One of the more interesting arguments regarding Kevin Love right now is whether or not he’s a truly elite player in the NBA. I think we can all agree that he’s a very good offensive player with a rare skillset, but he’s also a guy who doesn’t defend with much tenacity (being kind, here). Nobody would argue he’s top-20. Top-10? Maybe. With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving by his side, can he be a top-5 talent in the 2013-14?
If you’re a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, you’ve been watching Love over the past six years and wondering, “What’s his ceiling? Will he be the best Kevin to wear a Wolves jersey?” Now that there is a deal in place to trade Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, we can safely say Kevin Garnett still holds the throne. Still, Love is just 25 years old and has plenty of time to grow as a player.
Love hasn’t had the opportunity to play with superstar players just yet and he still put up a great 2013-14 season. Let’s take a quick look at last year’s stats:
Whoa. Those numbers are something else. Just for fun, let’s compare them to Garnett’s 2003-04 MVP year:
Yeah. Maybe we were getting a bit ahead of ourselves, there. But wait — Garnett did have some talent next to him that year, with Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Wally Szczerbiak surrounding him. Don’t laugh — Cassell averaged 19.8 points, 7.3 assists and 1.3 steals that season with a shooting line of .488/.398/.873.
Doesn’t it stand to reason that Love will experience an uptick in his numbers being surrounded by better players? Not exactly. More efficient, sure. Better? Look no further than Chris Bosh to see what happens when you go from being the lone star to joining a team with two other capable stars:
We can’t expect Love to have a massive jump in numbers by going to a better team — in large part because he won’t be the focal point of the offense (just like Bosh). Does that mean he can’t be a top-5 talent, though? Let’s look at five players who we consider to be the cream of the crop from last season:
We talked about Love being a one-way player and there’s some damning evidence supporting that when you put him up against players (aside from LeBron) who are also known as one-way players. They make Love look below average in the hustle/defensive categories of steals and blocks.
Now, defensive rebounding is a big part of defense, as it signals the end of the possession. So, we’ll give Love that, since he’s one of the elite defensive rebounders in the game today. Is that enough to call him a serviceable defender? I think we can agree that Love would have to be at least serviceable to be considered a top-5 talent.
Love allowed a better-than-average 14.2 efficiency rating to power forwards and a rough 17.7 to centers. For the Cavaliers, he’ll likely play mostly power forward. James is slimming down to play SF and Love will play PF, with Anderson Varejao or Brendan Haywood in the middle.
So, these are the facts we’re left with:
- Rare offensive talent as a big man who can shoot and rebound
- Serviceable defender at his position
- Willing and underrated passer
- One of the best rebounders in the game
- Will have the best player in the league and a top-10 point guard, plus shooters to take pressure off
Is that enough to push him into the top-5 next season? Yeah, it is. Think about this for a second — the Cavs are going to have two of the top-5 players in the NBA. Could any other team claim that last season? The Clippers had an argument, but probably not.
Love will see his stats naturally degrade a little, but he’ll make the playoffs for the first time in his career and he’ll show that he’s the best power forward in the game, now that he’s got some talent to help him.