Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love will reportedly be named the NBA’s Most Improved Player today, according to multiple sources.
This comes as no surprise to many because of Love’s incredible jump in production and his emergence as the face of a Timberwolves franchise that has been desperately in need of one ever since Kevin Garnett’s departure.
During the 2009-2010 season, Love averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds per game. This year, those totals jumped up to 20 and 15, but so too did his minutes.
Last year, Love was the Wolves’ sixth man behind starter Al Jefferson. This year, he played his way into the All-Star game and finished the season as the league’s leading rebounder.
Undoubtedly, Love’s play this season has been impressive and a beacon of hope for Minnesota basketball fans, but on a 17-win team, we need to keep his numbers in perspective and hold our admiration for him as a player in check just a bit.
First, we have to examine the debate about how legitimate a player’s numbers are if he is putting them up on a team as bad as the Wolves.
One school of thought is that it can be hard to consider a player’s numbers, no matter how impressive, legitimate if they don’t help the team win. And Love’s NUMB3RS certainly didn’t. Minnesota was the worst team in the NBA this year (17-65) and only improved from the 2009-2010 season by two victories.
If Love is being considered the “Most Improved Player” from ’09-’10 to ’10-’11, isn’t it fair to expect that his supposed improvement would help translate into more victories for his team? Otherwise, how do measure improvement?
On the other hand, the argument that many Wolves fans and Kevin Love apologists turn to is that his teammates were just gawdawful and the real reason for Minnesota’s horrendous record. In other words, Love pulled his weight, it was up to the other eleven guys on the roster to play better (or up to Glen Taylor and David Kahn to put better players around him).
Love is also one of the most efficient players in the league, scoring most of his points on offensive put-backs, open jump shots and free throws. His ability to be a 20-point power forward in the league without having hardly any plays designed for him in the post is astounding, and it’s arguable that with this sort of efficiency he would still put up numbers even if he was on a team full of capable scorers.
It’s hard to say which side of this argument is more correct. To me though, if you look at LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers, the player Love edged out for his first All-Star berth earlier this year as well as the MIP award, it’s difficult to say definitively that Love has become a better player and more deserving of both honors.
Aldridge, who plays the same position as Love, led his team to 48 wins this year, and did so without Brandon Roy for much of the season. Sure, Portland’s supporting cast of Andre Miller, Marcus Camby and Wes Matthews is superior to what the Wolves have, but with Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson and now Anthony Randolph, it’s not like Love didn’t have at least some talent around him.
Put it this way, I believe that if Aldridge and Love switched places, Minnesota wins more than 17 games. Also, consider that Aldridge averaged 30 points in Portland’s four games versus Minnesota and Love this season.
You could also apply the age-old argument that many journalists use when debating who they think the NBA MVP Award should go to: How many fewer wins would the team have if you removed ‘Player X’ from it?
With how Aldridge carried the Blazers to the playoffs, and how putrid the Wolves were even with Love, it’s obvious that the Blazers’ record would be adversely affected far more than the Wolves’ if you removed both power forwards from their respective squads.
Again, I don’t want it to sound like I think Love is a stiff and isn’t one of the better power forwards in the game, he definitely is. I just think Love’s incredible numbers, his solid relationship with the national media, and of course his ridiculous double-double streak have caused people to overvalue him slightly as one of the elite players in the league. I love Love, but he isn’t quite at that level yet.
He is still a below-average defender. He still has a tendency to back off his man early to get into rebounding position rather than rising to contest shots. He still is not very skilled as a low-block scorer.
As I mentioned earlier, Love’s MIP Award is due to his solid jump in production from last year to this year, but it’s hard to say that he has actually improved his game more than anyone else in the NBA. Obviously there has been some maturation and development, but Love still has many of the same weaknesses and strengths that he possessed when he came into the league, aside from slightly better conditioning and better 3-point shooting. It has been the increase in playing time more than anything that has been the reason for this award.
So while Love has been officially recognized by the league for his “improvement,” it is vital for the Timberwolves and their fans for Love to work hard this offseason to improve his defensive desire and develop some sort of low post game to compliment his solid perimeter skills.
If he does, Love will truly be ready to join the NBA’s elite and will be much more deserving of the Most Improved Player Award than he was this season.