Is Kevin Love really a franchise player? This is a question that many fans have been asking themselves after his recent selection to start in the upcoming NBA All-Star game. He puts up monster stats, but there seems to be a debate as to how good he really is. With rumors that he may be unhappy in Minnesota, organizations around the league are going to have to decide if Love is the kind of player that you can build your team around.
Kevin Love has a unique skill set for someone his size. He’s a 6’10”, 240 pound power forward but can shoot the ball like a guard. He’s averaging 24.9 points per game and shooting 38 percent from behind the three point line this season. His touch from the outside works wonders for the Timberwolves offense because of the space it creates on the floor. Love floats around the perimeter, drawing his big defender away from the basket, giving Nikola Pekovic and other T-Wolves room to operate in the paint. His shooting ability also makes the pick and roll that he runs with Ricky Rubio all that more effective. Rubio is great at getting Love the ball off of the pick and pop, and it is a nightmare for opposing defenses.
One of the knocks against Kevin Love’s offensive skill set is that he lacks a low post game. He’s not the most athletic guy so he sometimes struggles to finish around the basket among taller and more athletic defenders. His lack of a back-to-the-basket game takes some pressure off of the defense because they don’t feel the need to double him down low. A big man that can draw a double team is crucial because it creates open shots for teammates on the perimeter. With that being said, Love has been doing a better job getting his teammates the ball. He’s averaging a career high 4.1 assists so far this season. Many of those assists are due to the fact the nobody in the league is better at delivering an outlet pass. For an avid basketball fan like myself, watching Love deliver a pinpoint outlet pass is a thing of beauty:
Another knock against Love’s game is that he doesn’t play much defense. Because of his lack of jumping ability, he struggles to protect the basket which is a skill that most teams would expect from their franchise power forward. He struggles with low post defense and is not very quick, so offensive players often take advantage of him. Coaches say that the defensive possession isn’t over until the defense secures the rebound and this is a place where Kevin Love excels. He has a knack for knowing where a missed shot will land so he can get into position for a rebound. Although he’s not the most athletic guy, Love uses body positioning and leverage to tear down rebounds at an astounding rate. Since the start of the 2010 season, Love is averaging 13.9 rebounds per game. He’s relentless on the offensive glass giving the T-Wolves extra offensive possessions and often times leading to easy put backs for Love himself.
Those who doubt Kevin Love’s franchise player resume would say that the fact that Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since Love has been in Minnesota is a huge red flag. The T-Wolves haven’t won more than 31 games since Love was drafted by Minnesota and I’d agree that to some extent Kevin Love needs to be held accountable for that. Although basketball is a sport in which one player can make a huge impact, it’s still a team sport, and he’s never had a playoff caliber supporting cast mainly because Minnesota has whiffed on so many high draft picks during Love’s tenure.
In the 2009 draft, the team had four picks in the first round. They selected Ricky Rubio with the 5th pick, Jonny Flynn with the 6th pick, Ty Lawson with the 21st pick, and Wayne Ellington with the 28th pick. They took three point guards in the first round, but missed out on Stephen Curry, who was chosen 7th overall by The Golden State Warriors in the same draft. Not to mention that they traded Ty Lawson to Denver, and you could make a strong argument that he is a better point guard than their current starting point guard, Ricky Rubio, who they selected 5th overall in the same draft.
Their 6th pick in that draft, Jonny Flynn, currently doesn’t have a job in the NBA. In 2011, the T-Wolves selected Derrick Williams with the second overall pick, passing on players like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Iman Shumpert, and Nikola Vucevic. For a team like Minnesota it’s important to nail your draft picks because you’re not going to be able to lure free agents like teams in more attractive markets. More importantly, building your team through the draft is more cost effective than signing top dollar free agents.
Many of these poor front office decisions were made by former GM David Kahn. Kahn is no longer in charge, but the decisions he made continue to haunt the team today. One of the things that he fumbled was not locking Love up with a five year extension last year. Instead, Love was given a four year extension with a player option to opt out of the contract after the third year. This puts the team in a tough position because it appears that Love is not happy in Minnesota, and he has the option to opt out of his contract at the end of the ’14-’15 season. This leaves the Timberwolves with little leverage in any trade because other GMs know that they would need to deal him before the end of next season, or risk losing him to free agency in the summer of 2015.
So, is Kevin Love a franchise player? His stats say yes as he’s averaging 24.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game this season. Is he putting these stats up on a mediocre team with few other offensive options? The answer to that question is also yes but it almost doesn’t matter. If Kevin Love hits the open market in 2015 or is put on the trading block before then, teams will be clamoring for his services and he will undoubtedly receive a max contract offer wherever he goes. He may not be the centerpiece for a championship level team, but his talent makes him valuable and I personally look forward to seeing him sink threes, grab boards, and throw beautiful outlet passes for years to come.