinger was hurt or coming back from injury the whole season.
The Timberwolves need to find a way to address their shooting woes, they ranked fifth-worst in the league percentage wise last season. They are over the cap, but perhaps through a draft or small trade they can stack the deck a bit more.
Rim protection is also an issue. Minnesota ranked second to last in field goal percentage at the rim, and they allow more than an average amount of opportunities there.
The Love-Pekovic combo is beautiful on offense. I like the high post action and passes to a posting Pekovic in the lane but neither of them protect the rim, which is something you really need to build an elite defense.
The Wolves really should be looking for a trade partner who would be interested in Pek (Pekovic for Roy Hibbert anyone?). It really looked like the Wolves found something with Dieng at the end of the season, and while he’s not really ready to step into a big role next to Love, there’s something there for Minnesota to latch onto.
The Timberwolves weren’t a bad defensive team this year but I feel like they are already sort of “capped out” at above average.
What options do the T-Wolves have if they want to keep Love?
First off it starts off by making the hard choice of not trading him this summer. It’s a gamble for sure and you have no idea if it’ll pay off.
The Wolves just have to hope that they can “catch up” to their stats and become next year’s Portland Trail Blazers. Remember, LaMarcus Aldridge was unhappy before the start of this season, but winning has a way of turning the perception around.
It’s just difficult getting top 10 players like Kevin Love, and the NBA is a league where you need top talent to try and win a title. There’s only about 12 players in the league who really move the needle, and Love is one of them.
Just look at the Orlando Magic after trading Dwight Howard; The consensus right now is that they won the trade and they just went through their second consecutive year of winning less than 30 games. They actually have some young pieces but if you’re the Wolves and blow it up you will be starting from scratch.
Just look at the most rumored trade partners; Boston, Golden State and Phoenix.
How many of them are willing to part or even have real blue chip prospects. Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and picks sounds nice but trading Love just puts you back so much. It’s easy to say that the T-Wolves should be more open to trade Love but the flip side of that is brutal.
Keep the band together and try to find some answers in your key areas of weakness: Bench, shooting and rim protection. Hope for the best.
I’m not saying that’s what the T-Wolves should do; If you get an offer you can’t refuse that gives you back a blue chip prospect or great draft picks they might have to pull the trigger, but if not, there’s at least an OK chance that the ship rights itself and we are just all overreacting. Winning tends to solve all problems.
Players who are as good as Love don’t usually become unrestricted free agents at 26 and look to leave their home teams(the CBA has economic incentives to sign with your current team, including an additional fifth year of salary, and makes it difficult for teams even close to the cap to sign guys like Love), which is the reason behind all the craziness in the media.
But if you are another team looking for a key piece to contend you should absolutely put all your chips behind Love. Players like Love are precisely why you collect a war chest of picks and other assets for. You get Love in the east and you are instantly a threat to make the conference finals. He’s just that good.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t trade Love unless I absolutely felt I had to, or the package offered to me just blew me away. It’s too big of a step back that the Wolves would suffer for the next five years.