Long time readers here will remember that I was pretty down on Love his first couple of seasons. I felt his ceiling was a decent, somewhat undersized and overweight power forward who would be a constant underdog and defensive liability in the forest of 7 footers that man the 4 in the modern NBA.
Has he (and a lot of you guys) ever proven me wrong on that.
It really is incredible to think that the guy's outlook has gone from being a decent role player to what I feel is inarguably the best power forward in the league today (although Davis will have something to say about that soon...)
In one sense, perhaps we should have seen it coming. If you stack up his college numbers against the two power forwards in his peer group, Love holds his own:
|Points||Rebounds||Assists||Steals||Blocks||Off WS||Def WS|
**I averaged Blake's two seasons at Oklahoma. I don't think it's fair to take just his first season since he had both a sprained MCL and surgery for torn cartilage that year.
Now, it's impressive as hell for a freshman to average 18-10-2 in the Pac-12 (well, Pac-10 at the time) At the same time, it could be argued Griffin did more with less (Love had one of college's best point guards in Darren Collison and roomie Russell Westbrook to boot) and while Davis didn't match either of their offensive production, he put up historic defensive numbers.
But as a whole, Love was definitely in their class in college. Not only that, but the numbers show signs of the unique skill set that has come to be his calling card. (Some of you saw it coming. I didn't. I've learned from that) So why didn't he get their hype in the pros?
Well, for one, he was drafted the same year as Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley. Yes, Beas has made a mess of things in the NBA, but make no mistake: his one year at KSU was among the best single seasons of anybody in the history of college basketball.
And also, Love of course doesn't have their physiques. Griffin drops from the sky and dunks looking down at the rim. Davis runs the floor like a point guard and has pterodactyl wings for arms. Those guys are 'prototypical' big men...strong and athletic, tall and fast. Love is neither.
But the truth is, that works in his favor.
The power forward spot has kind of become the diva spot in the NBA. Like wide receivers in the NFL. Chris Bosh. Amare Stoudemire. Andrea Bargnani. LaMarcus Aldridge. Lots of guys who want to face up. Lots of guys who want to take defenses off the dribble. Lots of guys who want to shoot threes and dunk off pick-and-rolls and look cool doing it. Not many guys who want to set killer screens. Not many guys who want to box out hard and throw elbows, who want to dive into the scorer's table for a loose ball.
(I'll credit Griffin on this at least: he'll absolutely fight out there)
But yeah. Love isn't a diva forward. And he knows he's not an athletic adonis either. He knows he's not Kevin Garnett. He's knows he's not Tim Duncan, or small-ball LeBron, or pre-crackhead Shawn Kemp. He knows he doesn't have Redwood tree legs or commercial airliner arms or a vertical that rivals Vinsanity circa his Air Canada days.
He knows he doesn't have the option to pattern his game after the power forwards of the 2000s. So instead, he patterns it after the guys from the Golden Age.
In the season opener, Love pulled off one of the most amazing offensive rebounds I've ever seen.
That single play is a microcosm of everything that makes Kevin Love a superstar basketball player.
- He has to come in from the three point line
- He's quick enough to actually make it in from the three point line
- He wants the rebound badly enough to come in from the three point line
- He has the presence of mind to actively calculate where the ball is going to come off the rim
- He has the presence of mind to sidestep Jason Maxiell on his way there
- He manages to tap the ball back in leaping between two defenders off a dead sprint
Timing. IQ. Instinct. Hustle. Tenacity. Finesse. All in one play, all in one player. It's Larry Legend all over again.
Kevin Love's court vision has undoubtably wowed early this season, and his ability to put it on the deck is dramatically better too, but I've actually been most impressed by his mobility. Love made good on his promise to get into the best shape of his career seriously, and it's showed.
Love's new quickness is as old school as it comes. He knows he's not Garnett. He knows he's not Chris Webber, or Tim Duncan. They play(ed) the games of guys with height and reach and ups, and of the many, many things Love has and can still add to his game, 4 more inches and a 7'2" wingspan aren't among them.
So he does what the old school guys did: be in the right condition to play the game with range and quickness. Dennis Rodman. Charles Oakley. Kurt Thomas. Antonio Davis. Charles Barkley. Guys who had stature closer to small forwards than power forwards, so they played the game with the mobility of a small forward at the power forward spot. Love came into this season with their type of ground game. The kicker being that he has the skill of a Bird or Malone to boot.
Rodman, of course, has been Love's comparison from the beginning. Before he unleashed his offense, he was an undersized 4 who could rebound the hell out of the ball. That was Dennis Rodman. The similarity hit everyone in the face.
The truth though is, Rodman and Love are very different players. Rodman is actually even smaller than Love, for one. Even though he was usually listed at 6'8", Jordan has said many times Dennis was no more than 1/2 inch taller than himself at 6'6", and couldn't have weighed more than 220 lbs. And if you see any tape where Rodman and the 6'8" Pippen are next to each other, Pippen is definitely taller.
