When I woke up the morning after the 2008 NBA Draft to find that OJ Mayo had been swapped for Kevin Love, I was beyond irate. I saw this as yet another example of McHale getting infatuated with a draft prospect and throwing all logic into the wind. As Love’s linebeard stared at me mockingly from the Timberwolves.com homepage, I began having traumatic flashbacks to Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury and Roy for Foye.
Eventually, when the full scope of the deal, including the huge financial ramifications for the Wolves, was finally brought to light, cooler heads prevailed, and I became a big fan of the trade. Over the course of the off-season I even managed to talk myself into the Kevin Love era and found myself gushing about his outlet passes in several season preview pieces. Truth be told, most of this could probably be chalked up to subconscious self-preservation as the past four Timberwolves seasons have taken a tremendous toll on my psyche. At this point, I’m clinging onto any ray of hope like Jeff Van Gundy on Alonzo Mourning’s leg.
Needless to say, when the 2008-09 Season tipped off, I needed Kevin Love to have a good game. I’m not counting on the guy to be a superstar by any means, but if the Timberwolves are going to contend any time soon, then Love has got to be a solid, solid role player. If he can establish himself as a consistent double-double, a good passer and shooter, and avoid being a defensive liablility, the T-Wolves will be in really good shape. Thankfully Mr. Love brought a very respectable 12 points on 62% shooting, 9 board, 2 assists, and a game-high +20 differential to the table.
Those certainly aren’t awe-inspiring stats. In fact, looking purely at the boxscore, you could argue that Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye, Mike Miller, and Rashad McCants had nearly as good of a game. However, as anyone who followed this game closely can tell you, Kevin Love’s 12-9-2 was perhaps the most valuable/effective 12-9-2 this franchise has ever seen. To help set up this argument, I’m going to use the example of Rashad McCants. You see, Rashad outscored every other Wolf besides Al Jefferson. However, to get to his 15 points, he required 18 shots of which he missed 11. When you really break it down, McCants only shot 39% while the rest of his teammate combined to shoot a solid 51%. The argument can then be made that had Rashad not taken his eighteen shots and instead distributed them amongst his other teammates, the Wolves would have actually scored 18 points (18 x 0.59 = 9.2 x 2 points per basket = 18 points) instead of Rashad’s fifteen and would have been three points ahead of the game. Look, I understand that the logic behind that math is flawed for many reasons, but the main point is that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that McCants wasn’t the most effective player out there.
Any time you remove a player from the equation some of those points are going to be absorbed by the other players taking their place. It’s the reason why the Lakers don’t score 30 less points per game when Kobe Bryant isn’t in the lineup. Odom, and Gasol, and Bynum, and that ugly girl who wears a hair band will take the shots Mamba didn’t take, but just make them at a less effective rate since they aren’t “Kobe”. The beauty behind Kevin Love’s statline, though, is that almost every single thing he did was pure gravy. Love wasn’t scoring off of shots that other people would have made had they taken them instead. In fact, he was doing just the opposite. He was taking the shots that other people missed and turning them into made shots through his offensive rebounding and putbacks. He was turning possesions that would’ve failed 50% of the time into pure gimmees with his astute passes. He was taking away extra opportunities that the Kings would’ve had to score and giving them to Minnesota by pounding the defensive glass. By doing these small thing, he was becoming a complete game changer and throwing the normal progression of stats completely out the window.
We established that Rashad McCants was worth -3 points to the Wolves offensively. Using the same calculations, Big Al comes in at +3. Kevin Love managed to net himself a +5 and I can tell you right now that it was much, much higher in reality because most of his scores came off second chance opportunities that he created for himself. I’m not about to re-watch the entire game to figure out the exact number, but Love could have easily been +8 or +10 from what I saw.
So what does all this number-crunching and statistical analysis mean? Well, using an example that’s near and dear to Kevin Love’s heart, er belly, let’s view the Kings game as a glass of milk. Some players like Al Jefferson added some milk to the glass, and other guys like McCants actually drank a little more than they contributed. What Love brought to the glass was the chocolate. He gave the little bit extra that made the game turn out nice and sweet for Minnesota. You can say this same thing about Big Al, Gomes, and several other players as well, but we weren’t winning that game without Kevin Love. The big difference between him and the other players is that he made his impact outside the regular ebb and flow of the game. You look at the stat sheet and see that Minnesota shot 48% from the field and Sacremento shot 45%, that the Kings had 19 free throws to the Wolves’ 11, that Sacramento out-rebounded Minnesota 45-40, but had 15 turnovers as opposed to 11 and by the time you take it all in you can get the picture that it was a pretty close game. What the numbers don’t tell you are all the little extra things that Kevin Love did to tip the scales in Minnesota’s favor.
I realize that this was just one game from an NBA rookie and that you can only put so much stock into it. However, if what we saw from Kevin Love was any sort of microcosm of what he can produce throughout his carere, the Timberwolves are in very good shape. Love could easily become the team’s secret weapon, their silent game-changer. Mark my words, if twenty games from now the Minnesota Timberwolves are exceeding all expectations and nobody can point to a real reason why, this article will tell you the answer. Kevin Love is turning the milk brown in Minnesota and Wolves fans are going to be chugging it for years to come.