Which is pretty unbelievable, if you think about it. The best rebounder in the modern NBA era* was roughly the size of Bazz.
*(I know, Russell and Chaimberlain. In the words of JJ Abrams, when asked what the true Klingon dialect is: "I let that battle be fought without me")
The immensity of the Worm's rebounding talent is pretty mind blowing to calculate. In 1992, he averaged 18.7 rpg. That's over 1,500 total rebounds in one season. To put that in perspective, neither Love or Dwight Howard have totaled more than 1,200 in any one season. That year, Rodman hauled in 34 rebounds in a single game against the Pacers...so many the Palace ran out of tags to hang from the balcony.
(Yes, that tradition was around long before Ben Wallace)
Rodman had two things really going for him
- Incredible mobility. Rodman was a freak athlete (of the non-vertical kind) who could and would literally guard every position in any one game. Phil Jackson, who coached multiple all-defensive team members in Jordan and Pippen, would unhesitatingly state that Rodman was the best defender he ever coached.
- Unbelievable strength. He was the strongest human being you'd ever see. When Rodman set his feet, you could not move him. At all. I remember a game the Bulls played the Magic in where Rodman actually pushed Shaq away from the hoop on his post ups.
Now Love isn't anything to write home about on defense. He's improved and is still improving, but I doubt anyone mistakes him for Big Ben at any time in his career.
Where Rodman and Love do overlap though is important: positioning, anticipation, hustle. And fantastic prep. Rodman used to spend part of pre-game shootarounds just standing there watching his teammates take shots, so he'd know how they were falling that night. Oh, Thomas is leaving them short with finesse, I better get close in. Kerr is kicking them left and hard off the back iron, I better leave some space. And that's something Love has said he's incorporated into his own game. And why not? When it comes to cleaning the glass, Rodman is still the best there ever was.
Of course, the flip side of this is Love has 1,000x the offensive game as Rodman. Dennis was a guy who often wouldn't even try to put back the offensive rebounds he'd grab. In one of NBATV's Open Court bits, Steve Kerr said Rodman would actively go out of his way to not shoot the ball. That his idea of a perfect game was 30 rebounds and 0 points.
Love, meanwhile, is currently second in the league in scoring (trailing only Durant by less than 1 point) and is absolutely bombing away from three: over 6 3pt attempts a game so far. Over 800 rebounds and over 80 made 3s in the same season? That's most definitely a Larry Bird thing (Dirk hasn't actually collected 800+ rebounds in any one season) And Love has a chance to blow both of those totals out of the water...this season, he's on pace for over 1,000 rebounds and something like 160 made threes.
Interestingly enough, Bird attempted more than 3 triples a game only once in his 13 year career. His career 3pt attempt average is just 1.9. Love has already eclipsed that at 2.6 per, despite attempting basically none his whole rookie season. It's an ironic stat for a guy who would go into the three point contest asking the other players who was coming in second behind him.
(It was probably a result of the NCAA and NBA not even having a three point line until his rookie season. He could obviously kill it from deep, but teams didn't run offenses looking for them. The three point line might have been invisible to him out there; he just shot it from where he shot it. If someone knows for sure the reason, share in the comments below. It's something I've always wondered.)
The other Larry/Love comparison that's going to come up now (no, not the white guy thing) is 20-10-5. Bird had 5 straight seasons where he averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. And would have probably had at least 5 more if his back hadn't degenerated on him (he missed the mark by less than a single rebound 6 times in the second half of his career)
But while Love has found a new love in facilitating the ball, he's still more of a rebounder than a point-forward, which makes for a better comparison with a different guy.
I told you guys. I told you. There is a 25-12-5 season in Kevin Love's future.
As good as Love may ever become at facilitating, I kind of doubt he'll every have multiple seasons of 6-7 assists a game (although at this point, who even knows for sure...) But at the same time, Bird never averaged more than 11 rebounds a game in any one season. Love's already done it three times. Barkley did it 13.
Stop-Nate-Pop has a theory that the best big men are the ones who start out as guards when they're on the JV team. Hard to argue with that. A big man who can run the floor, handle, pass, and defend on the perimeter is a lot likely to be better than one who can't. Not to mention it gets you into the habit of focusing. Hard to slack off when you're the guy holding the ball (although JaVale McGee is doing his damnest at it)
The theory certainly ended up being true in Barkley's case, who has said he became a power forward because he could do everything on the court, but high school coaches didn't know where to put him because of his size.
I decided it was better to be a short, stout forward because no one would have use for a 5'10" fat point guard.
In the vein of Rodman being shorter than Love, Barkley was even shorter than Rodman. Not smaller...his waistline made it clear was wasn't smaller....but by his own admission, Sir Charles is only 6'5" or so. And like, 280 lbs. Which....well, help me out guys. Has any one else ever done what he did with that profile?
But despite the weight, he was by far the most athletic of the players we've talked about here. Easily. Unquestionably. Incredulously. Those of you old enough to remember his playing days in Philly and Phoenix know. For those who don't, think of like, a really really really fat Dwyane Wade. Who rebounds like Reggie Evans.
And that's something Love won't be able to do. He doesn't have that kind of athleticism, and that's ok. Charles Barkley shouldn't have had that athleticism. The first Auburn scout to watch him said he couldn't describe to head coach Sonny Smith what he saw because he "couldn't believe the guy could get that much weight into the air". Barkley was one of those naturally blessed freak athletes.
What Love can do is match or even exceed Barkley's career averages of 22-12-4. Including a season of 23-14.6-4.9 and...yes...a season of 25.6-12.2-5.1.
He can also dominate games like Barkley, albeit from below the rim. Barkley controlled games by controlling the glass and setting defenses back by creating mismatches and power dunks. Love can do the same...and has been early this season...just substituting power dunks with lots and lots of free throws. Nothings throws off a defense quite like abrupt stoppages of play because some dude is fouling everyone out.
He can also take a note from Charles about making his teammates better. When Barkley got to Phoenix, new teammates Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle both effused about how much easier he made the game for them. More focused roles, less defensive pressure, far better opportunities to score...the season Barkley arrived, Majerle's 3pt attempts and makes both nearly doubled.
This has been a thorn for Love in his career...the idea that he's a finisher, not an initiator. A guy who capitalizes on his teammates' mistakes, but doesn't raise their play. Adelman challenged him specifically to work on it this year, and Love has responded in spectacular fashion. In 2011-2012, Love totaled 111 assists all season. This year, he already has 121 in just the first two months.
Love also shares a unique personality quality with Barkley (and with all these guys, really): no filter with the media. Some guys spend tons of time and money and effort to build this perfect, spotless public image of themselves. Some have that image self-destruct on them *cough*Tiger*cough* Love isn't one of those guys. He says what's on his mind when he's thinking it.
(Granted, even the things Love has taken heat over aren't anything compared to the stuff Barkley would say. Love said he wasn't sure if the Timberwolves were really behind him. Barkley called the Sixers liars, thugs, traitors, racists, and said their GM was a clown. He cussed out parents who said he wasn't being a role model, told the German media he hated white people, went on Letterman saying he was misquoted in his autobiography.)
And it's gotten him into trouble, but isn't that the way it should be? No cue cards, no staged acts of kindness, no pretentiousness. Just the dude.
Not many people realize this, but Karl Malone got the nickname 'The Mailman' before he ever played a single game in the NBA. It didn't come from Hot Rod Hundley. It actually came from Teddy Allen, a graduate assistant who covered Malone curing his college days at Louisiana Tech, first trying 'The Postman' because Malone playing in the post, but ultimately settling on 'The Mailman' because of the alliterative catch.
He came up with the name as a marketing bit, and then is stuck after Malone powered LT to a win in a game in Monroe that was nearly cancelled by a blizzard. Not rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor gloom of night. Right?
So he was called the Mailman before he was the Mailman. But of course, he'd prove to everyone in the NBA that he was the true embodiment of it.
From 1988 to 2001, Karl Malone was the very definition of delivering awesome play. For those 12 years, he never averaged less than 22 points or 8 rebounds. His assists climbed from 2.5 to 4.5. His PER never dropped below 22 and his WS/48 dipped below .200 only once. 11 years of a WS/48 over .200 (for reference, KG's WS/48 has only topped .200 five times in his career)
Consistency. Karl Malone was big, tough, fast, athletic, smart, and skilled, but more than anything, he was consistent. And if there's any one thing you could say Kevin Love's game shares with Malone's, it's consistency.
Love holds the record for the longest consecutive double-double streak since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976, at 53. And throwing out last year's knuckle pushups nonsense, we can argue he's on his third straight season of above-20 PER and above .200 WS/48 (they actually stand at 30 and .300 respectively right now)
But more than that, Love is a guy who goes 100% every night, and find the most absurd, ridiculous ways to try and win. I mean, who can forget this gem?
Doesn't matter what you throw at him. He'll find a way to get it done every time.
(And he's doing it without the best point guard in NBA history to set him up, too)
Who knows where his peak is? Everything he's been told he can't do, he's gone out and done. Winning the dunk contest is about the only thing you can confidently say he'll never do at this point. Everything else seems up for grabs. He's just that good.
And sum total of all this is kind of insane to add up. Kevin Love. A guy who rebounds like Rodman, shoots like Bird, controls the game like Barkley and brings it every night like Malone.
Is there any wonder why he's the best power forward in the game today? We all should have seen it coming. He's only build from the best parts of the best from the past.
Old school like the old school.
BONUS VIDEO: Charles Barkley @ 50. Worth watching for the story about trying to avoid the Sixers on draft day alone.